The only nation where Malala Yousafzai is a contentious figure is her own

Published: April 20, 2017

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. PHOTO: REUTERS

Of the numerous fault lines that exist in our society, none is as divisive as society’s opinion about Malala Yousafzai. A revered symbol of liberation and women empowerment across the world, sadly the only nation where she is a contentious figure is her own.

But why would anyone have a negative opinion about a teenage girl who stood up to the Taliban and even took a bullet for her convictions?  In the following lines, I shall respond to some of the accusations presented against her by her critics.

Perhaps the most pervasive sentiment observed is, “why only her”? The argument goes that Pakistan has lost more than 60,000 lives in this war; men, women, children and elderly alike, all have laid down their lives for the cause of Pakistan. So what’s so special about this one girl? What about her two school friends who also sustained injuries in the targeted attack? Why did she get to go abroad and live comfortably in England with her family, away from the turmoil? Shouldn’t all those who suffered during the war be also entitled to similar treatment?

Using the aid of objectivity and fairness, let us decipher why she indeed deserved the preferential treatment certain segments of our society bemoan so much.

Firstly, at 11-years-old, children are oblivious to the travails of life; they worry about homework, watch cartoons, play cricket in the streets and just enjoy the innocence of youth to the fullest. But then here was a girl, who at that adolescent age was delivering a powerful talk in Peshawar against the Taliban rule, titled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

From thereon, we saw her on all major news channels and talk shows, denouncing the barbaric actions of the Taliban in her city of Swat, where the Taliban were blowing up girls’ schools. Of course people were against the Taliban, but Malala was singularly special because she was outspoken in her condemnation; she did not limit her opinions to family and friends in the safety of her home, like the rest of us did. She was courageous enough to fearlessly face the darkness of extremism herself.

But Malala wasn’t just brave; she also had the foresight of presenting an idea ahead of its time, that all Taliban were bad and that we should be unified in fighting terrorism. This is important to note because that was a time when we as a society were still debating ridiculous notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. The terrorist sympathisers and apologists were still in vogue, and any calls for all-out action against all shades of terrorists were met with a general unease.

Today, she is an emblem of resistance in the fight against terror, and hence will always be an eyesore for the extremists. Unfortunately, that also means her life would be in perpetual threat in Pakistan. So to expect this young teenage girl to put herself in the same ordeal she already went through once would be grossly unreasonable. Our government and security apparatus took the right decision of sending her abroad due to security reasons.

Another concern people have with Malala is her portrayal of Pakistan in a negative light. What we must realise is that criticism does not equate to anti-nationalism. When Malala highlights illiteracywomen inequality or similar issues in the country, it is essentially because she, like the rest of us, wants to see a better Pakistan. And these are not just empty words; through her organization, The Malala Fund, she is helping educate thousands of young girls in the remotest corners of Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, amongst other places.

Our beautiful religion preaches us to stop wrongful acts either physically, through speech, or at least condemn them in our hearts. When your loved ones go astray, don’t you show your displeasure and try to guide them? Similarly, Malala loves Pakistan and that is precisely why she speaks out against its imperfections. But whenever someone shows us the mirror, rather than introspecting upon our blemishes, we look the other way and simply dismiss it as ‘false propaganda’ or ‘cheap efforts for western approval’.

Being the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and being recently appointed as the UN Messenger of Peace, Malala has presented a positive and empowered image of Pakistan to the world. Even in the way she carries herself, always modestly donned in shalwar kameez, she proudly represents her motherland. And still we have the nerve to question her intentions.

To paraphrase JK Rowling, she is the girl who lived. Malala’s perseverance for education and her bravery to fight for her rights should be a source of inspiration for every Pakistani man, woman and child.

“I want people to remember that Pakistan is my country. It is like my mother, and I love it dearly. Even if its people hate me, I will still love it.” – Malala Yousafzai

Usman Ali Virk

Usman Ali Virk

The author hails from Lahore and is a lawyer by profession. He recently graduated with a Masters in Law from the University of California, Berkeley.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ali S

    The answer to “why her” is pretty simple. Jealousy, plain and simple – the whole barrage of “what about the 60,000 others, what about her two classmates blah blah blah” are just excuses to deflect from that. Pakistan is a nation full of thin-skinned, small-minded, easily manipulated people who can’t stand a fellow country(wo)man more articulate and intelligent than they are being appreciated by the rest of the world – they want a hero who stands up against some (most likely imaginary) foreign conspiracy against Islam/Pakistan and antagonizes everyone else.

