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Why is Malala in Pakistan Such A Divisive Figure?

The majority of Malala’s criticism in Pakistan stems from how she has been portrayed in Anglophone media cultures.

After being shot almost six years ago, Malala has made her first trip to Pakistan. Despite the fact that many, including state officials, have embraced her, there are also those who continue to harbor suspicions and even observe “anti-Malala day.” She appears to have as many enemies as admirers.

She received online trolls in October 2017 for wearing jeans. A Pakistani minister had previously stated in May 2017 that the attacks on Malala were staged. She then named a number of young Pakistani women, particularly those who were excelling academically, and referred to them as “not Malala.” As soon as Malala’s autobiography came out, Kashif Mirza, the head of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, made the observation that, despite the fact that the 152,000 private schools in the federation had stood by Malala when she was shot, they had now decided to ban her book: “She was a role model for children, but this book has made her controversial… Through this book, she became a tool in the hands of the Western powers,” according to the author.

These anti-Malala sentiments are interpreted in Western contexts as a representation of Pakistanis’ pre-modern sensibilities. Since human rights are the current dominant vocabulary for justice, any criticism of Malala is presumed to be a criticism of human rights. Therefore, expressing discontent with Malala automatically suggests an anti-women’s rights disposition. As a result, Western media outlets publish pieces like “Why Pakistan Hates Malala” that promote notions that Pakistanis are conspiracy theorists, envious, or hostile toward women and girls.

Instead, a nuanced approach to the anti-Malala sentiment is required so that it does not simply serve as additional material for portraying Pakistanis and Muslims as intolerance. Fundamentally, understanding enemy of Malala opinion gives open doors to us to turn out to be more canny about the governmental issues of her portrayal in Anglophone media societies, which I trust drives quite a bit of this feeling in Pakistan.

To put it another way, in order to curate a figure that can be praised in the West, we must examine how she is depicted, which aspects of her life are omitted, and the effects of such knowledge-making practices.

Stuart Hall, a scholar of cultural studies, reminds us that until it has been represented, an object has “no fixed meaning, no real meaning in the obvious sense.” As a result, representations give specific meanings to the things they try to represent. According to scholar Alexander Weheliye of African American Studies, this process takes place in a setting with power imbalances. As a result, some articulations become preferred because they re-inscribe the prevalent relationships between power and ideological interests.

For instance, representations of Malala in Anglophone media cultures highlight her bravery in challenging local patriarchies. This interpretation of Malala is well-liked in the West due to its reliance on preexisting meaning maps and portrayal of Pakistanis and Muslims as unconcerned about violence against women. In a geopolitical context of Islamophobia, racism, and ongoing colonial power relations, Malala’s “girl power” becomes apparent.

In particular, Malala is addressed as the young lady who resisted the social rationales employable in Pakistan, and who currently encapsulates a transnational, mainstream innovation exemplified by her accentuation on the independent self, establishment of decision, support for opportunity and contentions for orientation uniformity. Malala is shown to be an exception rather than a representation of the courage of Muslims and Pakistanis to resist violence.

She is unique in her bravery and successful empowerment performance thanks to extensive media coverage and international organizations’ adoption of her image. She is depicted as a heroine who triumphs over all odds or, as TIME magazine describes her, as the “champion for girls everywhere.” She is made an exception by things like book deals, celebrating “Malala Day,” and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Even her book’s title, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (2013) places her in the center of the story and emphasizes her individuality.

Malala’s positive qualities, such as her formal education, aspiration, and desire for success, must be connected to another source in order to establish her as an exceptional Muslim girl. This requires individualizing Malala, isolating her from her local environment and cultures, and abstracting her from them. Her boldness, then, at that point, isn’t perused as grounded in Pashtun social practices that valorise civil rights. Instead, she is presented as a singular opponent of cultural elements and local customs.

As a result, the concept of Malala perpetuates deeply hurtful assumptions about Muslims and Pakistanis. It turns every Muslim man in Pakistan into a terrorist, and every Muslim woman becomes a victim or a potential victim. Malala and other Muslim girls are kept apart. She is made to at the same time sub for, address and represent the lastingly abused Muslim young lady, and situated as the engaged young lady who isn’t one of them.

Other Muslim girls are denied the same kinds of empowered subjectivities by this portrayal of Malala. More importantly, it maintains Pakistan’s image as a backward country and Islam as an oppressive religion, presenting Western intervention as necessary or even ethically imperative.

It is essential to note, in any case, that this portrayal of Malala deletes the minutes where she, at the end of the day, features her extreme explicitness as a Muslim and as a Pakistani, and her enemy of frontier and hostile to majestic positions.

For instance, if we read I Am Malala against the grain, we find that there are a lot of strong-willed women and kind, thoughtful men, as well as vibrant cultures and societies. The Pashtun culture and people are discussed in detail in the text; We learn about their hospitality, poetry oral traditions, love of knowledge, the need for kindness, and mountain societies’ beauty and fragility. There are occasions when Islam emerges as a source of peace and generosity. For instance, local Muslim charities were the only ones to remain after the earthquake in 2005 to assist the local population.

We meet women in I am Malala who defy the stereotype of the Muslim victim waiting for a savior. There is evidence of women’s enactments of agency that emerge within the constraints of socioeconomic and political structures, ranging from Malala’s namesake, the Malalai of Maiwand, who fought the British, to her great-grandmother, who “walked forty miles alone over mountains” in order to appeal for the release of her son.

The narrative that reduces human rights activism to simply “resistance” against local practices is undermined by these glimpses into the lives of Muslim women, which add complexity and work against it. At the intersection of local, national, and global forces, women experience empowerment and exercise agency. They resist, but they also make concessions, change, shape, and plan. Pakistani women’s efforts to assert their rights within local frameworks and against domestic and global patriarchies are depicted in Malala’s writings.

We also come across a wide variety of kind, thoughtful, and intelligent Muslim men who work for the betterment of their communities, including challenging the advancements of the local militants who are inspired by the Taliban. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, an activist; Jehan Yousafzai, Ziauddin’s cousin who brought a gift to Malala’s birth; Uncle Dada, a conscientious teacher; Nasir Pacha, a stranger who helped Ziauddin finish his college education; Akbar Khan, Ziauddin’s mentor; Usman Bhai Jan, the beloved school bus driver; and Dr. Javid, the

Fazlullah, Sufi Mohammad, and the mufti who tried to close Ziauddin’s school, the book’s key Taliban characters, are viewed as irregularities by local men and women. The Pashtuns called their assembly of elders to oppose Fazlullah, and those who had previously viewed him favorably retracted their support when his initiatives did not align with their sensibilities. In fact, the challenge to Fazlullah comes from within the community. The local media also prominently featured challenges to Fazlullah’s militancy.

Malala has spoken out against drone strikes in recent years; She has spoken out against Israel’s state violence against Palestinians; She has given money to rebuild Gaza schools; She has spoken out against Afghan bombings and Kashmiri atrocities; what’s more, raised her voice to improve outcasts.

As a result, Malala has benefited those who are marginalized by racism, Islamophobia, global capital, and state violence. She has done so with remarkable grace, tact, and a keen understanding of global politics and local customs. As a result, any criticism of Malala must distinguish between the person Malala is and how she is portrayed in Anglophone media cultures.

The author’s opinions in this article do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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