The Malala you won't hear about
describes how U.S. news outlets have selectively reported only the aspects of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai they want you to see.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI, the 17-year-old Pakistani activist, has won a well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize, putting her and her amazing, tragic story back in the spotlight. Per usual, nevertheless, the corporate media has taken this positive development and exploited it in the service of U.S. imperialism.
The corporate media loves talking about Malala's remarkable bravery and strength in standing up for girls' rights to education, and the brutality of the Taliban forces that tried to assassinate her on her school bus. Such coverage fuels its orientalist, neocolonialist narrative about "backward," misogynist Muslims and their need for "white saviors," thereby legitimizing Western imperialist interests in South and West Asia.
Malala's Nobel victory can be appropriated by the U.S. political establishment to "prove" that its invasion, occupation and destruction of Afghanistan has "helped" its people. (As for the hundreds of thousands killed and injured in the process, well, those inconvenient exceptions aren't part of this narrative.)
As Michael Parenti points out, while most people who win the Nobel "Peace" Prize do so for war-mongering and crimes against humanity (Henry Kissinger boasts one, for example, along with Barack Obomba himself), Malala actually deserves hers. This makes the exploitation even more grotesque.
Malala has devoted her life to fighting for education for children--a most noble and important cause. When she implored at the United Nations, "Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen, can change the world. Education is the only solution," the Western intelligentsia ate it up like a voracious canine gobbling up its kibbles (on second thought, perhaps a vulture would have been a more apt choice for this simile).
Everyone can agree that education for children is a positive goal. By emphasizing that education is the only solution, the West can draw attention away from the very real material concerns facing the vast majority of the world.
This oversight is by no means the fault of Malala. In that same speech, just before the above excerpt, she spoke of "a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism." Two of these three things are endlessly emphasized throughout the corporate press. You can guess which one is excluded.
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The Malala Who Opposes Global Poverty
Roughly half of the world still lives on less than $2.50 per day. Around one-quarter of people live in extreme poverty, less than $1.25 a day. UNICEF estimates that 24,000 children under the age of five die each and every day because of poverty, meaning that "every 3.6 seconds one person dies of starvation. Usually, it is a child under the age of 5." And, in many countries, poverty is getting worse.
Education certainly has a role in the fight against poverty, and it's important that one learns, say, basic chemistry. (Malala was sitting in chemistry class when she was informed she had won the Nobel Prize.) But learning basic chemistry does not provide billions of impoverished people with food, clean water, and health care. That takes material, collective action.
Malala understands how poverty creates and perpetuates the very social and political ills against which she is fighting. She continuously stresses the importance of not just spreading education, but of directly combating poverty. Yet these calls fall on the selectively deaf ears of the Western media.
The press picks and chooses which of Malala's messages are amplified--and which are silenced. It can hardly get enough of her insistence on the importance of "the philosophy of nonviolence I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa." The Western intelligentsia positively salivates upon hearing such messages, despite the fact (or because of it?) that Gandhi was a virulent racist and Mother Teresa had ties to Central and South American dictators.
Interestingly, many of the same people lauding the Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her advocacy of nonviolence also happily cheered on the violence of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The utter hypocrisy does not strike them. After all, it has always been much more useful to advocate a philosophy of nonviolence for individuals and oppressed groups than hegemons and states.
As much as it highlights Malala's words on education and nonviolence, the U.S. corporate media never mentions the side of Malala that it doesn't like, the side of Malala that doesn't serve but rather challenges Western imperialist interests, the side of Malala that overtly opposes not just U.S. drone strikes but capitalism itself.
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The Malala Who Opposes Drones
On October 11, 2013, Malala met with Barack Obama in the Oval Office. The press could hardly have lauded the president more for taking the time out of his busy schedule to meet the 16-year-old activist, and for bringing his family with him.
What went much less reported was that at this meeting, Malala warned that U.S. "drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people."
The White House, which, given its supposed investment in fighting terrorism, would presumably not be interested in spreading it further, left these comments out of its official statement.