    Let’s not forget that the average semi-literate Pakistani is probably not above framing his non-Muslim neighbour for blasphemy (i.e. get him lynched by a mob) to settle personal scores – it’s an insult to both Islam and an indication of how low they’re willing to sink. For Malala’s own sake I hope that she lives the rest of her life abroad preaching her message and continues being awesome, Pakistan does not deserve someone of her caliber and she’d be at risk.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    wish I can debate him somewhere.Recommend

  • Commentator

    The main reason some loud Pakistanis do not like Malala is that they are suffering through a terrible inferiority complex. They cannot think beyond the traditional Hindu – Jew – Western conspiracy theories. Most were probably born after Independence, but centuries of slavery had an indelible impression where they see themselves as only pawns.
    Let us grow up and face the world like grownup men. Get rid of this cycle of impotence where negative experience like terrorism does not promote self-examination – but denial. And every positive experience like the bravery and eloquence of a teenage girl is pelted with disbelief.Recommend

  • Omar Mirza

    I agree with this. Recommend

  • Feroz

    All fine, but will you forsake your mother if she beats you once in a while ?Recommend

  • Talha

    Well that is because her own nation is the only nation in the world who really knows the game being played, who can see right through her and the only ones who can see that whatever she does and says is controlled by foreign hands. Her strings are being pulled by the current super power for their own gains. She is a puppet!Recommend

  • ab

    She is being used and why was she standing beside salman rushdie and smilling? I am not voting for herRecommend

  • what u missed?

    Amazingly , no one bothers to read her so-called book which clearly explains her father since birth groomed her as anti religious and anti Zia ul haq ideology. Writer misses the point that America itself kills children in its drone attacks inside Pakistan. They care for a person who defames Pakistan at any level with the “Pakistan is unsafe as it has Taliban” . The girl loves to spread unsafe ignorant Pakistan using Taliban Rhetoric”Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    d her kind will traveBeing the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and being recently appointed
    as the UN Messenger of Peace, Malala has presented a positive and
    empowered image of Pakistan to the world. Even in the way she carries
    herself, always modestly donned in shalwar kameez, she proudly represents her motherland.

    The subjective opinion of the author about the Yousafzai Pashtuns who have no love for the country they live in but for their own tribal cultural traditions. It was a mistake for the so called Taliban Pashtuns who took on a family submerged in education. Malala and her kind are stubborn folk who will travel to the moon for education. knowing that there is no other spot in this or other world which is as beautiful as the State of Swat is? Malala will return to her paradise hen the time comes and swat is free of the men in khaki.and foreign attire.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    Two Pakistani women, Malala Yousafzai and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy have been awarded with Nobel and Oscar prizes. These awards from the western countries, are a slap on the face of men dominated muslim society of Pakistan.
    Thousands of disfigured-face women of Pakistan, including Malala, and thousands languishing in jails because of the perverted blasphemy law, reflect a hatred filled, jealous and an insane talabani society! Think of the lynching of Mashal Khan, from hundreds of cruel muslim men! Yesterday 3 young sisters in sialkot murdered a man in act of revenge, because he had allegedly committed blasphemy before 13 years. Just imagine how these young girls were mentally prepared all these years and then supplied with pistols to commit such a perverted crime!!!

    Home(land) is a place of mutual love, mutual trust, equality, happiness and freedom of thoughts, words and actions. Pakistan is devoid of all these basic characteristics of a civilised society! Malala has doubtlessly found a new home!Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Amazing, apparently you never bothered to read how the Taliban have blown up countless girls schools in Pakistan, and try to suppress any education or development of girls! Instead you throw rocks at Malala for exposing the Taliban as the thugs they really are, trying to impose their warped rules on the country at the point of a gun!
    BTW, just how safe was Pakistan during the last twenty or so terrorist attacks like APS???Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Wow, Malala has worked for women’s rights and education in Pakistan, in a struggle that almost killed her!
    Just what of note have you ever done for Pakistan?


  • Alter Ego

    Abdus Sattar Eidhi
    Bought dead bodies to his apartment , washed them and buried them.
    Lived in a single room , despite massive wealth at his disposal.
    Ran the largest ambulance system in the subcontinent.
    Suffered through karachi dark years by the hands of MQM , Pathans and their supporters alike.
    Opened schools and treatment centres for sick.
    Opened centres where illegal children can be left and were raised instead of being killed.
    Opened old homes for the old and sick.
    Many other contributions that are too numerous to name.

    Got shot , ran to America and stayed there.
    Makes a statement once in a while to tell us things we already know.

