GenderHuman Rights

Should Brown/Muslim Women Be Sacrificed To Save Culture? The Case of Malala Yousafzai.

In the last year since the Taliban’s assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who has been an activist for girls’ education in Swat Valley where she’s from, there has been a virtual truckload worth of articles, commentaries, and blog posts that have been written about her, and the events that occurred in October 2012.

Some of the articles and media appearances that discuss this issue are saturated with a certain kind of resentment at the attention that Malala has received, as though her cause – to expand education for all, especially girls and women in Pakistan and beyond – takes away from other causes. This kind of zero-sum game is what the UK based commentator Assed Baig is playing in an article in Huffington Post.

Baig’s article has trickled through the navel-gazing social media pipelines, as though something in his ramblings was coherent and intellectually challenging. But an actual analytical reading of his piece shows that he is not only contradicting himself, he is also over-simplifying, and sometimes outright misrepresenting the events surrounding the Taliban’s attack on Malala and its aftermath.

Malala Yousafzai Reading

“When Malala Yusufzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen simply because she wanted to gain an education it sent shockwaves around the world.

Straight away the Western media took up the issue. Western politicians spoke out and soon she found herself in the UK. The way in which the West reacted did make me question the reasons and motives behind why Malala’s case was taken up and not so many others.”

This seems to be the classic tu quoque fallacy employed here by Baig to divert attention from a particular news story by arbitrarily claiming that ‘Western media’ and ‘the West’ (as though these are monolithic entities) simply don’t care about anything or anyone else but Malala’s case.

Perhaps Baig is not aware of 24-hour news networks, constantly updated online news sites, podcasts, and blogs dedicated to countless people talking about countless things besides Malala. No, Baig seems interested only in guilt-tripping any liberal-minded person who may have had the gall to empathize with Malala. In this way, Baig primes his readers for the rest of his emotional assault.

“There is no justifying the brutal actions of the Taliban or the denial of the universal right to education, however there is a deeper more historic narrative that is taking place here.”

Just so nobody can claim that Baig is siding with the Taliban, he throws in the disclaimer in the first part of this line, then immediately tries to downplay the ‘brutal actions’ of the Taliban.

“This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. 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 institutionalised. 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.”

This makes me wonder, is Assed Baig implying that Malala should have stayed in Pakistan (the country of my birth) and died there as a result of the shooting instead, just to stick it to ‘the West’? The suggestion is that Muslim and brown women ought to be sacrificed to save the reputations of Muslim and brown men. This begs the question: what is Baig actually angry about? The fact that every single Pakistani doesn’t get flown out to other countries whenever he or she needs medical attention? If that is what bothers him, I can certainly empathize. But instead, what he seems to be suggesting is that Malala’s life should not have been saved at all, because the very act of saving her life made the ‘savage men of her home nation’ look bad.

Malala Yousafzai - just after the assassination attempt by the Taliban

Baig fails to mention that the Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah (who’s now a front runner to be the leader of the Pakistani Taliban), along with other Islamists, specifically targeted Malala for her activism for girls’ education, sending multiple death threats via radio, newspaper, social media, and letters hand-delivered to her family. Baig uses a jingoist rhetoric of ‘savages’ and ‘knights in shining armour’ to downplay the fact that a young girl was targeted by an Islamist terrorist group. Way to go, Baig.

Malala Yousufzai on a stretcher as she was being taken to a hospital in Mingora, Pakistan.

In his unexamined rant, Baig also fails to mention that Malala first received emergency medical care in Peshawar, where the Taliban bullet lodged inside her brain and a piece of her skull were removed, then in Rawalpindi, where she was kept alive on a ventilator. Were the doctors in Peshawar and Rawalpindi also acting as ‘knights in shining armour’? Or is this putdown reserved exclusively for the Kuffar?

Malala Yousafzai receiving medical care in Pakistan

Even though initially Malala’s family had refused to leave Pakistan, she was then flown to England at the recommendations of (and accompanied by) a team of Pakistani doctors: perhaps her family ultimately decided that the life of their child was more important than saving their country’s face. In the UK, Malala was taken to a hospital that specializes in military injuries, because as much Assed Baig tries to downplay this fact, what Malala suffered was exactly that: an attack by militants.

