The legendary Malala Yousafzai remains an inspiration for girls everywhere, not only because she fights for girls around the globe, but simply because she fights. Her upcoming film He Named Me Malala documents the life of the young lady, who just turned 18. It should be easy for a girl who stands up for a modern ideal like female education to gain momentum, right? However, it is not. Hatred for Yousafzai resonates from the very place where she hails, Pakistan.
There is a concrete effort that people in and from Pakistan are putting forth to promote education. There are numerous charities and foundations that raise money to build and supply schools, but in areas like the Swat Valley, where Yousafzai is from, lack of proper education remains a problem. The issue is taken onto a whole new level with the Taliban putting restrictions on access to education.
Being the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate is not enough to please the world. Yousafzai’s tremendous fame stems from her remarkable tale. She had already been gaining popularity for her activism in Pakistan, where she would report to BBC Urdu the conditions of her environment in the Swat Valley under the threat of the Taliban. Yousafzai was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban, but she survived and got back on her feet. “They shot me in the left side of the head. They thought that the bullet would silence us. I am the same Malala.”
Yousafzai made international news, appeared at several events, made speeches, and was interviewed on talk shows. Even though it has been over a year since her story got out, her fame is still kicking. After the Charleston Church shooting, comedian and show host Jon Stewart was left without any jokes to make on the matter and had Yousafzai on his show that evening. He said that there was no one else in the world that he would want to talk to that night. The first time she appeared on his show in 2013 Stewart jokingly asked to adopt her. “Because you [Malala] sure are swell.” What must have moved Stewart so much was not just what Malala went through, but how she reacted in the face of threats and subsequent violence. Malala told Stewart that she was in disbelief when she first heard about the Taliban’s threats because she could not believe that someone would actually kill a 14-year-old child. She said that at first she thought that if a member approached her than maybe she could hit him with her shoe. But than she decided that she did not want to be at such a low level and that people should not be treated with cruelty. She decided that she would explain her thoughts to the Taliban member and than leave him to do what he wanted from that point. She even pointed out that terrorists do not want girls to go to school because they know how powerful women can become with education and it scares them.
If Yousafzai speaks out against terrorists, than why are there people who suffer at the hands of the Taliban but hate Malala? It is because she is now an icon, and even if people agree with what she stands for, not all of them like what she represents.
Apparently, Yousafzai’s existence presents the western world with an excuse to have a presence in Pakistan. She is viewed as a puppet and there are even theories that her story is staged. A lot of Pakistanis find it curious that the western world would put such a young girl on a pedestal, especially when she is not the only girl who takes a stance on promoting education rights. Her tale is one that sheds light on the unrest in parts of Pakistan, but world news covers that ground to an extent as well. Ultimately, there is a fear that Malala defames her own nation of Pakistan.
It should not be hard to believe that the Taliban would target a young girl because it was the Taliban that massacred young children and teachers at a school in Peshawar killing a fraction of that school’s population. Malala does not step onto the stage to tell people that Pakistan is a bad country, she tells them the horrors that Pakistan itself has to suffer because of the Taliban and the lack of education in the country. She is no Ayaan Hirsi Ali either, she wears a scarf on her head that symbolizes her faith, Islam, which most Pakistanis identify with (it is the state religion). She even continues to dress in traditional Pakistani clothes no matter where she goes. In short, she has never spat on her background. Yousafzai has made it clear that she misses her homeland and she even told Obama that sending drones into Pakistan is not a good idea because it can perpetuate terrorism. Otherwise, her rhetoric focuses on the power and importance of education.
Still, it is understandable that many Pakistanis feel uncomfortable about their country being put under a negative spotlight. However, they should know that to whom it matters, the country of Pakistan is not a problem, rather, it is recognized as a country that is plagued with problems. Indeed, it is a sad thing to accept, but the reality must be acknowledged. Disliking what Malala could represent is a recognizable issue, but many people hate Malala herself from the bottom of their hearts. Directing hatred at a young girl will not solve anything, it will only go to show how much education is truly needed.
While teenagers everywhere are afraid to stand up for what they believe in because of the spite they will have to suffer through, Malala stands up anyways. Indeed she has the support of many, but the fact that numerous people from her own homeland genuinely hate her is a hole she has to carry within herself. Still, she refuses to back down. It is not even about what a young girl can fight for, it is that in the face of deep hatred and life threats, she still fights. “All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.”
Opinion by Tania Dawood
Featured Photo Courtesy of United Nations Photo- Creative Commons License