    Lip service is cheap, reformation is hard.Recommend

  • Known-To-Many

    Malala should be contentious in Pakistan, because she wants to become future prime minister of this country. So, far she has done nothing for humanity apart form getting injured by terrorists and raising her voice against it, but this has been done millions of time before her by other females who are more successful. Malala is future conspiracy for Pakistan to deal with. She should be monitored continuously till she becomes PM of Pakistan. This will help people deal with her politics and her affiliations abroad, which can greatly help this country thwart any conspiracy from west led lobby.

    Noble peace prize has been awarded to some people in the past who simply were not worthy of it, they did not make this world a better place to live, e.g. Obama.Recommend

  • siesmann

    It is people with misogynist and Talibanized minds who defame Pakistan. And I am sure you haven’t read a word of her book.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Only if that Nation were to look inward ,and realize how hateful it is !!! Your strings are being pulledRecommend

  • siesmann

    And you will ensure that she is protected from your Taliban.It is the mother forsaking her child here.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    Zia’s ideology is what is Blowing up Stuff Everywhere Now a days in Pakistan Don’t you think?Recommend

  • Ahmad

    He is Martin Schulz Not Salman Rushdie, Dont Go Blind in your hate for Someone.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    Puppet To Malign Super Power Pakistan, Pakistan that is the Most righteous and Pious Country in the World? Haha You guys are So Funny. You Dont anybody to Malign Your Country Man.Recommend

  • Rasheed

    That’s what you think. Don’t get me wrong; I like Malala and and I’m astounded by the way she opposed the Taliban. Seriously, it’s not easy. We piss our pants just knowing terrorists are in our respective cities, let alone being targeted by them!

    Now onto my doubts. You and I both know that ever since Malala’s shooting incident
    occurred she’s been awarded with a tonne of prizes. From the Nobel Peace Prize to honorary certificates of merit from high profile universities, she’s been reeling with all the praise. To put it simply, the girl’s being kept in the spotlight. You’ve got Mukhtara Bibi, Pervez Hoodhbhoy…but they’re not being given the limelight. From my perusal, the big capitalist elite have some nefarious motive and it has something to do with Malala as PM of Pakistan (Which she will win, inevitably). Whatever it is, I hope she resists.Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul
  • Ghazi Gul

    “Two Pakistani women, Malala Yousafzai and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy have
    been awarded with Nobel and Oscar prizes. These awards from the western
    countries, are a slap on the face of men dominated muslim society of
    Not really. Pakistan is not a men dominated society. In fact men do most of the work and die early while women are fat and lazy and own most of the property.

    BTW Both these women got their fame and fortune by betraying Pakistan before the West. They both contributed to the the destruction of Pakistan. Both puppets of the west lied. Their lies are verifiable.

    They are not respected or believed in Pakistan because most Pakistanis are able to see through lies and fabrications. Note that Edhi Sahib who did the work of angels throughout his life was not recognized at all.Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    Very truly said. She is puppet in foreign hands. She works for foreign agencies against Pakistani interests.That is why she is hated in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Hasan

    Please quote a single incident where she has bad mouthed Pakistan or tried to paint Pakistan in a generally overall poor light. I shall be so very grateful and even pay for your google search.Recommend

  • Hasan

    Only a mentally deranged person will believe that in this age of mobile /whatsapp/ face book and instant communication the WEST will need the testimony of a young girl to malign Pakistan. I can bet a thousand dollars (because I don’t have a million dollars), if someone can show her active and supportive participation in a talk show primarily or indirectly designed to paint Pakistan as a whole in negative light. Any takers? Spend a couple of hours on google and be rich by a thousand dollars.Recommend

  • hore choopo

    She is a staunch and devoted Muslim.Zia ul Haq damaged the name of Islam.Malala has given respect to Muslim women.Recommend

  • hore choopo

    because u have not read the actual old history.Recommend

  • hore choopo

    Is it a rhetoric? Open your eyes please.Recommend

  • hore choopo

    This is why Pakistan is at the bottom of every table.Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    It is the western countries which advocate democracy ,human dignity,equality,rule of law, honesty..Those ,who are calling Malala a puppet of the west should
    live in a middle eastern country for a few months with a respectful life and I will take back my comments.It is a western country which has elected a Muslim as Mayor of London. Thousands of Pakistani doctors are living as kings in the USA.Compare the status of Pakistanis In the west with your so called brethern countries.
    Malala is loved by the Africans , Palestinians for her donations for schools. She is repected by all the Nations of the world except by those who have been taught sugar coated,distorted,and biased history since their childhood.Recommend

  • hore choopo

    What the super power is gaining from Malala? Is she preparing a super neutron bomb for them?Recommend

  • hore choopo

    Those are the puppets who are buying properties and accumulating killing innocent Pakistani citizens by money acquired from foreign agencies. She is building schools in Swat, Kenya, Palestine ,lebanon from the money received by her prizes.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    You become a Puppet, an agent and Anti-Pakistan Traitor WHEN you point out flaws in our Society, Otherwise We are all good.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Just what of note have you ever done for Pakistan?

