Pakistan’s Malala and the ‘White Man’s Burden’

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. Former Editor-in-Chief of The Moscow News, he is author of the book, 'Midnight in the American Empire,' released in 2013.
Pakistan’s Malala and the ‘White Man’s Burden’
The autobiography of Malala Yousafazi, the young Pakistani girl who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, is banned from schools in Pakistan. She's become a symbol of hypocrisy and double-standards in the backyard of America’s ‘war on terror.’

On the surface, Malala’s story seems to fit perfectly with the Western narrative on the Middle East in general and Pakistan in particular: a 15-year-old girl working tirelessly on behalf of female educational reform is gunned down on a school bus by members of the Taliban.

Yousafazi not only survives gunshot wounds to the head and neck, but goes on to be a nominee for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, and publishes her youthful memoirs in a just-released book, entitled, I Am Malala.

Although hyped in the West, Malala’s book, which was co-written with the British journalist Christina Lamb, has been banned by Pakistani officials and bemoaned by the Pakistani public, who see more than just a story of a young girl espousing the benefits of universal education.

Adeeb Javedani, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, said Malala's book won’t be appearing on the library shelves of its 40,000 affiliated schools. He also petitioned the government to bar the book from school curriculums.

''Everything about Malala is now becoming clear,'' Javedani said, as quoted by Dawn, the Pakistani news agency. ''To me, she is representing the West, not us.''

Clearly, Milala’s accomplishments have failed to win her hero status in her native land. But the reason for Yousafazi becoming more a source of animosity than virtuosity may have more to do with Western behavior than Pakistani public perceptions per se.

First, to better understand the situation, let’s briefly reverse the situation and imagine ourselves in the place of the Pakistanis, who have become unwitting participants – sometimes even the collateral damage - in Washington’s never-ending war on terrorism in the region.

Imagine, if you will, a Middle Eastern power, previously attacked on its soil by a small yet fiercely dedicated band of Christian fundamentalists, going on a decades-long manhunt for these individuals along the heavily forested Canadian border with the United States. 

Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls' education, poses for pictures before an event launching her memoir, "I Am Malala", at the Southbank Centre in central London October 20, 2013.(Reuters / Olivia Harris)

The terror mastermind is no longer Osama bin Laden, but rather some backwater Florida pastor with a small, yet fanatical following of radicals.

In the course of this imaginary scenario, the Islamic superpower decides – unilaterally, of course - that the most efficacious way of eliminating the terrorists is to carry out drone missile attacks on American territory, with or without the cooperation or invitation of the native population.

And as with anything the military get its hands on, the drone campaign quickly turns into a bloody hit-and-miss affair, with hundreds of innocent Americans being killed courtesy of the Islamic power’s eye-in-the-sky death technology.

Increasingly, however, even when the Middle East superpower gets lucky and takes out a real-life villain – as the United States just did when it killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, on Pakistan territory – the local population erupts in cries of condemnation against the “treacherous” Islamic superpower.

After all, the Americans were attempting to negotiate with the troublesome Christian pastor – in much the same way that the Pakistanis were attempting to enter into peace talks with Mehsud – but the Islamic superpower unilaterally decided against Washington's plan of action.

This is most maddening for the Americans, especially since the supremely arrogant Islamic superpower voted out its previous ‘war president’ in favor of a Democratic leader, who somehow managed to win a Nobel Peace Prize while only in office for just over a week! Yet, despite the change of Islamic leadership, the drone strikes have increased almost exponentially. 

This imaginary anti-terror scenario, which sees an Islamic superpower on American soil carrying out hundreds of arbitrary attacks against local rebels, should make it more understandable as to why the Pakistani people have become extremely critical of anything associated with the West – including, no less, a book by a 15-year-old girl that was co-written by a western journalist and released by a western publishing house.

"A lot of children die every day in drone attacks, and the US is responsible for those deaths,” Ejaz Akram, Associate Professor Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore University, told RT. “Why not make a monument to all the children the US has killed in drone attacks?”

The West is bigoted because it is trying to get political mileage of that (Milala story), he added.

Professor Akram summed up America’s behavior in his homeland: “The US is a trigger-happy country. If there’s a fly sitting on your face, they want to kill the fly with a shotgun and don’t care what happens to your face.”
Other Middle Eastern commentators expressed similarly strong sentiments in an effort to explain the source of Pakistan’s pent-up frustrations with the ongoing US military operation that does not seem to have the best interests of the Pakistani people at heart.

Aafia Siddiqui.(AFP Photo / Rizwan Tabassum)

Assed Baig, writing in The Huffington Post, said that while there is no justification for “the brutal actions of the Taliban or the denial of the universal right to education,” there remains “a deeper more historic narrative” that explains the West’s intense interest in the story of Milala Yousafazi.

“This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man,” Baig argues. “Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalized. Journalists and politicians were falling over themselves to report and comment on the case. The story of an innocent brown child that was shot by savages for demanding an education and along comes the knight in shining armour to save her.”

The actions of the West, the bombings, the occupations the wars all seem justified now, "see, we told you, this is why we intervene to save the natives," Baig concluded.

This may partially explain why so many Pakistanis consider Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who is serving an 86-year jail sentence in New York for trying to kill Americans in Afghanistan, something of a national hero, popularly known as the “daughter of the nation,” yet Malala Yousafzai, the teenage activist who was shot by the Taliban, is chastised as “a pawn of the West.”

Perhaps before we judge the Pakistanis too harshly for banning Milala’s book, we should take a moment and view the situation from their perspective. 

Robert Bridge is the author of the book, Midnight in the American Empire, which examines the dangerous consequences of extreme corporate power in the United States today.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.