Saturday, 12 October 2013

Malala Yousafzai - from victim of Taliban to victim of narratives

By Shah Zalmay Khan

We Pakistanis are a strange people – extreme in whatever we do. When we love, we ignore all negatives; when we hate, we ignore all positives. We make up our minds first and judge facts / evidences / arguments later, based on our already made up minds. When we are conservative, we become fundamentalist or even militant; when we are liberal, we become fascist. When conservative, we call every dissenter an agent; when liberal, we call every dissenter a troll or a Taliban apologist. We make our heroes, specialize them for ‘us’, exclude the ‘them’ from the ownership somehow and then trumpet the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Nothing escapes this ‘Us vs Them’ mentality; not opinion-making, not war, not peace talks, not suicide blasts, not drone strikes, not Aafia Siddiqui, not Malala Yousafzai.

Coming to the case in point – Malala Yousafzai– the brave Pashtun girl who was shot by the Taliban, just for thinking, believing & acting differently from the attackers’ view.

Who is Malala? An ordinary girl from militancy-hit Swat region of Pakistan who loves education.
What did Malala do? She wrote a diary for BBC Urdu about her daily life / school activities when Swat was under the de-facto Taliban control.
What made the ordinary girl special? Her resolve in what she believed (education) and the courage to stand up and write / speak about it, in the face of imminent death.
Why was she shot? Perhaps the attackers were afraid of what Malala stood for i.e. education.
Did Pakistanis approve of the attack on Malala? No. 99.99% Pakistanis condemned the attack and felt sorry for the innocent kid.
Has Malala ever blamed Islam or Pakistan for anything? Not at all. The kid loves her homeland and wants to return to play her role in its development and peace.

Fine story? All set? Not to be, sadly.

Where then is the confusion? Why do some people on social media especially twitter (and media too) think they somehow care more for Malala & that others don’t? Why do some people on the same forums think Malala is somebody’s agent? Why Pakistan seems divided on Malala? Why do some people take extreme positions (supposedly) for or against Malala?

I feel it is less about Malala herself and more about our own views on certain issues which we somehow link to Malala, thus making her part of our own narrative on the issues. The narrative takes shape of questions (some that I myself may have asked at times). On one side we have such questions as:
Why the West / media / liberals support Malala ignoring (or not speaking enough for) thousands of other kids affected by operations and drones in FATA?

Why are people representing a certain colonial mindset in international politics (e.g ex British PM Gordon Brown) seen on Malala’s side at UNGA or elsewhere; people who are anything but human-rights activists and who caused deaths of thousands of kids in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine etc.

Why Nobel Prize for Malala & not one for Edhi too who has been working tirelessly for humanity since decades?
On the flip side we have such questions as:
How can we hold peace talks with militants who attack kids like Malala?

Since militants attacked Malala for seeking education, so aren't those demanding peace talks, apologists of Taliban & enemies of education or women emancipation?

Why mention drone victims or Aafia Siddiqui in same breath with Malala? (Probably not as innocent as Malala or an acceptable collateral damage).
and so the list goes on.

These and similar questions often widen the debate beyond the persona of Malala; distract the common man and thus a purely human issue (a child’s personal feat, suffering & resolve) becomes an ideological ‘Us vs Them’ battle. Then extreme positions are taken and things associated with Malala are scrutinized for or against her to build the two narratives of pro-Malala and anti-Malala. Reality of both, in most instances, is that it is not Malala herself but our own views superimposed on Malala’s situation that form the clashing narratives.

The equation becomes particularly complex when those in the conservative circles (on one side) and media /
liberals (on the other) start using Malala’s name to lend credence to their personal opinions & beliefs on pressing issues of terrorism and foreign policy. For instance, on one hand, the conservative circles come up with their barrage of ‘why why why’ questions, comparing Malala’s case to others (related or unrelated) to prove that she is nothing but a Western agent sponsored by the ‘House of Zion’ to defame Islam and Pakistan. On the other hand, liberals / media / West come up with an outlandish jargon of their own to prove the attack on Malala was the FIRST & ONLY time a kid had been targeted by armed groups (be it militants or Pak / US forces) and that declaring war in Malala’s name is the only way out. It becomes less about Malala and more about deriving justification or weight for our own views & opinions (mis)using Malala’s name.

