Malala Yousafzai: Bravery of an ignored struggle
Last month, the world was shocked when the Pakistan based Taliban shot a fourteen year old girl in an assassination attempt because of her education and women's rights activism in the Swat valley. She miraculously survived and the incident stirred a worldwide reaction of solidarity. To the global imagination, Malala Yousafzai became the antithesis to the extremist and apathetic narrative surrounding the nation of Pakistan today. The nation's few inspired citizens raised their voices condemning the attack, as the international media applauded giving a global platform to a largely ignored struggle against extremism. Yet, as time went by, the issue melted away, out of the dynamic news cycle. The rare public outcry was no where to be seen. Yet, the question of the incident's effect on the Pakistani public sphere still hangs in the air. Is Malala's name still chanted on the streets of Pakistan or is it now just a whisper? Has the incident really shaken the people out of their fear and apathy? Has it given them the vigour to reclaim their nation and their faith?
I recently spoke to Imran Khan, head of training and communication at Khudi, an NGO bravely waging grassroot campaigns to challenge extremism in the Swat valley, on what impact this latest incident of barbarism has had on his country.
Ayushman Jamwal: How do you sense the nation of Pakistan reacted to the Malala incident?
Imran Khan: The entire nation was outraged by the attack on Malala. For the first few days, we thought that a national movement will emerge against religious extremism. We were very optimistic that a consensus will emerge in Pakistani society against the Islamist militancy, as everyone including religious political parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami were condemning the attack. However, soon afterwards, the Islamists launched a propaganda blitz and started spreading conspiracy theories defending the attack on Malala. They alleged that her father was a CIA agent and that she had contact with many US diplomats. Some conspiracy theories even went to the extent to say that the Western media created the profile of Malala after which the CIA secretly attacked her to malign the good name of the Taliban to create consensus for a military operation in Waziristan. This helped abate the issue to a great extent. The extremists started asking why the nation was making Malala a hero when so many innocent children died in American drone attacks.
Ayushman Jamwal: How is your organization, Khudi dealing with the incident?
Imran Khan: The attack on Malala has strengthened our resolve to fight against religious extremism. I personally know Malala's family and was planning to engage her in our counter extremism work in Swat. The Taliban have not been able to intimidate us as well as our supporters in the region, and we have organized regular meetings in the valley after the attack to rethink our strategy. We also organized a big protest in Lahore against the attack on Malala. It was the culmination of the Khudi Festival of Ideas in Lahore, where we had gathered around 250 youth activists from across Pakistan.
Ayushman Jamwal: How is the Pakistani political fraternity dealing with the case?
Imran Khan: The reaction of the political class has not really heartened us. We had token condemnations from them, and except government ministers, nobody has directly rebuked the Taliban, even as the group accepted responsibility for the incident. The only exception was some government ministers such as the much reviled Rehman Malik, who made the best arrangements for Malala's medical treatment.
Ayushman Jamwal: Do you sense a more concerted public activism effort against extremism on the rise?
Imran Khan: I don't see a movement emerging against religious extremism. I don't see a concerted effort by the government, civil society and the media to tackle extremism, even though the coverage of the incident by the Pakistani media was commendable, which provoked threats from the Taliban. The Pakistani media is sensationalist and history has shown that it will not analyse the issue of religious extremism and terrorism for more than a few days.
In my opinion, although the majority of the people are still condemning the attack, including many of those who were undecided about religious extremism before the incident, the ground realities have remained unchanged. We are far from a national movement as well as a broad consensus against religious militancy.
Ayushman Jamwal: From Khudi, what would be your message to your fellow citizens?
Imran Khan: Malala is a symbol of resistance against the Taliban. This is not the first time they have shown their brutality to the world. We urge our fellow Pakistanis to understand and open their eyes to this conflict that has consumed our nation. They must realise that 'likes' on Facebook and attending a single rally will not deliver peace and justice to our nation. Bravery like Malala's is the need of the hour to demand action from our political class, and stand up against militants who for years have pillaged our nation and perverted our faith. We must take it all back.
More about Ayushman Jamwal
Ayushman Jamwal works on the foreign desk at CNN-IBN.
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