Malala vs APS survivors: Do our children have to compete to be our heroes?

Published: April 3, 2018
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Both Malala and the APS victims are our heroes, and there should be no unnecessary competition to pick one.

It was in 2014 – while I was studying for my Masters in Europe – that a German classmate of mine, upon getting to know I am from Pakistan, showed me a picture of Malala Yousafzai receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. I can recall chatter in the classroom of European students about Malala’s bravery, and the hardships she faced as she pursued an education in Pakistan.

This was one of the rare moments of my life when I took great pride in belonging to the same country as Malala, and for all the activism that I do, including this very piece, I believe that I would rather say #IamMalala than #IamnotMalala.

Malala recently returned to Pakistan for a short trip, and true to its form, social media was filled with absurd and derogatory memes comparing Malala to the victims of the Army Public School (APS) attack. This was an exercise trying very hard to prove the point that out of the two heroes, we have to choose just one.

Admittedly, both Malala and the APS victims are our heroes, and given the shortage of heroes in this country, I suggest we accept them both, rather than forming an unnecessary competition to pick one.

To the people who have seen these memes and are comparing one with the other, I would just like to assert that the comparison is invalid. Malala spent 15 years of her life in one of the most remote areas of Pakistan. She has seen shelling, gunfire, and witnessed actual warfare during her childhood; yet she stayed in her own village, continued her education, openly challenged the Taliban, and eventually, invited a bullet in her head for her activism. For Malala, this bullet was not accidental, it was a certainty; a threat to silence her for speaking up about the atrocities of the Taliban. What the Taliban could not silence, they tried to eliminate entirely.

This is an extraordinary case of bravery. As a Pakistani man who has lived in Karachi, I wouldn’t even leave my home in 2012 when the city resembled Mogadishu. I was too afraid, and wanted to avoid any danger to my health or my property. It takes only a few special, daring ones among us who challenge the fear and push the bar further for the rest of us.

Out of all the people protesting against Malala, especially the private school teachers and students, none have ever volunteered to teach or study at a public school in Swat, or any other region where there is an ongoing military operation. These are well-fed, fortunate Pakistanis who have the luxury to reside in urban centres, who shamelessly charge a lot of money for education in a poor country, and yet denounce a girl from a rural area who stands up for education.

The APS attack was an atrocity of a different vein, as the school was a symbol of security for children in an urban centre. The land was relatively safe and there were no imminent threats, rather, it was considered the safest environment for children to study in an unsafe country. The attack was shocking and broke the country, but it does seem unfair to bring up a comparison that does justice to neither of our heroes.

For instance, when it comes to Kashmir and Palestine, which region would you support to be liberated first? Which cause deserves your attention and your activism? The answer is both, because both of them contain people who are suffering and striving to achieve freedom.

If we can see that and support both, then why is it that when it comes to Malala, our so-called private schools are running a shameful campaign and unnecessarily maligning a girl who is only standing up and doing the right thing? After all, what is it that we hate Malala for? Do we hate her for speaking up, or do we hate her for surviving?

It is very easy to comment on Malala and her family, and how they left the country once she was shot. However, it is also easy to imagine the same people who attack Malala booking a one-way ticket out of the country the first chance they get if it was their family or their children being directly threatened or attacked. Everyone wants to protect their children, and Malala’s parents are no different.

What is pinching our society is that Malala was brave enough to stay and endure, and was brave enough to stand up to the Taliban, until she had to leave the country in a coma to quite literally save her life.

Many of us who are criticising Malala have lived a life of privilege. We live in cities, drive on roads and send our kids to school in vans without the fear they will be stopped and attacked with guns. We do not hear gunfire, or let our children witness any kind of violent content. Our kids are not growing up seeing military operations from the windows of their houses. In fact, we are privileged enough to have the option of escaping whenever we want.

Malala, on the other hand, lived in a conflict zone and spent the early years of her teenage life facing harsh realities. Despite this, she continued the fight for her education and went out that day to give her exam. Before being shot in the head, the shooter inquired who Malala was. Any kid, or for that matter, any adult would lie in that moment, but Malala bravely addressed the man by saying, “I am Malala.”

Comparing an innocent girl shot in the head to other innocent children shot at school – how has it come to this? Is there a competition over how we let our children get shot in this country? Has our hate for Malala increased so much that nothing remains sacred – not even the victims of APS? Would we have cared about Malala had she died that day, or would we have respected her more if she had stayed and was targeted once again by the Taliban?

Malala is a symbol of bravery – we can hate her for it, but we cannot deny it. A Nobel laureate and a good human being, she has experienced the true danger that emerged under the rule of the Taliban in our country, and survived. The Taliban were defeated, and Malala emerged victorious. In every sense of the word, Malala is a hero, and if our own ignorance stands in the way of us recognising that, then we really are not worthy of heroes in this country.

