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Pakistan: Malala is the message | Ghazi Salahuddin / Malala-hating and our xenophobia-radicalisation complex | Raza Rumi / Malala Returns To Pakistan an npr report

2 April 2018

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[Two op-eds from the Pakistani media and a report from the American national Public radio on Malala Yousafzai’s first visit to Pakistan after many years of staying abroad after she was shot in the head by the Taliban]

The News, April 1, 2018

Malala is the message

by Ghazi Salahuddin

Is Pakistan safe for Malala Yousafzai? We may pose this question also in a metaphorical sense because she represents a point of view and a set of values. Besides, her surprise arrival in the early hours of Thursday on a brief visit to her homeland has reminded us of the conflictive narrative that she has inspired.

It is a sad reflection on the state of our society that a young woman who is Pakistan’s pride and honour in a global context is despised by such a large number of people in her own country. This is a fact that we must contend with. In many ways, it has a bearing on our national sense of direction.

Yes, the divide that is manifested in Malala’s case is all-encompassing. But a number of reasons have made Malala’s arrival an opportune moment to decipher – or diagnose – this inner contradiction. We are talking about the doctrine to define the destiny of Pakistan. At the same time, we are witnessing the struggle of a leading political party to change its course.

Unfortunately, our politicians remain too obsessed with their partisan passions and greed for power. Consequently, fundamental issues of ideology and societal transformation have not come to the fore in our political discourse. This means that our leaders are not quite aware of the present crisis of Pakistan and the options that we have for a strategic planning for the future.

I am tempted, here, to invoke Thomas Paine: “These are times that try men’s souls”. The rest of the quotation is: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country: but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman”. It is important to remember that these words were written during America’s revolutionary war.

I said that Malala’s visit, with its touching moments, provides an opportunity to explore why she is disliked and even hated in mostly the traditional and orthodox sections of our society. I have alluded to the winds of change rising across our political landscape. Malala herself, when she spoke at the PM House on Thursday, saw Pakistan on its way back to being a peaceful country.

But this is not all about law and order or how the war against terrorists has proceeded or, for that matter, about the joy of watching international cricket in Karachi. The seminal issue is the battle of ideas that is to be played in the arena of the Pakistani mind. It is important to see that Malala’s vindication in this contest is vital for a modern, progressive and democratic Pakistan.

What is our barrier in advancing towards this goal? To put it simply, it is religious extremism that resists modernity and looks at Malala as a Western conspiracy. In this respect, if I may say so, we have some divine intervention since those who hate Malala were largely nurtured by a certain kind of religious militancy and outlook.

Enter Mohammed bin Salman, the formidable Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He was in the US last week and on the final day of his tour, he met the editors of The Washington Post for a long interview. In the course of that interaction, he confessed something that our religious bigots as well as our summer soldiers and sunshine patriots need to listen to and understand.

What did he actually say? This is how The Washington Post has put it: “Asked about the Saudi-funded spread of Wahhabism, the austere faith that is dominant in the kingdom and that some have accused of being a source of global terrorism, Mohammed said that investments in mosques and [madressahs] overseas were rooted in the cold war when allies asked Saudi Arabia to use its resources to prevent inroads in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union”.

Those of us who have a sense of history and are able to objectively examine national and global developments had known this all along. We could see where the jihadists recruited by Gen Ziaul Haq had come from. But the Pakistani society, because of its lack of democratic freedoms and social emancipation, fell prey to these devices and the consequences – as we can see – are horrendous. We have been brainwashed in the name of ideology and religion.

The point here is that those who consider Malala to be the product of a Western conspiracy are themselves the children of an illegitimate and sinister plan to subvert the thinking of entire societies. The pity of it is that our ruling ideas have been infiltrated by the orthodoxy generated during that phase in our history. This has occurred to such an extent that the powers that be are still seen to be flirting with patently retrogressive religious elements.

It is good that this government has invited and honoured Malala and I have hinted at what Nawaz Sharif is portraying as an ideological shift. But the overall situation is alarming, mainly because forces that are striving for liberal and enlightened causes are not coming together. It is also doubtful if these forces have the required strength to move forward with a progressive agenda.

I have a fair idea of how deeply entrenched the forces are that, for instance, oppose the ideas and purposes that Malala personifies – such as modern education, particularly for our girls. What a great irony it is that Saudi Arabia itself, after provoking us into another direction, wants to liberate its society in line with ideas that are labelled as ‘Western’.

We do not have any credible measure of how the public opinion is divided in terms of support for progress and enlightenment. The indications that exist are ominous. We cannot even trust the judgement of our rulers who are supposed to be knowledgeable and mature. Do you remember what happened during the sit-in on the Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad in autumn last year?

As for the strength of those who dislike Malala, let me only quote a tweet by Secunder Kirmani, BBC World’s Pakistan correspondent: “BBC Urdu Social Media editor Tahir Imran has the unenviable job of trawling through the abusive comments about Malala on their FB page…apparently around 60 [percent] against Malala, 40 [percent] supportive”.

You can imagine what this means. The task, then, is to change this equation in the interest of Pakistan’s survival. But do our rulers understand what this task entails? The battle lines are clearly drawn and it is for the leaders and the powers that be to choose their sides.

The writer is a senior journalist.