Both approaches are harmful; both are damaging the cause for which Malala actually stood up – education – by overshadowing her persona through controversies of our making, not Malala’s. By mixing up our own opinions & wishes with Malala’s tale, we are confusing ourselves and in doing so, harming & making controversial what essentially was & is meant to be – a brave girl’s heroic stand for her ideals in the face of adversity.

Tail piece: This is not to suggest that there are no lunatics who hate Malala per se or what she stood up for. Also it shouldn't be inferred that there are none who hate Islam & Pakistan per se or who would spare any effort to bring both to discredit. There actually are many such lunatics out there and we (by dividing Malala amongst the ‘Us vs Them’ camps) are only aiding them – effectively making Malala a symbol of division rather than unity for us Pakistanis. And that, my friends, is the creepiest part.

The writer is a tribesman from Bajaur Agency (FATA) and tweets at @PTI_FATA (No official association with PTI). His blog can be found here

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Malala of Swat – Pride of Pashtuns and Pakistan

By Shah Zalmay Khan

Malala – this name has been a symbol of resistance, pride & honour for Pashtuns ever since Maiwand, 133 years ago. So Maiwand’s Malala came to my mind when I learnt that the BBC-diary-girl Gul Makai’s real name was Malala (the diary I heard in early 2009 on BBC Urdu radio). Then I saw her on TV, talking about how & why she wrote the diary and how she felt about education; her own as well as that of other kids.
Malalai of Maiwand

Fast forward to October 2012, on the 9th came a shocker – Malala was shot by the Taliban. My sister, herself a teacher in a FATA school, would inform me amidst sobs: “Malalai has been killed” (she calls her Malalai instead of Malala). However, soon we knew she (like Maiwand’s Malala) won’t quit like this – she fought death like a warrior. Overwhelmed by shock of the brutal attack, fear of losing her, hope of her recovery & anguish at own haplessness; it was one of the gloomiest evenings in my life. Malala’s innocent face, graceful demeanour & youthful smile; all made rounds in my mind for days. I keenly followed the updates as she was shifted to UK while still battling for her life. Next I saw glimpses of her, upon recovery from her injuries after a long & painful treatment.

Then I saw her addressing the UN General Assembly on ‘Malala Day’. Millions around the world watched as the proud Pashtun daughter of Pakistan spoke astutely about her ideals; humanity, peace and education. She conveyed this powerful message in beautiful words to the world:
"One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world".

Kids & youngsters around the world expressed solidarity with her by holding ‘I Am Malala’ placards & posters. Latest I saw her speak to the BBC after launch of her book ‘I Am Malala’ (co-authored with Christina Lamb) and read her interview with Kamila Shamsie in ‘The Guardian’ (showing the other side of Malala).
It has been almost three years since I came to know Malala first (as Malala – not Gul Makai) and she has fascinated me more each time I see, hear or read her. However, it saddens me greatly that she lost her childhood & may be her own identity to this episode, like she said in an interview:
“In Swat, I studied in the same school for 10 years and there I was just considered to be Malala. Here I'm famous, here people think of me as the girl who was shot by the Taliban. The real Malala is gone somewhere, and I can't find her”.

However, what fascinates me is that despite her extremely unusual life experiences, she still has this natural innocence of a kid. Even when talking on such serious topics as peace, war & revenge, she does exhibit her child-like innocence. For example on an interview when she was asked if she hated those who shot her (the Taliban militants) she responded:
“I only get angry at my father & brothers (especially younger brother Khushal). I can't be good to him (Khushal), it's impossible. We can't ever be friends".

This typical child-like side of ‘The Malala’, more than anything, keeps our faith in the inherent goodness of human race intact. This faith is further reinforced by her mature thought process when it comes to the issues of killings or war. Just as when asked about the Talib who shot her, she commented:

“It's hard to kill. Maybe that's why his hand was shaking”.
Or when asked about war & the solution to militancy problem, she is very clear in her belief & astute in her choice of words:
“The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue”.

Today, as I write these lines, the 1st anniversary of attack on Malala is upon us. The occasion is in full media gaze also because she is being tipped as a strong contender for the Nobel Peace Prize, to be announced on Oct 11th. What I personally feel though is that Malala has grown bigger than awards – she is now a symbol, an icon, herself. So a Nobel for Malala won’t add more to her stature rather association with Malala will give credence to the award itself (especially as it passes through a credibility crisis since the ‘Obama-Nobel’ joke).

