Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in Daily Times on November 17, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)
Fanaticism has been kept in the mainstream by those for whom it is a game to extract money out of organisations after rampant looting and killing. People then think of only an exodus as a means of survival, hence leaving behind the land to be ruled by those who have a singular aim to grab power by means of terrorism. Swat, with high mountains, green meadows and clear lakes, once known as the Switzerland of the region, where winter sports and tourism were a normal trend, is now marred by the chilling account of the barbarous and bloodied persecution of those who tried to defy the Taliban. Vested interests of ‘some’ with terrorism have destroyed the region as a business hub, which in turn has cracked the backbone of the economy of Pakistan and has left the state with no tourism. Hundreds of the inhabitants of Swat region were massacred by the Taliban and their misery only came to an end when the government launched a major military operation in 2009, despite facing opposition from the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and religious parties.
The fanatical bent of the human mind always opposes any kind of progressive, scientific education since it will inevitably make the succeeding generations question their diktat, which will consequently topple their kingdom of regressive dogmatism complemented by terror logistics. Religion galvanises people, but misinterpreted religious sermons galvanises the ignorant and uneducated. These people form the vote/power bank of such voices, because due to ignorance their sermons sell; therefore, education is only opposed by fanatics. More than 800 school buildings have been blown up in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA to date and the campaign is not over yet. The silence of religious parties in Pakistan over this destruction is quite meaningful, which clandestinely endorses the militants’ argument that educating girls is in breach of the teachings of Islam. Islam does not ask its followers to keep girls uneducated. In fact, it holds education for girls as obligatory as for boys. Malala Yousafzai, who stood for the principles of peace and education, thus jeopardising the hegemony of these thugs, was an obstacle in their greater plan of destabilising Pakistan further.
Malala spoke about education and a secular Pakistan, which is the biggest thorn in the side of their business agenda of terrorism, and that is the reason why she was added to a Taliban hit list in 2011 and, subsequently, attacked in 2012. After an abhorrent campaign run by Islamist goons on social media, casting all sorts of doubts on the assassination attempt on Malala, their full of hot air leader, Fazlur Rehman stamped his approval upon the lamest of conspiracy theories about the 15-year-old who is undergoing medical treatment after surviving miraculously in the attack.
Almost four weeks after Malala and her two friends, Shazia and Kainat, came under attack by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in her hometown, Swat, the eponymous chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Maulana Fazlur Rehman termed the assassination attempt a drama. Addressing the ‘Islam Zindabad Conference’ in Karak, he said, “Pictures shown on social media have shown the whole character as suspicious because there was no sign of injury after the bandage on her head was removed.” This meant that Malala had not received any injury in her head since there was no sign of one after the bandage on her head was removed.
A couple of weeks ago, in the op-ed pages of a national English daily, a similar article with the title, “Shame on You, Mr Khan” was published in which the writer had bashed the chief of the PTI, Imran Khan, for being a ‘coward’ on account of his statement he gave in a television programme. While condemning the attack on Malala, Khan had said that his party had local affiliates and supporters in the restive areas of Pakistan, of the likes of Waziristan and FATA, and thus he could not give statements against the Taliban because that would make them [supporters] the Taliban’s targets. The column went viral on the social media, so much so that Hamid Mir invited Khan to his show and grilled him about that column and throughout the programme, he kept repeating the title of the aforementioned show. While I agree that Khan’s statement was not a brave one, I am taken aback to see that none of the writers have penned down any criticism on Fazlur Rehman for his despicable statement. Or maybe Mir should invite the maulana to his programme only to fire a barrage of ‘Shame on you, Fazlur Rehman’ for the sake of fairness, if not for anything else. The whole world of some of the writers would have come crashing down around them had such a statement, similar to Rehman’s, come from Imran Khan. Just because Khan listens to all the criticism directed towards him should not become license for his unabated bashing.
I am not surprised to see a group of politically ignorant people celebrating ‘Aafia Day’ on November 10 as a rebuttal of the Malala Day declared by the UN on the same day. Trying to compare apples and oranges, Maulana Fazlur Rehman went on to compare the case of Malala with the case of Aafia Siddiqui in an attempt to cash in on the sentiment of the public associated with Islam, since using religion and anti-Americanism always works wonders in Pakistan, bearing in mind people’s sentiments. Maulana Rehman said, “While everyone was outraged over the attack on Malala Yousufzai, there was silence on the issue of Aafia Siddiqui.” Malala became a victim of a fanatic’s bullet, which wanted to silence her struggle for awareness, whereas Aafia Siddiqui wanted to make many victims.
Let me make it very clear that the two cases cannot and should not be compared. Aafia Siddiqui, 40, was convicted by a US court for attempted murder, armed assault and other charges; Malala Yousafzai, 15, on the other hand, stood against extremism and terrorism, vowing for peace and girls’ education in a time when the Taliban were bombing schools in Swat to deter girls from going to school. During the five years of her disappearance, Declan Walsh, who was The Guardian’s correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan from 2004 to 2011, reported that Aafia visited her uncle, Shamsul Hasan Farooqi, and pleaded with him to smuggle her into Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, insisting that she would be safe with them. Aafia’s first husband, Amjad Mohammed Khan, an anaesthesiologist, has already disclosed that after the September 11 attacks, Aafia pressed him to go on jihad to Afghanistan and work as a medic for the Mujahideen.
Malala epitomises bravery and peace in the face of terror and barbarity. Her courage has won the hearts of hundreds and thousands of people across the globe. As the government of Pakistan plans to honour Malala by opening special schools in her name for poor children, the world calls for a Nobel Peace Prize for the 15-year-old. She, now, has the support of more than 124,000 people who have signed an online petition asking the Nobel Foundation to nominate her for the prestigious award. Forlornly, there was no Malala Yousafzai moment in Pakistan. The attack on Malala could have been a turning point in the war of our survival but it was not to be. Conspiracy theories got the better of the bitter reality, commandeering vulnerable minds. Here’s hoping Malala would recover soon and resume the fight against bigotry, extremism and oppression. Here’s hoping that Kainat and Shazia pursue education with a rejuvenated resolve. It is high time we stood for all the Malalas who are deprived of education and basic human rights to strive for a better, progressive and tolerant Pakistan.