Malala Yousafzai: The Girl So Brave She Kept Her Shoes On

By now the entire world knows the name Malala Yousafzai as the heroine who stood up to the Taliban after it violently took education away from Pakistani girls. But does the entire world know the controversy circulating her incredible story? Upon discovering Malala’s acts of bravery, I did not think anything but applause (or other forms of praise that some individuals and institutions have chosen in place of the mainstream clap) would be heard. Trust me, I love a good, diversely opinioned, intellectual conversation as much as the next person, but I think the controversy surrounding Malala’s story undermines her cause and the courage behind it. I found the Huffington Post UK’s article, “Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex,” particularly troubling. Let me highlight the main issues in the article for you.

“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.”

I can’t help but think that this is a classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. What is the West to do in such a situation? A: let the girl be. Don’t intervene. Leave her in the hands of the Taliban. B: intervene. Bring her to safety. Give her the recognition she deserves. Perhaps there are other courses of action, but this dichotomy seems to represent the two main possibilities. For those of you who criticize Western governments for their choice, what would you say had option A been chosen? I imagine the newspaper headlines would read something like this: “The West does nothing in light of Taliban’s attempt to murder an innocent child.” “ObamaCare: Too Focused on Healthcare to Help Students in Pakistan.” “America Intervenes for Oil, but Refuses to Help Taliban Victims.”

“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.”

Sure, there are westerners who do not like Muslims. There are westerners who think that every man in a turban is a terrorist. But there are also westerners who do not like black people or Hispanic people or Asian people or any foreigners at all. Some westerners are ignorant. Some people are ignorant; it is not a quality exclusive to the west. Nor is it a quality I endorse. I would argue that these people are the minority. Even if they are not the minority, this is not the official western position. The West, and in particular the US, does not view Muslim men as savage – it views the Taliban and other like minded extremist organizations as such. And by the way, a devout Muslim who lives his life by the word of the Qur’an (and not his own interpretation of the holy book) regards terrorist organizations as savage as well. If anything, the author’s statement serves to equate the Muslim man with the Taliban – a common misperception that adds fuel to a fire I had hoped would be extinguished long ago. The US was founded upon the ideal of religious freedom. This nation, as a whole, has opened its arms of liberty to those who could not find it elsewhere.

“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.”

I’m sorry, but this is simply wrong. Malala does go against the Western grain when necessary. She proudly wore her hijab on national television and is quite obviously a practicing Muslim. She openly spoke against drones to President Obama, aka President of the West (according to the author of this article anyway). I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt seeing as the article was written before the highly publicized meeting. In any case, the likening of Malala to a prop severely undermines everything she stands for. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the author conveniently uses “the west” as a euphemism for “the US” so as not to be seen blatantly disparaging US efforts. I am not going to sit here and say that this country is flawless, but I cannot deny America’s large role in furthering education, women’s equality, and human rights overseas – accomplishments this article neglects to mention.

I want everyone to understand the value of an education and fight this fight. Malala is the name and the face of those unidentified girls in the world who have been denied proper schooling and pushed aside because of their gender. To me, Malala represents the struggle that has plagued everyone with a vagina for centuries: inequality. To take such a beautiful thing and surround it with such ugliness is, in my opinion, a disgrace. By mudslinging and name-calling, we are taking the attention away from Malala and her cause and strengthening the cultural divide that still plagues this earth. Why is the majority of the article spent criticizing the West (read: the US?) Does the author not realize he is spreading the air of “us” and “them?” Coming from a family that has managed to blend vastly different cultures and religions (while not seamlessly, quite well if I might say so myself), I am growing tired of the notion of “us” and “them.” A Muslim is human in the same way that a Christian or an atheist or anybody is human. We are all the same. The blood on one’s hands knows not the difference between religions or cultures or ethnicities. It will stain just the same.

By Sara Erkal, Blog Editor

Featured Image via TIME Magazine

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