Malala! Boo! And the nation is in an uproar!
Sometimes I think Pakistan might implode on itself. We are angry when not acknowledged, angry when acknowledged, angry, angry. Why now though?
Since the prize was announced yesterday, October 10, 2014, the Pakistani nation has been at daggers drawn. There are two lobbies. And you must pledge allegiance to one. And when you do, you must ready yourself to be vilified, chastised, attacked and belittled. You are either with one or against the other. Pick a side damn you.
Well, I can’t. My position is: meh. Now stop with your rotten tomatoes and eggs. Please hear me out. There are those among my friends who have snidely commented perhaps getting shot is a pre-requisite towards getting the Prize. There are those who point out that Malala has done absolutely nothing to promote ‘fraternity between nations’ nor worked ‘for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses’, criteria which were supposed to determine the recipient of the Prize. (She can be said to have contributed somewhat to the latter actually, with her rather spunky comments on drone attacks during her trip to the White House. Even our esteemed Prime Minister found it impossible to raise the subject of drone attacks with President Obama during his trip in October 2013 after all.)
So why am I not as jubilant as I see the vast majority of my friends on Facebook being? I’ve thought about it – the negativity our people feel towards Malala seems to be a subconscious resentment towards Western nations. It seems that these nations have swooped in, taken our girl and made her their own. (Here is today’s most glaring example.) It’s as if they have embraced her while keeping the rest of us at arm’s length. As if we are barbaric, incapable of recognising the worth of a girl as indomitable as Malala. (And indeed the conspiracy theories that came out immediately after she was shot would point towards that conclusion. So would their shameless continuation, even after the Taliban themselves wrote a letter addressed to Malala fessing up.)
For people like me it is the appropriation of Malala that is the keenest blow. It is the unspoken but seemingly pervasive Western sentiment that she is representative of all good Western values of Truth, Freedom and Education and not a product of our very own Pakistani soil. That grates on our collective consciousness. To hold her up as an exception, as someone who does not represent the norm in Pakistan, conveys a spite that we are unable to endure. ‘Look at all the rest of us!’ we seem to want to shout. ‘All the girls in Swat are being educated! Malala is not an exception! We are not barbarians!’ But the Western gods have moved on, having bestowed what was theirs to bestow.
I am happy for Malala of course. And making her into another Dr. Abdus Salam serves no purpose. She is the only feel-good story to have come out of Pakistan for a long time. Those in Pakistan who criticise her without mercy have no inkling of what it is like for regular Pakistani expats like me to live with constant shame of the latest Pakistan-related scandal to hit the news. Let’s all take a deep breath, a step back, smile and enjoy this moment.