Malala Yousafzai is one of the world’s best-known figures, a Nobel prizewinner and a global advocate for female education. She went from being a schoolgirl in the Swat valley of Pakistan to a global figure, all before the age of 20, and throughout she has maintained an almost preternatural poise and unwavering loyalty to her home country. Last week she returned to Pakistan for the first time since she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman six years ago. Yet her visit was marred by a grotesque coordinated campaign, where private school teachers announced an “I am not Malala” day. Children were made to wear black armbands, hold up placards and sit through lectures on why Malala should be condemned.
This is not a recent phenomenon. Almost from the moment she was shot, conspiracy theories swirled around the young girl. As Malala lay in her hospital bed, half her head shattered, the whispers started. The shooting was all fake so that she would be granted asylum in the west. Her father had coordinated the whole thing. She was taking advantage of the situation in order to make money by portraying Pakistan as a place of perpetual victimhood, feeding western stereotypes.
Inevitably, there were allegations that it was all a CIA conspiracy to undermine Pakistan and sully its reputation abroad. The more Malala’s stature increased, the more feverishly she was attacked. The reaction is not confined to trolls or particularly conservative parts of Pakistan society. It has crossed over into the mainstream, where even in liberal circles people snidely cast aspersions on her. It has all gone rather too well for her, hasn’t it? And her father, who pushed her into the limelight and put her at risk: he is just a bit too pushy, is he not? Of course, no one is suggesting that the poor girl wasn’t shot at all, but one can ask who is financing it all.
It’s enough to shake your faith in humankind that this is the reception Malala experienced. Yet sadly her example is not unique. Attacks on spokespeople for obviously virtuous causes are not confined to countries in the grip of tribalism or religious fundamentalism. They often take place in liberal, less feudal societies… read more: