Greta Thunberg is the new Malala. She is telling seasoned politicians to grow up

Greta Thunberg is the new Malala. She is telling seasoned politicians to grow up

Malala was called a CIA agent and Greta 'brainwashed'. But the hate that the two teenagers have faced says something about old traditional leaders.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in New York | File photo | Demetrius Freeman/Bloomberg

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in New York | File photo | Demetrius Freeman | Bloomberg

Greta Thunberg reminds me of Malala Yousafzai. She has come a long way for her voice to be heard and finally, people across the world are sitting up and taking note. Malala talked about education for girls and Greta is making everyone think about climate change, even the deniers.

Pakistani teenager Malala was shot in the face by the Taliban because she defied their diktat and went to school. Greta sat outside school, cut class and did a solo climate strike. And now, thousands of children all over the world are doing the same – from India to New Zealand.

The hate that the two have faced says something about old traditional leaders. They want to be idolised by the young, they want the youth vote and respect. But when they are questioned by the young, they will not tolerate it. It actually begins in our families – the expectation of unearned respect. Especially from daughters.

Malala and Greta epitomise the rise of the young as advocates of change. Politics is no longer about older men and women using their experience to run the world. It’s a new phenomenon that is growing conspicuously in the space between politics and social activism. And it’s effective. But the teenagers are paying a high price for it as well – insults, threats and mocking, even from someone like US President Donald Trump.

As the narrator says in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince: “Grown−ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

Also read: Not just Greta Thunberg, this young Indian climate activist is also taking on govts

No mincing words

Sixteen-year-old Greta often says: “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future”. Those in power seem so taken in by the politicking that they seem to forget the one job they have – governance. And young influencers like Greta and Malala are calling them out.

They don’t want to be an “inspiration” for the world, they want you to act.

It’s riling up the sharks of politics because suddenly their space has been infringed upon. Children are telling the adults the right thing to do – and it’s embarrassing (for them). The media too is getting uncomfortable since the influence they have over people is slowly diminishing and a new set of young social influencers are being trusted more by the public. Greta doesn’t mince words or toe the line of the government.

The generational shift is for all to see. The young have different, more practical priorities while seasoned politicians have coffers to worry about. Which is why when the young come knocking, it irks everyone. And old-way politics can understand their activism only by ascribing old motives to them.

Malala has faced a volley of hate in Pakistan all these years. Some Pakistani schools even celebrated “anti-Malala day” last year. She has been accused of being “a tool in the hands of the Western powers”, a CIA agent, “a symbol of the West’s evils and a global conspiracy to bring down her native Pakistan”.

Take also for instance, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrat representative for New York’s 14th congressional district. At 29, Cortez is the youngest woman ever to serve in the Congress. She was also ridiculed for her age. Cortez is passionate about acting against climate change and had submitted the Green New Deal to the US House of Representatives, which unfortunately was defeated in the Senate by Republicans.

Also read: Greta Thunberg on climate change: Is a teen’s plea more moving or emotional blackmail?

Target of hate

Malala and Greta are two great examples of how teens, fighting for noble causes, can elicit hate of an unimaginable kind from people aka adults. It’s this very innocence and lack of pretence that most people find disconcerting. It messes with the idea of the inherent cunningness that everyone expects in public personalities.

Malala and Greta also share the great skill of offending people by speaking the truth. Greta Thunberg’s naysayers accuse her of blowing things out of proportion and creating “needless anxiety”. Others call her annoying, and yet others call her “mentally ill”. They infantilise her and deny her agency – she must have been brainwashed, they say. Some articles bizarrely expect her rise to backfire on environmentalists since environmental issues shouldn’t be politicised.

But Greta has rightly made climate change a political tipping point, which is why a lot of politicians now have their knickers in a knot. People are talking about climate change – either for or against – that itself is a huge feat.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is tweeting against fossil fuel industries for creating pollution. Others like Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar are extending support to policies that act on climate change. Greta’s call for ‘civil disobedience’, which Al Gore spoke about in 2008, is seeing a resurgence as a social-political tool in America. Protests grow louder and student activism becomes intense.

Also read: Greta Thunberg is done with making friends

When Malala rose as an icon of education for the girl child, a lot of people found her irritating too. Just because she wore a loose scarf (dupatta) on her head, she was insulted for not being an icon for freedoms she tried to defend. Others found her unworthy of the attention she was getting because apparently many other children in Pakistan have suffered worse. There was nothing special about Malala, they said.

Malala Yousafzai | @Malala/Twitter

But Malala is special. If not for Malala, there would be no Right to Education Bill (2012) in Pakistan that guaranteed all children, aged between 5 and 16, access to free education. It was her petition that led to it. Something that the political class of Pakistan could never dream of achieving – they were rather busy spinning yarns about Malala “staging” her own assassination.

Needless to say, young, outspoken and passionate teens like Greta and Malala are almost always on the wrong side of most people. Dismiss them all you want but they will definitely be on the right side of history. If humans survive climate change, that is.