Just a few weeks after this meeting, another Pakistani girl visited Washington to testify before Congress, and received much less media attention. Nabila Rehman was 8 years old when she was out in a field picking okra and her grandmother was eviscerated before her eyes by a U.S. drone strike. Seven children were also wounded, including family members.
Nabila's brother Zubair, a 13-year-old who was injured in the US drone attack, told the five congress-people decent enough to show up, "I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don't fly when sky is grey." The Rehman family's story was so dreadful that the translator burst into tears while telling it to Congress.
Given such a horrific report, you'd think the U.S. government would express interest in learning from it to make sure random civilians are not again slaughtered by bombs falling from microscopic dots in the sky. Yet only five (out of 435) House members attended the hearing.
Al Jazeera writer Murtaza Hussein noted that, in a symbol of the "utter contempt in which the government holds the people it claims to be liberating, while the Rehmans recounted their plight, Barack Obama was spending the same time meeting with the CEO of weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin."
Clearly, stoking the military-industrial complex that creates the Predator drones that have murdered and injured thousands of innocent civilians is a higher priority for the president of the United States than meeting the actual victims of what can only correctly be referred to as state terrorism.
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The Malala Who Opposes Capitalism
Last year, I wrote a brief article titled Malala Yousafzai, Spivak, Abu-Lughod and the White Savior Complex. I noted that Gayatri Spivak, in her classic article "Can The Subaltern Speak?" explained that colonialist powers justify their draconian, parasitic rule with the belief that they are "white men are saving brown women from brown men."
In her well-known essay, "Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?" Lila Abu-Lughod situated Spivak's thesis in a contemporary setting, explaining how the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was justified with the exact same argument--the Bush administration was a group of overwhelmingly white leaders who consistently worked against women's rights in their own country but now acted desperate to "save" Afghan women from Afghan men.
In his article Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex, journalist Assed Baig explored how this racist "white man's burden" phenomenon is still alive and well, detailing the repugnant ways in which the West has exploited Malala Yousafzai's amazing strength and bravery to support its interests.
Absent from many of these discussions, however, is that Malala herself is well aware of this manipulation. In a statement released on October 13, 2013, she defiantly declared that she is "not a Western puppet."
When discussing the way in which the neocolonialist West exploits and manipulates those working against oppression, one should be careful to establish that this is not done to them unwittingly. We are dealing with agents, individuals who understand the implications of their actions and change them accordingly. To forget this fact is, in a less overt way, to uphold the very paternalist, neocolonialist strictures we seek to destroy.
As Spivak reminds us, the subaltern indeed speaks--and not only speaks but resists oppressors. Articulated a bit differently, Arundhati Roy insisted, "There's really no such thing as 'the voiceless.' There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard."
The attempt to deliberately silence Malala is not only evident in the way the U.S. corporate media ignores her criticism of U.S. drones; even more insidious is its complete disregard for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's politics. In March 2013, Malala sent this message to the congress of Pakistani Marxists:
First of all, I'd like to thank The Struggle and the IMT [International Marxist Tendency] for giving me a chance to speak last year at their Summer Marxist School in Swat and also for introducing me to Marxism and Socialism. I just want to say that in terms of education, as well as other problems in Pakistan, it is high time that we did something to tackle them ourselves. It's important to take the initiative. We cannot wait around for any one else to come and do it. Why are we waiting for someone else to come and fix things? Why aren't we doing it ourselves?
I would like to send my heartfelt greetings to the congress. I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.
This is the Malala the Western corporate media doesn't like to quote. This is the Malala whose politics do not fit neatly into the neocolonialist, cookie-cutter frame of presentation. This is the Malala who recognizes that true liberation will take more than just education, that it will take the establishment of not just bourgeois political "democracy," but of economic democracy, of socialism.
When the courageous activist speaks of the importance of education and nonviolence, the West shouts her words loudly from the media mountaintops. When that same activist criticizes predator drones and, that most sacrosanct entity of all, capitalism, the silence is deafening.
Only the distinctive buzzing of U.S. killer drones can be heard, watching and bombing overhead, protecting empire and "freedom."