I had made a conscious decision not to write about Malala. It's not that her unwavering courage did not inspire a strange sense of awe within me. Or, that I didn't follow her life trajectory as she transformed from the "girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban" to a global symbol of education and female empowerment. Because I did both. At times as a Pakistani, at others as a journalist but most importantly as a woman.
I often wondered what I could possibly say about the young girl that hadn't been said already? Magazine covers, op-ed pages, blogs and TV shows were splashed with her dupatta-clad young face and every tiny detail of her life -- from the minute she was born to her favorite teacher at her new school in the UK was available at our fingertips. Journalists had taken every possible angle on the story from painting her as the Pakistani Joan of Arc to portraying her as a normal Bieber-loving teenager. Everyone wanted a piece of this young warrior and they got it. So I decided to take a backseat on this one and let the experts laud this daring young protagonist.
And then gradually the conversation began to change. It was no longer about condemning a barbaric attack on a minor who dreamt of getting an education and was made to a pay a life-threatening price for it. Instead it became about everything from drones to foreign policy to Western imperialism to the 'white man's burden' and even parenthood!
All of a sudden, there were sides and you could not talk about Malala Yousafzai without taking one. You either loved her or hated her. If you were silent, you were a savage who didn't value her struggle and if you advocated her, you were a West-loving liberal fascist. The debate about Malala became about everything, other than Malala herself.
It amazed me that a 16-year-old's desire to go to school and achieve the same for women around the world had become so complicated. That she had evoked such strong polarized emotions in many levelheaded grown-ups. That a hero like her was getting so clouded by the politics of her geographical reality that many were at the risk of forgetting what she stood for.
The problem started when Malala became very famous over a very short period of time. Her leap from anonymity to a global celebrity, endorsed by celebrities and world leaders and quoted by leading international media outlets, left some inspired and others suspicious. Some argued that the Western media was hijacking her cause. Others expressed concern about the repercussions of this attention, for the safety of her friends and countless other girls back home who continue to live under the same shadow of fear that Malala had raised her voice for.
But does that take away from the glaring fact that she has shown the world the true essence of a Pakistani woman -- who is fierce, fearless and a fighter. That she speaks with a natural charisma, a voice so uncannily confident for a 16-year-old that world leaders are forced to listen. That despite belonging to a region where women are seldom heard from, she was born to a father whose eyes sparkle every time his daughter takes the stage. That she remained steadfast for what she believed was every human being's basic right, despite knowing the cost.
Politicize the issue all you want but the right to education, freedom and humanity-values that Malala stands for, are universal. There is no for or against, only with Malala -- which is where I stand proudly on this scale.
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