    Like the Sharifs he has prayed for Pakistan. Is this not enough?

    Rex Minor.Recommend

  • Talha

    Lol such superficial minds. Our short sighted mindset is the reason why Angrez are so ahead of us. They are making her an icon throughout the world, they are feeding her with their values, they are making her their agent. She will eventually return to Pakistan to contest for prime minister ship and thus US will have an even stronger puppet in Pakistan to rule in her instead.

    I am sure you will laugh at this response too. But only if superficial people could see the world politics clearly, sigh!Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    Malala was recruited and groomed by CIA/MI6 when she was a child. Her father has always opposed Pakistan and Islam. He is her handler. Paid by these foreign agencies. She is now their covert operative working against Pakistan, Islam and Muslims. A Trojan Horse!Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    She is in no more danger than any other child in Pakistan , did all the families of APS went abroad after their children were killed ?

    She has done no work , no physical solid work for people in Pakistan.
    All she does is make statements, as if we do not know , what are the problems that plaque our country.

    It is in these very situations that brave Pakistani men and women go to their jobs , their businesses.It is in these very conditions that welfare organizations work.It is in these very conditions that our brave teachers and teams are conducting census.

    All Malala does is sit and make statements about Pakistan from thousands of miles away as if we are all illiterate here.

    There are hundreds of fine folks here who teach poor children free of cost.They make no statements , no declarations , they quietly go about their amazing work .Their work speaks for themselves when those children reach high profile jobs.

    Those are heroes , Malala is just a mouth piece.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Mukhtar Bibi,Hoodhbnoy-two more people Pakistanis hate extremely !!!Unfortunate country that reviles,and murders people who do something for it.And makes an Idol of murderers,and hateful.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Go get shot in head,and fight Taliban.Maybe you will also get some prize.Impotent and emascualate like you can only can revile and envy a brave and good-hearted girl.Recommend

  • Hasan

    You must be joking. Right?Recommend

  • Hasan

    [Please quote a single incident where she has bad mouthed Pakistan or tried to paint Pakistan in a generally overall poor light. I shall be so very grateful and even pay for your google search].

    Still waiting. Not a single solid reference.Recommend

  • Hasan

    [The girl loves to spread unsafe ignorant Pakistan using Taliban Rhetoric]
    If you are so sure than why don’t you take up my challenge and earn a thousand dollars. Of course you cannot.Recommend

  • Commentator

    Buddy, they don’t joke! They just live in their self-imposed prison where alway the convenient answers are provided by conspiratorsRecommend

  • only truth is nature

    if she was cia agent,why pak army support her?Recommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    You are demonstrating your lack of awarenessRecommend

  • Xyz

    She can do more good by being on an international platform as a spokesperson compared to the others you mentioned. What would you yourself choose had you been in her place? You malign her and yet bow down before your politicians who instead of doing any good are rather causing harm.Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    Comparing Apples and Oranges .
    Politicians are liars , through and through , the world over.
    However if politicians are bad , it does not mean that Malala is right.
    Getting a lot of prizes does not mean that you have done any service for humanity , it means you are a darling of western media.
    What good has her achievements done any common man in Pakistan.
    The school children in Karachi are braver than her as they go to their schools amid tension and violence.
    Her lip service does not matter an ounce to a common Pakistani man.
    She wants to make a change then open schools , open universities , open trade learning centers,open hospitals.
    If you can not do any of that ,then hold your silence , your words are meaningless.Recommend

  • Ben Youssef

    What is wrong with Malala father grooming his daughter. Why are you and many others in Pakistan are so insecure regarding Malala and her dad. Who care if they defamed or criticized Pakistan, Pakistan I happens to admire is a strong and self assured nation. Please leave the kid alone.Recommend

  • Rasheed

    Well, that’s what you say. Look from a Pakistani’s perspective and we can easily say all Indians are supporters of radical groups and ideas like Shiv Sena and banning beef.Recommend