There is an image of her where she sits in an auditorium. A lone figure with a notebook and a pen, she sits surrounded by rows of empty seats covered in shiny black leather. The picture tells much about Malala and her struggle: a vulnerable girl out on her own, holding on to her books like a talisman, drawing strength from her belief in the power of education.
The Express Tribune, Pakistan
The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 has been jointly awarded to Kailash Satyarthi of India and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and this has brought immense pride and happiness to us in Pakistan. One is a global household name, the other far less well-known internationally hitherto, but no less important. Malala Yousufzai, at 17, becomes the youngest-ever winner. The award is threaded through with symbolism, being made to an Indian and a Pakistani, a Hindu and a Muslim, and made at a time when tensions between the two countries are at a peak, with daily firing across the Line of Control. It sends the strongest possible message at the time of greatest difficulty and tension to those who determine the levels of cross-border violence on both sides. The joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize come from humble origins and both will have in all likelihood worked in ignorance of one another until today, yet both had a common agenda. They have fought against the suppression of the voices of young people, girls in particular, and struggled to promote education for all, no matter what their status, ethnic origins or faith. Rich and poor alike, all have a right to open the door to a world of knowledge and understanding.
The text of the statement made by the Nobel Prize Committee makes reference to one of the greatest of peacemakers, Mahatma Gandhi — who never won a Peace Prize despite his impeccable credentials — and speaks of the efforts of both the winners. It also points to the very different ways in which the two go about achieving their goals, with Kailash Satyarthi being very much a grassroots activist. He has led a succession of protests and demonstrations over many years, as well as contributing to the development of international conventions on children’s rights. For Malala Yousufzai, her life and its goals are still a work-in-progress, and she has much to achieve in the future — not least the completion of her own education, which is hardly likely to be helped by winning a prize as prestigious as this and the burdens that go with it. Congratulations, Malala Yousafzai, a worthy winner and a Pakistani to be proud of.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2014.
Those expectations are going to multiply now that she has won the Nobel Peace Prize. But equally importantly it is the symbolism of the peace prize she shares with India’s Kailash Satyarthi for their work promoting children’s rights that shouldn’t be lost on Pakistan and India, say observers.
“The Nobel Peace Prize comes at a time when both Pakistan and India are engaged in border skirmishes,” says Abdur Raheem Roghani, a Swat-based Pashto writer and poet who used to receive Malala and her father at his home in Mingora. “Education cannot happen without peace. The prestigious prize would be of little consequence if its significance is lost on Pakistan and India.”
For someone who has sharply divided the opinion on her relevance to Pakistani society, Malala has been lionized for her struggle for education in the face of murderous obscurantism and disparaged for “being co-opted by the west in its agenda to malign Pakistan”. As expected, the reaction to her winning the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday was just as discordant and polarized.
“Reading negative comments about Malala Yousafzai today, I realize she is like the Dark Knight, not the hero we deserve but the hero we need,” said a tweet on Friday, as the hashtag Malala Yousafzai trended on Twitter.
“You are no more noble in Pakistan for winning Nobel Prize,” said another, pointing to the nation’s disavowal of Dr Abdus Salam, the physicist who won the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics. As many furiously debated whether Malala wining the Nobel was an exercise in public relations for the west or truly a concern for peace in the region, an analyst known for his right-wing views tweeted: Girls shot at head will receive #nobelprizeaward? Yes, if shot by Muslim militant. No, if shot by western crusaders!”
For many in her hometown of Swat and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the significance of a Pashtun girl wining the Nobel is clear. To them it is an historic event from which Malala Yousafzai has emerged, perhaps somewhat incongruously, as mythical a figure as Malalai of Maiwand, the Pashtun folk hero who rallied Pashtun fighters against the British troops during the second Anglo-Afghan War.
“It is a matter of pride for the Pashtuns, the region and Pakistan,” says Khadim Hussain, a socio-political analyst. “It is a historic moment because it puts right the manipulated narrative of history. Malala stands for education, she stands for human rights. The world thought the people here were not capable of something good or great. She has proved them wrong, proved that the people of the region can work towards the dream of a better future.”
Khadim Hussain, who spoke to Dawn from Mingora on Friday, said the youth in Swat were quite excited over the news of Malala wining the Nobel Prize. “They say she has given a new face to Swat, that she has washed away the taint left by militancy in the valley. They are thrilled and overjoyed. There is talk of celebration tomorrow.”
For her cousins and uncles living in Swat, who did not consider the Nobel for Malala a possibility because of the age factor, the news came as a surprise. “Whatever happened is beyond our imagination,” says her cousin Fakhar-ul-Hassan. “The Oct 9 attack, the media coverage, the reaction all over the world, it all took us by surprise.”
Fakhar, who also taught at the Khushal School where Malala studied, said there was something special about her class. “The whole class was very active and creative. It was extraordinary. Malala topped the class but she motivated the girls with her speeches and debates. They would get inspired because her father, who managed the school, would always push her to do better.”
When the Nobel Prize for Peace was announced on Friday, Malala got the news at her school in Birmingham. She was in the chemistry class, a subject she loved, according to Fakhar. “She loved physics, chemistry, Islamic studies, but most of all she loved English because her father, who had studied literature, introduced her to it.”
And the subject she couldn’t stand? “She was a topper in the class but mathematics made her miserable,” says Fakhar. “She just couldn’t get it. I guess it runs in the family. None of us is good at it.”
This article first appeared in Dawn, one of Pakistan’s most respected dailies. Click here to go to the original.