Pakistan is a country where – no matter how corrupt they are – sportsmen are mostly considered to be stars and heroes. But, as in the case of Mumtaz Qadri, there are some instances where murderers have also become heroes. On the other hand, our nation’s dilemma is that it disregards and rebukes those who really deserve appreciation. For example, such tendencies are evidenced in the fact that the majority of Pakistanis do not really remember our only Nobel laureate: the late Abdus Salam. Similarly, the same proclivities can be observed in the case of Malala Yousafzai who has become a worldwide symbol of freedom, democracy, education and women’s rights: she is being praised everywhere for her courage and determination.
Equally, in rival India, Malala is an icon and will be awarded the prestigious Basavashree Award. She has also won the Sakharov Prize and the list of accolades bestowed upon her is too elaborate to comprehensively expand upon in this post. But it is rather lamentable that large swathes of her own country’s population are criticizing, opposing and even abusing her.
If we read the opinions of some of Pakistan’s youth on social media, two main strands of argument can be observed.
Portraying negative image of Pakistan
Numerous people argue that Malala projects a negative image of Pakistan. Malala did not show anything new to the world, they say.
But it is submitted that to advance such arguments is quite pathetic.
Even as a child, Malala raised her voice against the draconian agenda of the terrorist Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – that has bombed numerous schools and colleges, put restrictions on women and killed thousands of innocent people.
So, in truth Malala – who is now a teenager – singlehandedly defied one of the most feared terrorist organisations in the world and I would say that she did in fact win …
Given that Pakistan, the UK and the US have not been able to defeat these terrorists Malala’s achievement is Huge.
Some people argue that Malala is a western agent.
This is one of the most disgraceful statements made by Malala’s opponents.
For the sake of argument, let us agree that the West is imposing its values such as women’s empowerment and education through Malala or it is trying to justify its war against extremism.
But, if we think rationally then what is wrong in doing so? Do we not wish our sisters and daughters to be empowered and educated? Are we not fighting against extremism or should we not fight against this menace which presently plagues our country?
It is submitted that it is not only Western values or norms that exact that women must be educated. Rather, Islam itself also advocates the same values. Insofar as women’s empowerment is concerned, Pakistan is a democratic state and democracy guarantees civil liberties and human rights. These rights are guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan 1973.
Therefore, everyone – and of course this includes the female sex – in a democratic state are entitled to civil liberties and human rights.
Equally, where were Islam’s champions when women were barred from voting? This was neither western propaganda nor western involvement but the majority of Pakistanis did not dare to raise their voices.
So things were left to future generations and to that end Malala has done us proud by speaking out against all that is wrong with us (or right with the West).
It is inconceivable that women should be perceived as second to men. But sadly in our society they have been treated as such.
If Malala’s critics cannot praise her then at the very least they should embrace her vision of promotion of education and women’s rights. I would pay tribute to all those organizations – nationally and internationally – which are working for women rights: especially Aurat Foundation.
Yes, I would say that Malala has done everyone proud. Make no mistake about it. Her unrelenting courage has inspired girls and women everywhere and Millions of Malalas will rise to defy the oppression and cowardice of people like the Taliban.
The author is a researcher at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs and a student of the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi. He can be followed on twitter @mirzajaffer