There is no doubt Malala Yousufzai is a remarkable girl; and that the bigots responsible for her shooting are appalling. But that is only one aspect of Malala’s multi-faceted tragedy.
Here in Accra I have been watching the re-broadcast of the BBC World TV documentary about her, made two years ago. Here is a very revealing and deeply disturbing excerpt that casts a grim light on young Malala’s fate. She is twelve years old in this exchange:
Malala: “I want to ba a doctor but my father told me you have to be a politician. But I don’t like politics.”
Father: “My daughter can be better than a doctor.”
This was the most interesting part of the entire documentary, and the North American accented presenter completely failed to pick up on it. Poor Malala; her desire for an education was genuine and highly commendable; but she was thrust into the firing line by an ambitious father and an ambitious documentary maker apparently unconcerned by her direct statement that she was being manipulated against her will.
Her father’s political ambitions centre around a party representing Swat’s rapacious feudal landlord class (Alice Albinia’s Empires of the Indus is an excellent and highly readable account for some basic background). The Taliban are an extremely nasty manifestation of ancient hatreds and social structures, but their emergence as a potent force could not have happened without genuine grievances to be exploited; it is hard to think of a more egregious grievance than the feudal landlord system.
Having been shot, Malala is now receiving world class treatment in Birmingham. I most anxiously hope she recovers fully and goes on to a happy and fulfilled life as a doctor. I only wish that more of the children badly injured in the war, including the hundreds of children younger than Malala injured in US drone strikes, received the same level of care and treatment. They don’t. They are left to struggle on and, frequently, die.
Because the truth is that she is not getting this treatment because that is what is done for children shot or blown up in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Plainly that is not the case. She is getting this treatment because she became, and remains, an exploited propaganda symbol. If they really cared about her as a child , they would give the same level of medical care and of publicity to the many, many children injured by “our” side. But we are not to be shown those.