Come Friday we will know if teenager Malala Yousafzai becomes the second Pakistani since Dr Abdus Salam to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is now widely considered a front-runner for the prize. The announcement by the Nobel committee will come almost precisely a year after Malala was shot. A powerful BBC documentary has revisited the events of that day, reviving global interest in her. If she is awarded the Nobel, it will be our moment of pride. But this Friday may also be our day of shame, for then we will also have maintained our 100 percent record of driving Nobel Laureates out of the country. There are still many in this country who propound preposterous theories on how Malala faked the shooting or is working for the CIA. Another view goes that the girl, for whom an international UN day is now marked to promote literacy, has been turned into a kind of brand. Conspiracy theories abound, and perhaps we see at times the green of envy. There can be some reason for concern as perhaps there has been too much commercialisation and exploitation. But what does all this do to change the real Malala story?
Words scarcely exist to describe her bravery and poise, first for writing her journal when Swat was under militant control, then for refusing to be silenced by a horrific murder attempt and continuing to speak out and working for girls’ education. In a series of interviews given in conjunction with the release of her autobiography, ‘I Am Malala’, the sixteen-year-old has shown all the qualities that should make her an undisputed heroine at home, not a fount for political controversy. She has talked of human rights and freedom in a manner so articulate that we tend to forget that she is still a young girl. The weight that has been placed on her shoulders is too great but it is one she wears well. Malala continues to spread her message – but doesn’t plan on stopping there. She has said that she foresees a future in politics which would be most welcome even if we can’t help but continue to fear for her life. While mincing no words about the TTP’s brutality and their abuse of religion, she has also graciously said she favours talks with the militants. The TTP do not seem impressed and have put out a statement saying they will continue to target her and kill her if they can because she serves ‘infidels’. Clearly the girl inspires a great deal of hatred in them. That is only to be expected since there is no greater testament to the brutality and inhumanity of the TTP than this brave girl who had the courage to stand up to their bullying and nearly paid the ultimate price for it. For some reason Malala has become such a lightning rod that even her most innocuous statements lead to political wrangling. Such is the destiny of those who make the difficult choice of going against the grain. The question to be asked is not whether Malala deserves to win the Nobel Peace Prize; it’s whether the Nobel Peace Prize deserves a winner as worthy as her.