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The Malala-haters

By: Nadir Hassan

The Malala-hatersLet it be said at the outset that Malala didn’t need the Nobel Peace Prize for validation. Rather it was the Nobel Committee, its reputation reeling from bestowing honours on villains, scoundrels and the irrelevant, which needed the credibility of being associated with Malala.

The only benefit Malala gets from further international recognition is yet another stage to demonstrate that public displays of commonsense require immense courage and bravery – qualities most of us are deficient in.

At least Malala has the virtue of having earned the prize, even if the award itself is irrevocably tainted because of its previous victors. The only claim we as a country can have on the award is that we created the conditions for her heroism. She was repeatedly let down by the country. First, by a state that was unable to guarantee her right to an education and then her right to live.

The Taliban, in taking over Swat, closing down girls schools and, in a final cruel stroke, handing its leadership to the man who ordered the hit on Malala, deserve much of the blame for demonising an innocent girl. But we are a diverse country and so Malala-haters come in many hues and shades.

The Taliban at least has the dubious honour of being honest in its hate. It admits it tried to kill Malala and has vowed to keep trying if they ever get their hands on her again. Others are disingenuous in their opposition to her. High on the rogue’s gallery are the conspiracy theorists. These self-styled truth-tellers claim not to be opposed to Malala per se; they just want the facts out there.

The facts, according to them, are anything but the most obvious explanation. Malala faked the shooting because there is no way trained assassins would miss their target at point-blank range. The CIA – substitute with villainous intelligence agency of your choice – was behind it to defame Pakistan’s sterling reputation. These are exactly the kind of people who deny the Holocaust but would be the first to volunteer their services to wiping out the Jews should the opportunity arise.

Another subset of Malala hatred uses condescending misogyny to signal their opposition to the Nobel Laureate. She is a mere teenager, they say, unable to think and speak for herself. She is being given her cues by her ambitious and wily father, who is using his daughter for fame and riches. They may acknowledge that Malala was shot but their interpretation ends up robbing her of any agency and signalling that her father, rather than the TTP, is to blame for her plight.

Since the Nobel announcement was made, there has been a surge in people trying to discredit Malala on social media. Not surprisingly, many claim allegiance to the PTI. The online Insafian warriors have spread a fabricated quote where Malala is supposed to have insulted Islam. To ignore all her speeches and writings and instead pinpoint something from a dubious source that contradicts everything she has ever said shows that the anti-Malala view was already rotting their brains; they just needed to pounce on something to make it legitimate.

It needs to be said that the PTI leadership has not done the same to Malala but it is not faultless either since, whether out of sincere belief or opportunism, Imran Khan encourages such hate and exclusion.

In the excitement of his jalsas, Imran said he would make Atif Mian, a rising star in the field of economics who is a professor at Princeton University, his finance minister. Then Imran found out that Atif made the disqualifying mistake of being born an Ahmadi and took back his offer. An academic being shunned because of his faith is eerily reminiscent of our first Nobel Laureate.

A new category of disingenuous Malala-haters emerged after she won her prize. Their line of attack is the ‘but-what-about’ argument. Sure, Malala is great and all but doesn’t Edhi deserve it more? This wearisome debate can be hard to rebut because there are thousands of people around the world who bravely toil in obscurity, making the lives of those around them better. Many people ‘deserve’ an award but the Nobel Peace Prize is given once a year and this one time it was given to a deserving candidate.

That Malala received the award, it should go without saying, is not a slight on Edhi or any of the other countless heroes in the world. This ‘what-about’ debate can be fun when bemoaning Oscar nominations; using it to pit heroes against each other only shows contempt for Malala and her considerable accomplishments.

After the Malala hatred we have had those who went on the defensive and immediately claimed that not everyone in Pakistan is a Malala-hater. It should go without saying that these people do not represent all, or even a majority of Pakistan.

But that we even need to discuss what percentage of a country hates a girl who was shot in the head for wanting an education for herself and her peers says everything there is about the state of the country today.

The writer is a journalist based in Karachi. Email:

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