The bottom-line:
Nobel or no Nobel – for me, as a Pashtun, Swat’s Malala is a reincarnation of Maiwand’s Malala. We will forever take pride in both Malalas – as symbols of every Pashtun mother, sister and daughter.
And for all of us Pakistanis, Malala remains our brave daughter who serves as a beacon of hope & courage for our 51% population i.e. the 90 million women.
The writer is a tribesman from Bajaur Agency (FATA)  and tweets at @PTI_FATA .
(No official association with PTI). His blog can be found here

Friday, 4 October 2013

Uniting for peace : Peshawar after the blasts

By Farah Samuel

The history of Edwardes College dates back to 1900s. It is the first college in the history of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Despite being a Christian institute, Edwardes College is an ecumenical institute; which means an institute for all irrespective of cast, color or creed.

Edwardes College has produced many laureates till date. A number of prominent personalities such as the ex-Vice Chancellor of University of Peshawar, Prof. Dr. Azmat Hayat Khan have been a part of this prestigious institute, which is why, Edwardes owns its flourishing students wherever they are. The recent blasts in All Saints Church, Kohati took away many lives and unfortunately four students of Edwardes College too. All four of them were brilliant academically and one of them was a medical student at Khyber Medical University.

On 26th September, one of the ex-students of Edwardes College, Dr. Mahrukh Khan came up with a beautiful thought of keeping a peace and solidarity rally in memory of the lost souls. The rally was held within the premises of Edwardes College where all the faculty members and the students showed their good will to contribute in this noble cause.

The ex-Bishop of Peshawar Diocess, Munawar RumalShah expressed his pain: “I fail to understand the ulterior motives of the harmful souls. If they wish to segregate the masses then they have probably failed because if they witness what I see today, they will be wounded to know that people from all religious sects, stood by the Christians in this hour of grave. We have always been together to support each other with our tender care whenever needed and this shall continue for as long as we are alive. Peace is not peace if it is not for others.”

The principal of Edwardes College, Dr.Titus Presler who was not a part of the ceremony physically but had sent his kind regards for his family at Edwardes. A part of his address said: “We must work for peace in order to prevent such an atrocity as was visited upon the Christian community last Sunday or such atrocities as were visited upon the Shia community in Quetta last January and February. Working for peace means seeking to resolve differences without conflict and violence. Working for peace requires courage and humility and it often requires sacrifice.”

The students from the Khyber Medical University (KMU) who were present at the ceremony extended their condolences for the departed and remembered their demised fellow in the highest of spirits. They couldn’t refrain from saying that their fellow student was one of the brilliant students at KMU and shall always be a part of their beautiful memories.

A young Christian, a faculty member at Edwardes College, Asst. Prof. Cedric A Edwin expressed his utmost grief and agony at the unfortunate incident: “It's extremely hard to think rationally in times of sorrow but this is exactly what we are going to do, think rationally and logically, because we are men of Faith. Sinking in the negativity and keeping the heads high! Most of them were friends and their families - honest, middle-class, hard working, strong Christians, our brothers and sisters, who are no more with us. There are many evildoers around here who want to sabotage our cause by playing political tantrums but with the strength and composure which Our Lord gives us, we are keeping our heads high and not showing any kind of hatred towards other communities. Our message is: Terrorists have no religion. Thanks to all the friends who showed their deep concern.”

The ceremony culminated in a peace walk throughout the premises of the College. All the faculty members and the students lifted banners and placards which displayed only one ultimate desire; PEACE. One of the banners said: “Let peace be on earth.” This walk demonstrated that for a humble and noble cause such as the prevalence of peace, the different communities connect and join together as one nation. Such demonstration and the expression of humanity caused by sheer grief are self evident of togetherness. The procession took place peacefully and all the students returned with serenity masking their faces and exhilarating their souls in joy and calmness which they portrayed for the deceased.

A remarkable day at Edwardes College ended peacefully. It was heartening to see the air of friendliness and compassion for each other. Edwardes College has always promoted harmony amongst the masses. Today for once the peace and harmony shadowed the remorse and grief that we suffered lately. It filled my heart with even more reverence for my teachers and the young students who made their presence so effective that it will last forever. This day has been marked in the history of the College as a day when humans and not different religious sects mustered up courage and gathered for a cause which will be remembered for many years to come. We need not such tragic events to join hands but such God fearing souls to illuminate the candle of peace, love and harmony.

-the writer is an Environmentalist by profession and based in Peshawar, a former student of Edwardes College, a proud Pakistani, a keen observer of inter-faith dialogue and a staunch advocate of peace.