Stop whatever you’re doing at this moment. The gravest thing to track today is what Malala Yousafzai said. Does she have an opinion on eating breakfast for dinner yet? Because I certainly look forward to hearing it. Wait, what — she said nothing today? Even in the Nobel Laureate’s not saying anything, a smell of saazish can be caught from 6,000 kilometres far.
It was time to have a meltdown for something, anything. Malala’s reaction to Palestine? Done. Malala calling out Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s ex-spokesperson for threatening her on Twitter? Done. Malala on Vogue discussing relationships? Yes and yes.
The idea of a living, rather thriving, schoolgirl from nine years ago is causing sleepless nights to many in Pakistan. Anything that Malala says — from politics to relationships — will trigger the ‘patriots’ to unearth her world domination plan. Even if those aren’t her plans, the conspiracy nuts have their own plans. The latest being: Malala doesn’t want people to get married, Malala advocates an un-Islamic lifestyle, and she is talking about zina (adultery). And miraculously, Malala being a stooge of the West, ‘wants to end our family system’. Sure, this will be on top of Malala’s to-do list once she is done liberating Palestine and Kashmir for the same lot.
So cat is out of the bag.
Here comes the torch bearing leader of #attacks against institution of marriage and family structure. @Malala has questioned #Nikah Now.@Team4PK @AgentPak1979
— Saif Rajput (@Saif_TFP) June 3, 2021
How to deal with women with free minds
For a society that has normalised forced and arranged marriages, where a woman marrying of her own choice is subjected to ‘honour’ killing, as is one who rejects a proposal, any independent thought, even if rhetorical, borders on blasphemy. So the outrage against a young woman’s opinion on marriage shook the foundations of Pakistan and plunged it in an identity crises. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly decided to discuss the Malala-marriage controversy on a point of order. All members took part in the discussion seriously as if they were jilted Vogue subscribers. One lawmaker asked that the Yousafzai family to clarify its position on the marriage statement, while another wanted the government to probe whether Malala actually made those comments. The same government that has been probing stolen wealth should now be tasked with finding marriage statements in Vogue.
On Wednesday, cleric Mufti Sardar Haqqani was arrested from Lakki Marwat for threatening Malala with a suicide attack if she ever came to Pakistan.
And, as if it was a parent-teacher meeting, Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai tweeted to Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai that he was “deeply disturbed” by the remarks, to which the father replied saying the “mainstream and social media have taken an excerpt of her interview out of context and shared it with their own interpretations.”
There was a competition with other Pakistani children shot in the face too. Malala was compared to Peshawar Army Public School survivor Waleed Khan who was shot six times in the face. Nauseated by the comparison, he called Malala an inspiration for millions and asked people to stop.
Suddenly, the morality thermometers were out for Malala. Former pornstar Mia Khalifa was a point of reference for those taking morality digs. They clearly did not realise the hypocrisy of consuming the ‘immoral content’ themselves. Similarly, television host Mathira schooling Malala was a hit with those triggered by the marriage opinion, and many of them would have wholeheartedly enjoyed Mathira’s late-night show without any questions on morality.
It was Ummat that took away the prize for mother of all conspiracy theories. Citing a 2013 satirical article, the newspaper established Malala’s real name was Jane and she was born in Hungary in 1997. Rest, as they say, is history, still in making. This is just like when we found out Donald Trump was actually Pakistani, born in Waziristan as Dawood Ibrahim.
‘I am not Malala’
Almost nine years ago, what began as a regular conspiracy theory from beyond borders for most Pakistanis has now become an illness with no cure. According to them, Malala Yousafzai was a 15-year-old schoolgirl who conspired with the evil West to be shot so that she could become famous. Another set of conspiracy believers, who of course are as devout as the first group, believe that Malala was never shot to begin with. And the purpose of this exercise? Of course to defame Pakistan — the reason for anything happening anywhere in the world.
The conspiracy lies not in the details, but the absurdity of having no details. For the conspiracy theorists, everything is louder than a whisper, they know all before it actually happens, and they see all before there is anything to see. When the world would say “I am Malala”, they’d shout back “I am not Malala”. It was decided for once and all that Malala was a Western conspiracy to malign Pakistan, just like Osama bin Laden hanging out in Abbottabad was also a Western conspiracy to malign Pakistan. OBL won martyrdom, for Malala, the West had other plans. When she finds a husband, the same conspiracy theorists will be baptising him as a CIA, or Yahoodi agent. Probably that’s what upset them the most about the marriage statement, for their conspiracies are already made.
Why Pakistanis love to hate Malala Yousafzai is a question that revolves around conspiracies, politics, and history. There is a special hate in store for Nobel Laureates in Pakistan — their accomplishments are acknowledged by the world but not so much at home. Dr Abdus Salaam, the first Pakistani Nobel Prize winner, was denounced because of his Ahmadi faith. For Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate, there is social media to denounce her daily.
So, what did Malala tell Vogue?
Here’s an excerpt:
“I still don’t understand why people have to get married. If you want to have a person in your life, why do you have to sign marriage papers, why can’t it just be a partnership?” Her mother – like most mothers – disagrees. “My mum is like,” Malala laughs, “‘Don’t you dare say anything like that! You have to get married, marriage is beautiful.’” Meanwhile, Malala’s father occasionally receives emails from prospective suitors in Pakistan. “The boy says that he has many acres of land and many houses and would love to marry me,” she says, amused.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.