Some 150,000 schools across Pakistan commemorated I Am Not Malala Day. Walks and press conferences lit up the educational landscape of this country. It blacked everything else out though. It darkened everything that Malala stands for: education of the girl child, education for all, books over terror, peace and diplomacy over war, awareness against drone strikes and many more things that will undoubtedly save Pakistan from a demographic implosion.
If Pakistanis commemorate I Am Not Malala Day, they should keep with its spirit and also sign up for the Feticide Day, the Anti-Minimum Wage Hike Day, the Anti-Progressive Curriculum Day and the Pro-Rape Day, the Pro-War Day. In the same spirit, they should also have the “we did not put a lander on a comet” day!
The originators of this I Am Not Malala Day should get a medal for running off on a limb on accusations alone. In Malala’s case, the accusation came from the Bill O’ Rileys of Pakistan: the Orya Maqbool Jans and the Ansar Abbasis. They said that she had defended Salman Rushdi’s book, The Satanic Verses, when she wrote in her own book that Muslims should make up their own mind about it after reading it. In Pakistan this gets you a front place to be witch-hunted on talk shows and newspaper columns like whales devour planktons.
To think that it was the Taliban that were rattled by this young girl’s brilliance alone was a mistake. Old men with no Nobel or anything Nobel-worthy are equally a threat. They may not personally put a bullet through her head but they will rally an army of impressionable young zealots to do so, making her return to Pakistan an impossibility.
It is a failure of the government to put its weight behind this young girl, who has the ability to ignite the imagination of young girls globally and to demand their right to an education. This is a failure of civil society for not putting its weight behind this great champion of everything Pakistan needs to assist the mission of tolerance forward. This is a failure of our education system for having no loyalty to knowledge and the mission of the pursuit of the truth. It is also the failure of the religious establishment for letting go of a chance to bolster a modern young girl to be the face of a moderate Islam. In October 2012, 20 clerics issued a fatwa against those who had attempted to kill her. They could do so much by continuing to back her. The crusaders for this day are also calling for her book to be banned.
Just last week in Washington DC, a leading NGO’s president talked about how he had routed millions of dollars of funding to Pakistan for education by sending Congressmen and women Malala’s book, I Am Malala. Banning the book in Pakistan is ironic, much like closing the blinds to a window with a view the world’s tourists come to see. Then again, it is typical for Pakistan to ostracise its thinkers, its modernists, its scientists, its educationalists and its innovators, from Abdus Salam to Salmaan Taseer. A young girl becomes an even easier target because she is defenceless and young.
In an era where teenagers are busy getting body piercings, she has created movements to free kidnapped girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria and has helped create awareness around the Syrian refugee crisis. She has donated so much of her numerous prize money to Pakistan’s education system. This cannot be said of the people who are critiquing her. Even politicians thrice her age are acting like teenagers and creating futile agitations. Malala has made Pakistan the envy of the world. Her charm has made her breeze through international programing like The Jon Stewart Show, a programme even statesmen shudder to show up on. And yet, the Pakistani media has neither captured her message nor projected it to an audience hungry for meaningful content.
Before Malala the world did not know how methodical and cold-blooded the Taliban’s fight was against girls’ schools, how they would issue edicts in Swat to frighten girls away and how they would blow schools up if parents did not comply. The Pakistani media would rather rattle conspiracy theories than provide an exposé on how many children are without an education, girls particularly.
Angela Merkel called Malala “the identity of Pakistan” but both Merkel and Malala perhaps have now realised that Pakistanis are most conflicted about who they really are, what their place is in the world and what influences they want to leave behind.