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The mirror

By: Asna Ali

Some people are important because of their actions, some are important because of the strength and power of their words and some are important because of the varied reactions their actions and words generate. Malala Yousufzai falls into all three categories.

Since last year, she has been on a rollercoaster ride that started with her getting shot by the Taliban because of her continued defiance of their ideology. The Taliban’s plan to silence her has backfired in a big way since not only did Malala survive the attack, she has also flourished since that fateful day.

But even then when she was recuperating from near-fatal injuries and undergoing intensive medical treatment to survive her wounds, Malala continued to generate mixed reactions from her countrymen. Some were outraged that she was attacked and jubilant that she survived. There was a second, smaller group that was ambivalent to the event, considering it to be of little importance in the grand scheme of things.

The most vocal was a third group that believed Malala and her family to be part of an overarching conspiracy to make Pakistan look bad and to propagate western agendas. Messages to this effect popped up everywhere on social media and became the background commentary to events that followed. Malala and her family’s move to the United Kingdom, the reports regarding her recovery and reintegration into normal life and finally the announcement that she is being considered for a Nobel prize.

Her speech last week has been described in many different ways. Powerful, passionate, moving and memorable were just some of the adjectives used by her international audience. In her home country, the descriptors were less positive. She has supporters here but there are also many, not necessarily the Taliban, who would sooner see her silenced.

So why is it, that while she is so loved internationally, her own people are reluctant to own her and to celebrate her successes? It is probably so because she does not fit the mould of what we consider to be an acceptable representative of our country. She is not a middle-aged gentleman, or an athlete, a politician or a celebrity. She is the wrong age, the wrong gender and from the wrong background. She is known to the world because she dared point out what is wrong with our society. She failed to become a martyr and now by her very presence tells the story of what can and does happen to many women in Pakistan.

We would prefer to ignore these facts. Or to lament over the wasted lives of sad, silent women who are brutalised or killed. Malala makes us uncomfortable because she continues to stand in defiance and speak out about what was done to her. She continues to shine a light on our flaws.

In a way she is like a mirror. She has revealed just how broken our moral compass is simply by being alive and well. Our mixed reactions to her show that we are still far off the road to recovery as far as extremism is concerned. The Taliban and other extremist outfits are not gaining power in this country because of their weapons or manpower. They are successful because of the extremist streak that many of us carry within ourselves.

It is this streak that is reflected back to the world when we silently or actively disapprove of Malala. International observers might find our ambivalence to her surprising. But those who live here and understand the deep rooted misogyny and extremism that runs through our society are not surprised at all.

The writer is a business studies graduate from southern Punjab. Email: asna.ali90@ gmail.com

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