Malala Yousefzai wrote and delivered an outstanding speech at the United Nations last week. Yet, many in the cyber world of comments, tweeting, and hot air dispensing were not only dissatisfied, but missed the heart of her message completely. Instead, many nitpicked about how she should have done X, Y, or Z, and not A, B, or C, including, among many other criticisms, supposedly her failure to sufficiently glorify Islam and/or the Prophet Muhammad. This is very typical of myopic Muslims who time and again fail to receive important messages as the one Malala is conveying, and instead focus on – no, obsess about – the trivial and peripheral nonsense that they can pick on endlessly like mindless vultures. Why do we bother pondering the reasons why the Muslim world is not progressing? If only they would actually take her advice about getting a decent education and using their intellect for the greater good! But that might be asking too much. It’s much more convenient to blame others for all your problems.
Pakistan is already overflowing with conspiracy theories pertaining to Malala’s UN sponsorship for the speech. Some ridiculous conjectures include CIA support for her activism, and even farfetched suggestions that the CIA is the one that actually shot her in the head in order to “make Pakistan look bad.” Let’s be frank here, does Pakistan really need outside help to look any worse? It’s not exactly the best example for “good governance” for the past decades, and some would even say since the country’s birth. Besides, blaming outside forces for all their woes is really getting old. And, let’s stoop to yet a deeper low and chastise a young girl for what – getting shot in the head? For taking a refreshingly nonviolent stand against extremism and ignorance? For initiating activism for girls’ education in Pakistan? Yes, she deserves to be shot for all that, some actually would say!
Then came the letter to Malala from a high-ranking Taliban commander, which could not possibly be out of embarrassment. The Taliban are not known for being embarrassed about anything they do. Clearly, he saw a PR disaster as a result of Malala’s global stature. According to the New York Times, the 4-page letter – “was signed by the militant Adnan Rashid, a former Pakistani Air Force officer who took part in an attempt to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf a decade ago and escaped from prison last year, in the biggest jailbreak in Pakistani history.” Yes, he is an esteemed character indeed, and he represents a segment of Pakistan’s armed forces no less. What exactly does he want to convey to Malala?
Adnan Rashid explains in the letter that the Taliban shot Malala, not because of her activism and advocacy for girls’ education, but rather her “smear campaign” against the Taliban. He admonishes “English” education and then he says:
“I advise you to come back home, adopt the Islamic and Pushtoon culture, join any female Islamic madrassa near your home town, study and learn the book of Allah, use your pen for Islam and plight of Muslim ummah and reveal the conspiracy of tiny elite who want to enslave the whole humanity for their evil agendas in the name of new world order.”
The Taliban enslaved the Swat Valley, using brutality and force against locals to comply with their distorted policies. The Taliban never hesitate to kill, maim, and brutalize civilians, and in his own words, they can’t even take criticism (i.e., “Malala’s smear campaign”) from a teenager! By his own admission, the Taliban shot her in the head because she criticized them. And, he claims the assassination attempt had nothing to do with her education advocacy, but yet he emphasizes that she must attend only a female madrassa that teaches nothing useful for individual and social progress and development.
Exactly which ‘ummah’ is he talking about? Is it the one in which Shias, Ahmadis, and other sectarian and religious minorities are not only excluded, but even violently persecuted? Is it the one in which schoolgirls get acid thrown in their faces for daring to get an education? Is it the puritanical ummah that hates and fears females and anyone and any ideology that does not conform to its own brand? Is it the ummah that is being forced on civilians at gunpoint and with threats of beheadings and amputations? Is it that great ummah in which the Taliban carry out suicide bombings killing scores of civilians, in order to impose their own “new world order”? Hypocrisy thy name is the Taliban!
The greater travesty is that many in Pakistan are embracing the Taliban’s messages and reactions. The fact that the Taliban’s asinine victimization claims are touching a chord in Pakistani society, to the extent that many are reviling Malala, is a deeply troubling commentary about the state of affairs in Pakistan.
Pakistan is afflicted with much more than just geopolitical complexities; it is clearly in deep psychological crisis and confusion about its national identity, internal contradictions, violent dissent, and the rise and empowerment of militancy, extremism, and militarism in nearly all aspects of society. Many Pakistanis obsess with blaming outside forces for all their troubles, yet they ignore their self-inflicted social ills, including violent misogyny, debilitating poverty, and gross corruption and incompetence of political leaders. The greatest casualty in all this social/psychological turmoil is something so basic and essential to survival and progress: common sense.
Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the US Naval War College. The views expressed are personal.