Qamber Awan

Qamber Awan

The author a social critic and a contributor of Express Tribune.

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

  • Mohammad Talha

    Brilliant article. After a long and frivolous tirade on Malala in the national social media, it is so comforting to read something positive and inspiring. Well done Qamber Awan.Recommend

  • Dr Shahida Wizarat

    Pakistani people are not choosing the Army Public School children over Malala. It is the US that is doing the choosing . It has chosen Malala over all the other children that have been hurt in the so called war against terror in Pakistan. Children have been killed and injured in the drone attacks, by the Taleban and the ongoing operations. But the US has not raised its voice against these killings ! Infact it has been killing Pakistani children in drone attacks for many years now, while we shamelessly watch these killings ! Pakistani people are reacting against the US choosing only Malala over all the other children. People are reacting against the politization of the Malala episode. People are reacting against the meetings between Malala and her family with Richard Halbrook and CIA officials ! People are reacting against the Pakistani political order where US selects Pakistani ruling clique and installs them on positions. They can see Malala being prepared for a leadership role by the US. Pakistani people do not hate Malala, but they hate the political order which instals CIA touts on leadership positions in Pakistan !Recommend

  • dawah urdu

    You are absolutely rightRecommend

  • Sane sid

    Strange country….where Zia is still held in high regard and people hate MalalaRecommend

  • Parvez

    Agree with what you have said ……Recommend

  • Parvez

    You have an over active imagination…. causing you to see shadows where none exist.Recommend

  • HUM

    The funny thing is people actually believe that to infiltrate pakistani ruling class, Americans need to groom someone from early age. As if people in power do not do their bidding already.
    Great article btwRecommend

  • MJ

    What Malala haters are not going to tell you that both Waleed Khan and one of his friends injured at APS are in UK getting full medical treatment and education paid for by Malala.
    They also won’t tell you that Malala donated most of her Nobel prize award towards building schools in Swat.
    They also won’t tell you that she used 35% of her earning from the book she narrated and co-authored towards helping girls in Pakistan get higher education.
    They also won’t tell you that Malala has opened schools for Syrian refugee kids and has generated and donated more money for Syrian refugees than all of Pakistani organizations combined.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Would wonder just what the “doctor”has been self prescribing for delusions?
    Please provide credible sources that Malala met with CIA OFFICIALS as you claim, or was that just another made up part of your rantings against Malala!Recommend

  • Sane

    Like you give high regard to your PM Modi, but we hate him being butcher of Muslims.Recommend

  • Sane sid

    CIA met Malala???? What are you smoking Doctor???? Its not good for youRecommend

  • Andrew Davis

    Firstly, thank you for writing this blog. It is an eye opener about what we really are doing.

    I personally have nothing against Malala, though I do find the media hype about her a little more than necessary (but that is my personal opinion and I have no right to voice it on matters that are beyond my reach of information or to make any sort of comparisons). She is a brave kid and we need more kids like her. If there is any comparison between her and the kids who survived the APS attack, it is that they are both heros.

    Both faced odds which though not connected in any way, were actually odds which they surmounted. For Malala coming back to this country where she was shot must have been frightening as well as emotional. For the APS kids who survived the attack, it is the same. Malala stood up for her education that she needed and wanted. The APS survivors are doing the same.

    I sincerely doubt that there isn’t a single day that either Malala or the APS survivors don’t relive the horrors they had experienced. For anyone, including myself, criticizing or comparing her and the APS kids (both those who lost their lives as well as those who survived) is wrong in every manner. No one appointed me as judge to pass judgment. Most of us, including myself, have only that information which we have seen on TV or the NEWS, so why should we speculate and make judgments about matters to which we don’t have a complete understanding or comprehension.

    As for the haters, let them hate. Their hate and comparison, didn’t stop Malala from visiting Pakistan, neither did it stop the APS survivors from going back to the same school, which they undoubtedly have horrific memories of. We however, should refrain from making any sort of comparisons whatsoever, as it is an insult to both the Malala and the APS survivors and will discourage others from taking a stand.Recommend

  • Andrew Davis

    As a nation, we have a problem which cannot be addressed nationally, but rather needs to be addressed, resolved and stopped on a personal and individual basis. We claim to have education but we act like illiterate people and follow the mob. We don’t think for ourselves. So when someone says that Malala is a CIA agent, instead of using our God given reasoning ability we tend to jump on the band wagon and start repeating things we hear as the fact.Recommend

  • Andrew Davis

    Sadly, the law enforcers and policy makers are politicized. They are generally not interested in the welfare of the public, rather they are more interested in making laws to appease those who they serve.Recommend

  • fae

    Really shows the state of the country when we have such a low literacy rate but even the ones that are educated have bizarre views like this.Recommend