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Malala Yousafzai at Girl Summit 2014

Malala Wins Nobel; Pakistan Still Faces Challenges

Oct 10, 2014


Others will speak breathlessly about the import of the announcement that Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai is sharing the 95th Nobel Peace Prize with India’s Kailash Satyarthi.

As a Pakistani-American, I’ll go ahead and offer a more sober response. Most Pakistanis rejected Malala a few years ago. Today’s announcement brought derision and even condemnation from many Pakistanis. 

Read this BBC report for a depressing account. “It's a political decision and a conspiracy,” one prominent Pakistani newspaper editor told the BBC. "She is a normal, useless type of a girl. Nothing in her is special at all. She's selling what the West will buy."

Two years ago, I wrote a post for this blog that praised Malala for her courage, but which suggested that Pakistani society has become too toxic, too bitter, too cancerous to accept her, much less emulate her. I believe that, since then, we’ve seen that time and prayers haven’t helped. And I’m not sure what will. 

On a related note, let’s be honest for a moment. It’s time the Norwegian Nobel Committee rename and redefine the Nobel Peace Prize. It should be the Nobel Hope Prize. Almost annually, we’re reminded that, while the award is supposed to go to people who "have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” it typically goes to people that the committee wants to uphold as models for future conduct, not as symbols of past achievement. 

Hope is nice, but it often isn’t enough. Pakistan may make it back from the abyss, but it won’t be because of Pollyanna scenarios. It would require a brutal redemption of its corrupt institutions and especially of most Pakistanis’ hardened, cynical views that blame all Pakistan’s ills on America, India and Israel.

I’m not always a cold realist. Gandhi and MLK are among my foremost icons, and I was once thrilled to think that Malala could take her place alongside them. She may well have their impact in coming decades. But it might not be in Pakistan. A prophet is without honor in her hometown, and in this case her home nation. 

Malala is indeed a hero. And she is a leader. But will Pakistanis follow? Right now, I’m not betting on it. 


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What makes Malala a hero? The

What makes Malala a hero? The fact that corporate media said so? The locals from the place that Malala was shot have a very different story to tell about what really happened:

Eyes on the prize

Thanks for presenting a nuanced explanation of the "anti-Malala" argument, Miraatu. I share your frustration with reductive news stories and you make some undeniably true points, including the emptiness of the Nobel these days. However, I believe there is value in Malala as a symbol of women's rights and children's rights, if nothing else. We are dealing in symbols here, after all, when we talk about prizes or heroes. 

Thank you, Miraatu

I am very bothered by your comment. You seem to represent a pernicious strain of fundamentalism that has no place in the contemporary world, even in the ostensibly Muslim world. From all I can gather from my travels, most Muslims want the ability to exercise their own conscience and allow God to judge that in his time. They meekly put up with Shariah proponents like yourself because they feel too tired to fight against you.

For you to suggest that the Taliban are sweet, misunderstood people convinces me that I could never convince you of anything otherwise. But the "demonization" of Islam that you decry has much to do with the narrow, tribal way in which you interpret it. In the meantime, nations like Pakistan and Iran, which once were modernizing, swirl down the toilet, all while pathetically blaming others.


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