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Daily Times, April 1, 2018

Malala-hating and our xenophobia-radicalisation complex

by Raza Rumi

Somehow facing the bullets by terrorists — and if you are lucky to survive risking your life again — is akin to nationalism. This is as warped as celebrating victims of murder as patriotic heroes

The return of the Nobel Laureate and brave Pakistani icon Malala Yousafzai to her homeland is a matter of pride. The Pakistani state can rightfully take the credit that successful counter-terror operations in places like Swat have reduced the threat of violence by militias linked to the Pakistani Taliban. It was encouraging that the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the federal cabinet celebrated the event and honoured the young woman who, in real terms, has been Pakistan’s best global ambassador — courageous, resilient and focused on education.

The opposition leader Imran Khan, however, has been silent about Malala’s visit. Nevertheless, one of his celebrity allies Hamza Ali Abbasi tweeted about her return: “#MalalaYousafzai came bk,schools in Swat, APS Peshawar operating normally! Its a testament that terrorists have been defeated. Those suspicious of Malala, I dont blame them as many among us have always been suspicious of any1 west celebrates & history tells us that maybe rightly so!” The aforementioned actor has been pretty active in praising the head of now defunct Jamaat ud Dawa, Hafiz Saeed, and his patriotic credentials. Yet when it comes to Malala, she is a ‘stooge’ of the West and ‘suspicious’. In a way, he summarised the problems of the Malala-hating business in Pakistan.

But Abbasi is not the misogynist. Countless other social media users are peddling the same half-truths that were aired when Malala was shot by the Taliban. In many cases, the social media users who abuse her have something in common: most identify themselves as supporters of Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The others include the usual right-wing suspects who are always keen to find fault with a woman’s voice.

There is widespread brutalisation of the mind that finds it ‘normal’ to attack and depreciate a victim of horrendous violence. And sadly many young Pakistanis display this tendency when they regurgitate lies and disinformation about Malala on social media

In a nutshell, Malala haters promote the following critique: she has not achieved anything significant to earn the global acclaim; and her international promotion as a symbol of resistance for girls’ education and rights is a ‘conspiracy’ to defame Pakistan and Islam which in the popular conservative opinion — set no less by the state itself for decades — are interchangeable. The attack on Malala has also been subtly justified as a reaction against the US occupation of Afghanistan and the drone strikes that take place. Even Imran Khan said something to this effect back in 2013.

Critics also hold that Malala ran away from Pakistan while other victims of terrorism are still in the country. The most oft-cited comparison is with some of the survivors of 2014 attack on an Army public school (APS) in Peshawar. This misplaced critique also echoes what the state has been doing since the attack. First, the narrative that those who die in cold-blooded murderous offensives are somehow giving ‘sacrifices’ for the country. This is why parents of the APS were awarded medals; as if they had sent their children to war. Somehow facing bullets at the hands of terrorists — and if you are lucky to survive, risking your life again — is akin to nationalism. This is as warped as celebrating victims of murder as patriotic heroes.

I have been trying to grapple with this. In the past years, I have been attacked by a variety of people for living abroad without an iota of sensitivity as to why I had to leave in the first place!

And then there is the phenomenon of fake news. Some in our media industry are experts on this subject. When Malala was shot, it was debated for days, if not weeks, that her shooting was nothing but drama. Factually inaccurate commentaries on prime time TV were aired and the unfiltered information on social media continues to circulate. When she wrote her global bestselling books, right-wingers on national TV attacked her for denigrating Islam and much more. Perhaps the best example is an image of Malala with a bearded German politician who is depicted on countless Facebook pages as Salman Rushdie. A clear endorsement of the mindset that equates girls’ education, global advocacy and opposing the Taliban with what ‘anti-Islam’ Rushdie does.

One can give some margin to the young who have been reared on such an anti-West diet of xenophobia masked as ‘honour’ and Islamic nationalism. But those who teach Pakistan’s children, such as private schools’ networks, have been busy orchestrating vicious campaigns such as “anti-Malala Day” with posters yelling ‘I am not Malala’. This slogan is inspired by a popular book called I Am not Malala: I Am Muslim, I Am Pakistani: A Story of a Nation, which was published in response to the self-told memoir, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.

While it is true that the West may have its own purposes to find poster icons for its security projects across the world, the larger problem of Islamic extremism is a demon that we have to face and exorcise ourselves.

At the heart of this problem remains the ongoing ideological battle within Pakistan. Even though the military has changed its line in recent years and the politicians are more circumspect about glorifying militants, decades of propaganda about jihad has influenced millions. As Malala’s diaries as a teenager in Swat show: her activism even before she was shot was clearly anti-Taliban. The progressive Pashtuns, unlike rest of the country, do not distinguish between the good and the bad Taliban — a distinction that much of the rest of Pakistan has accepted. In fact, for those who identify with this latter view, the Afghan Taliban are resistance fighters and, not to forget, valuable for Pakistan’s strategic influence in Western and Southern Asia.

This is why the ones who try to kill a schoolgirl may not be as bad as someone who gets shot and tries to rebuild her life in a most constructive and glorious manner. There is widespread brutalisation of the mind that finds it ‘normal’ to attack and depreciate a victim of horrendous violence. And sadly, many young Pakistanis display this tendency when they regurgitate lies and disinformation about Malala on social media.

We have to radically transform our education system, as well as the curriculum that is shaping xenophobic minds, which, more importantly robs young people of compassion — a tenet of humanism that was central to our folk cultures. Ultimately, it is the state that has to change its direction and delink Pakistani nationalism from jihadism and fear of everyone out to destroy and defame the country. Those who argue that Malala and her advocacy have hurt Pakistan’s ‘image’ need to ponder this: how is their slander and abuse against her improving it?

The writer is editor, Daily Times.

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Malala Returns To Pakistan - A report on | March 31, 2018


The above articles from The News and Daily Times are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use