Prayers in secret for Malala's Nobel prize | South China Morning Post
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Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, born in 1997, is a Pakistani activist known for fighting for education rights for girls under the Taliban regime. She was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize for her cause of education. On October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala in her head and neck in an assassination attempt. Pakistan authorities subsequently offered an US$100,000 bounty on capture of the attacker. She remains in critical condition. 

NewsAsia
PAKISTAN

Prayers in secret for Malala's Nobel prize

Girl shot by Taliban is a hero in the West but hated by many in Pakistan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 3:32am

In Malala Yousafzai's home town in Pakistan, school friends hope to see her win the Nobel Peace Prize this Friday - but they dream in secret, under pressure from a society deeply ambivalent about the teenage activist.

Malala, who survived being shot by the Taliban on October 9 last year, has become a global ambassador for education, feted by celebrities and politicians around the Western world.

But in northwest Pakistan's Swat valley, a deeply conservative area fearful of foreign influence encroaching on the traditions of its society, many regard her with suspicion and even contempt.

Her long-time friend Safia said she deserved to win the Nobel prize. She supports Malala's efforts to get all children - girls as well as boys - to go to school.

"A bicycle cannot run with only one wheel: society is like a bicycle, with the male education as the first wheel and female education as the second one," she said.

Beautiful verdant Swat Valley was once a honeypot for tourists, but it was plunged into war in 2007 when the Pakistani Taliban took control and enforced a hardline Islamist rule until they were kicked out by the army two years later.

But pockets of militancy remain and a year ago a Taliban hit squad shot Malala in the head at point-blank range on her school bus.

Remarkably, Malala survived and has spent the past year in England - first for treatment and then to continue her education.

Malala has become one of the most famous teenagers in the world, attracting support from the likes of Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bono.

But this rise to stardom in the West, and her frequent appearances in the media, have brewed suspicion in a society that expects women to remain out of sight and is always quick to blame foreign powers for its ills.

The head of girls' education in Swat, Dilshad Begum, explained that in Pashtun society "people don't like to see women in front of cameras".

Maulana Gul Naseeb, a prominent figure in the JUI-F, one of Pakistan's leading religious political parties, was more forthright.

"America created Malala in order to promote their own culture of nudity and to defame Pakistan around the world."

Bizarre theories like this have gained ground on social networking sites, with users declaring themselves shocked to see the West elevate a girl "only" wounded while forgetting Afghan and Pakistani children killed by American bombs.

Malala first rose to prominence during Taliban rule in Swat with a blog for the BBC Urdu service chronicling the rigours of daily life under the Islamists.

Safia said even people from Malala's village had opposed her, but that the critics were "hypocrites and jealous".

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