Malala Yousafzai - girls' education scares Taliban

“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 would be well advised to look up the definition of the strawman fallacy. Since he is generalizing about ‘the actions of the West’ while ignoring the diversity of voices and perspectives that exist in the ‘West’ where he also happens to live, he should not complain when others generalize about ‘the actions of Muslims’ without noticing the diversity that exists within Muslim communities. In fact, many of the ‘natives’ that Baig arrogantly seems to want to speak for actually support Malala and her cause.

Support for Malala Yousafzai Among Young Pakistanis

Support for Malala Among Pakistanis

Support for Malala Yousafzai

Support for Malala Yousafzai

Support for Malala Yousafzai

Support for Malala Yousafzai

“The truth is that there are hundreds and thousands of other Malalas. They come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places in the world. Many are victims of the West, but we conveniently forget about those as Western journalists and politicians fall over themselves to appease their white-middle class guilt also known as the white man’s burden.

Gordon Brown stood at the UN and spoke words in support for Malala, yet he is the very same Gordon Brown that voted for the war in Iraq that not only robbed people of their education but of their lives. The same journalists that failed to question or report on the Western wars in an intelligible manner now sing the praises of the West as they back Malala and her campaign without putting it in context of the war in Afghanistan and the destabalisation of the region thanks to the Western occupation of Afghanistan.”

More strawmen and tu quoque fallacies from Baig. It seems he cannot be bothered to read the myriad ‘Western’ articles, op-eds, commentaries, books, academic papers, and blogs that are highly critical of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And he seems to assume that no potential reader of his article has read any of those either.

“Malala’s message is true, it is profound, it is something the world needs to take note of; education is a right of every child, but Malala has been used as a tool by the West. It allows countries like Britain to hide their sins in Afghanistan and Iraq. It allows journalists to report a feel good story whilst they neglect so many others, like the American drone strikes that terrorise men, women and children in Pakistan’s border regions.”

Unless Baig spends all his time watching Fox News, he is likely to know full well that not everyone in the ‘West’ which he calls home is this dense and uninformed. But there he goes again, downplaying the violence that Malala suffered, along with the keenly important point of education, especially girls’ education, that is the key to social and cultural progress. He pays lip service to it, to be sure, but when it comes down to practical activism, he seems eager to ignore it in favour of trying to soften the image of the Taliban – a group which was trying  to shut down girls’ schools and eliminate education long before the war in Afghanistan, as this 2000 report from Dawn posted on the website of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) notes (see also this report from 1998). No one but the far-right fringe  denies that the military-industrial complex has often blundered disastrously through Iraq and Afghanistan. Baig, however, likes to pretend that far-right fanatics are the only people living in ‘the West’. In fact, he insults the very liberal Western readers he hopes to appeal to when he fails to recognize that most of them did not support those wars, and many have actively protested and fought against them, just like many Muslims do not support Islamism or militant jihad.

While we are on the topic, I would advise Baig to try in the future to write from a more nuanced perspective than setting up the bogeyman of ‘the West’ as some sort of single organism that stands in opposition to Muslims, as there are also plenty of Western Muslims, and not all people living in the West are alike. In other words, don’t treat others as a monolith if you don’t want to be treated as such.

“The current narrative continues the demonization of the non-white Muslim man. Painting him as a savage, someone beyond negotiating with, beyond engaging with, the only way to deal with this kind of savage is to wage war, occupy and use drones against them. NATO is bombing to save girls like Malala is the message here.”

And here we come to the real reason Assed Baig seems so bothered: that the non-white Muslim man is not being ‘negotiated with’. Once again, he selectively fails to notice the number of brown men, including Muslim men, who serve in governments, businesses, medical centres, legal offices, and boards of directors in ‘the West’. As a flipside, he also fails to notice how many brown, Muslim men are slaughtered at the hands of other brown, Muslim men: Islamists, the Taliban, etc. But Muslim-on-Muslim violence doesn’t seem to bother Baig: he seems mostly concerned with ‘the West’s’ perception of himself as a brown man, and to hell with everything else. In a dazzling display of racism against his own kind, Baig seems to suggest that the only thing that matters is how ‘the West’ defines brown men like himself. As someone surrounded by many brown, Muslim-origin men, I can tell you that not all of them share this ‘savage’ narrative Baig seems so eager to romanticize. Here is an extreme example: a person of colour with a Muslim middle name is the President of the United States. Whatever else Baig and Fox News fanatics may think of him, Barack Obama is a twice elected President of that most ‘Western’ of all Western countries, and one of the most beloved Presidents in its history. In fact, a quick Google search turns up dozens of men and women of colour who sit in Assed Baig’s own British government. Why then such a desperate investment in the narrative that non-white Muslim men are categorically demonized?

“Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz were also shot along with Malala, the media and politicians seem to have forgotten about them. Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi – how many of the Western politicians and journalists know about this name? She was the 14-year-old girl gang raped by five US soldiers, then her and her family, including her six-year-old sister were murdered. There are no days named after her, no mentions of her at the UN, and we don’t see Gordon Brown pledging his name to her cause.”

From trying to downplay violence against girls to using violence against girls to fallaciously prop up his argument, I gotta hand it to Assed Baig: he sure knows how to tug at the liberal guilt of white Westerners, and at the identity politics of Muslims who refuse to examine their own communities critically.

So, here’s the reality: Abeer Qassim al-Janabi’s tragic story was covered, and ‘the West’ and its war machine were criticized in, among others, the Toronto Star, Time, CNN, USA Today, Alternet, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, the Daily Mail UK, and the New York Times.

Did Baig simply not bother to look up the media coverage of Abeer’s story and the subsequent articles about legal proceedings against the soldiers who committed the Mahmudiyah killings, assuming instead that this coverage doesn’t exist? This is, at the very least, a display of stupidity and unprofessionalism on Baig’s part; and at worst, a low attempt to manipulate the facts to fit his agenda by outright lying about them. And while he would be quick to decry any attempt to blame all Muslims for the actions of Malala’s would-be executioners, Baig seems to hold the entire ‘West’ responsible for the terrible crimes committed against Abeer and her family by individual soldiers. If he is going to assign collective blame, then he has no leg to stand on and demand that others don’t assign collective blame to Muslims, or to brown people in general.

As for Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, Malala’s friends who were also shot by the Taliban, they are now also living and studying in the UK. I guess Baig will soon be writing an addendum to this article to explain how they too are being used as tools of the white saviour complex, especially by Gordon Brown.

Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz

“I support Malala, I support the right to education for all, I just cannot stand the hypocrisy of Western politicians and media as they pick and choose, congratulating themselves for something that they have caused. Malala is the good native, she does not criticise the West, she does not talk about the drone strikes, she is the perfect candidate for the white man to relieve his burden and save the native.”

Actually, Malala does talk about the drone strikes. She discussed them with people of colour: the President of the United States – born of a father with Muslim heritage – and with his wife and daughters.

Malala Yousafzai with the Obamas

Should we resent Malala for being in a position to make such a statement to Obama in person, or should we instead applaud her for using the privilege her media exposure affords her to speak up on issues that actually matter, like redirecting funds from military attacks to education? Too many Pakistanis seem to choose resentment of Malala; and the more she does to help her country of birth, the more some natives of that country hate her for it. Is it because the presence of a strong brown girl whose voice is being heeded by ‘the West’ makes it that much harder to play the perpetual victim card? I would recommend that Baig read this analysis by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid on why so many Pakistanis hate Malala (unless he has already read it and chosen to ignore it, like so many other inconvenient truths).

“The Western savior complex has hijacked Malala’s message. The West has killed more girls than the Taliban have. The West has denied more girls an education via their missiles than the Taliban has by their bullets. The West has done more against education around the world than extremists could ever dream of. So, please, spare us the self-righteous and self-congratulatory message that is nothing more than propaganda that tells us that the West drops bombs to save girls like Malala.”

As a polemicist trading in hot air, I guess it is expected of Baig to make grandiose claims without any credible supporting evidence, so I’ll leave him to make a mockery of his own journalism.

I would, however, like to know one thing: if Assed Baig was in the position of Malala’s father, and his young daughter had been shot in the face by a bunch of grown men, would he be trying to make excuses for the people who harassed, threatened, targeted her, and put a bullet in her brain, all while spewing insults at the people who actually saved her life?

Malala Yousafzai - and her father

Tweet me your thoughts: @KiranOpal

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