Although Malala Yousafzai has been widely praised and celebrated by the international community for speaking out against the Taliban and advocating education for women and children, her celebrity has not been matched for some in her own country of Pakistan. Instead of receiving due praise and acclamation, Yousafzai has seen a number of insults and conspiracy theories thrown her way. But, while her Pakistani critics are busy portraying her as a tool of the West, they are missing the realization that she has truly become a symbol of strength, perseverance and justice for Pakistan.
Last Friday, on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot her in the head last October by the Taliban in retaliation for advocating education for children and women, spoke at the United Nations. Her speech on making education for children free and compulsory was both powerful and touching, and was acclaimed worldwide, as was her
Inexplicably, and rather shamefully, some individuals in Malala’s home country of Pakistan had a different reaction to her speech. Young Malala’s moment of glory at the UN was not aired by many Pakistani stations, and although the occasion was marked as Malala Day by the UN, her own country did nothing to recognize the occasion. Only a few politicians, bothered to praise her. And even then, their praise was limited; Imran Khan’s was done just through a quick tweet.
Many Pakistanis reacted negatively to news of Malala, for no reason other than the fact that she had garnered adulation and support from Western leaders. It seems Pakistanis distrust those leaders to the point where they have become tragically doubtful of one of their own simply by association.
Those doubtful of Malala’s sincerity have taken to conspiracy theories, and though their logic is deeply flawed, it is rather simple. According to Shiza Shahid, a major supporter of Yousafzai’s work, support for Malala in Pakistan was fleeting: “… Soon the narrative started to come: ‘Well, if the West loves her so much, she must be a CIA agent,’” or, “Well, you know, now that her father is going around speaking about peace in the U.S., he must have planned this."
Taking to their Twitters and Facebooks, some have even begun to say that the entire story is a fabrication, and that Yousafzai wasn't even shot to begin with.
Tweets such as these were flowing freely not long after her speech as some Paistanis insisted that she was just a ploy used by the West to make Pakistan look bad on the international stage. Never mind the fact that the Taliban has proudly taken responsibility of attempting to assassinate Malala, and had boasted of its crime.
Another narrative used by some Pakistanis who are wary of Yousafzai, and the West’s support for her, is that the United States is simply praising and hailing her in order to draw attention away from the hundreds of kids who are killed by drone attacks. They wonder why the West cares so much about this one girl, while killing hundreds like her. While that is an important question, the individuals who are asking it are missing the greater point. Malala is not more important or more precious than other kids who have tragically lost their lives, but she now symbolizes something very important for Pakistan, and they are foolish to simply ignore that.
Pakistanis' reaction to Malala says much about the country as whole, and, more importantly, it sheds light on Pakistan’s shaky relationship with the West. Malala Yousafzai has dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of all girls in Pakistan. But instead of due praise, she had been met with backlash, solely because she is being supported by Western leaders. Malala’s inspiring words on the importance of education and women’s rights are extremely important and necessary, and it would be a true travesty if the message was lost simply because of Pakistanis suspicions against the West.