“It is useful to contrast…”

There’s a rather tendentious piece by Murtaza Hussain in Aljazeera, comparing the treatment of Malala Yousafzai to that given to Nabila Rehman, an eight-year-old girl whose family was the victim of a drone strike.

This past week Nabila, her schoolteacher father, and her 12-year-old brother travelled to Washington DC to tell their story and to seek answers about the events of that day. However, despite overcoming incredible obstacles in order to travel from their remote village to the United States, Nabila and her family were roundly ignored. At the Congressional hearing where they gave testimony, only five out of 430 representatives showed up. In the words of Nabila’s father to those few who did attend: “My daughter does not have the face of a terrorist and neither did my mother. It just doesn’t make sense to me, why this happened… as a teacher, I wanted to educate Americans and let them know my children have been injured.”

It stinks that they were ignored, but that doesn’t make the comparison a reasonable one.

It is useful to contrast the American response to Nabila Rehman with that of Malala Yousafzai, a young girl who was nearly assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban. While Malala was feted by Western media figures, politicians and civic leaders for her heroism, Nabila has become simply another one of the millions of nameless, faceless people who have had their lives destroyed over the past decade of American wars. The reason for this glaring discrepancy is obvious. Since Malala was a victim of the Taliban, she, despite her protestations, was seen as a potential tool of political propaganda to be utilized by war advocates. She could be used as the human face of their effort, a symbol of the purported decency of their cause, the type of little girl on behalf of whom the United States and its allies can say they have been unleashing such incredible bloodshed.

Or not, but Murtaza Hussain doesn’t mention the or not part.

As described by the Washington Post‘s Max Fisher:

Western fawning over Malala has become less about her efforts to improve conditions for girls in Pakistan, or certainly about the struggles of millions of girls in Pakistan, and more about our own desire to make ourselves feel warm and fuzzy with a celebrity and an easy message. It’s a way of letting ourselves off the hook, convincing ourselves that it’s simple matter of good guys vs bad guys, that we’re on the right side and that everything is okay.

How smug, how glib, how less than universally true.

I like one comment on the article, by Ashhad Khan Yusufzai. (Any relation? I have no idea.)

I agree with the heading of the article; not with anything else in it though. You seem to suppose as if Malala and Nabila have a similar story and are being treated differently. Nabila is an innocent bystander who was a victim in this war. I agree with you that she and her family deserve our sympathy and that it was a travesty that so few congressmen showed up at the hearing. To compare that to Malala however is intellectually dishonest because the case with Malala is entirely different. Malala was NOT an innocent bystander who was shot by the Taliban. Malala spoke out against Taliban oppression by anonymously blogging for the BBC when the Taleban had taken over the Swat Valley, and then publicly spoke out for the right of education for girls, and against Taliban oppression, after that. She was targeted because she chose to speak out. That is the difference. That is why they are worlds apart. Their treatment by the media might have been worlds apart (and I agree that Nabila and her family should have been given more coverage and attention) but to compare that with Malala’s case is being intellectually dishonest. One was an innocent bystander victim, the other someone who spoke out publicly against an oppressive regime and was then targeted for it. It is only natural that the media attention one would get would be worlds apart from what the other did. Malala’s bravery in speaking out was also world’s apart from most other children and that’s why she deserves all the attention and accolades she receives.

The Taliban didn’t shoot Malala by accident or in the crossfire; they shot her on purpose, to punish her for and prevent her from encouraging girls to go to school. High tech automated bombing of distant countries is ethically dubious, to say the least, but argue the case honestly.



  1. haitied says

    A painful but important distinction. I am disgusted by our reckless drone bombing program and suspect that in the end, it does more harm than good. The courage shown by Malala Yusufzai in standing up to the Taliban, knowing full well the risks involved, cannot be overstated.

  2. leni says

    Even with the distinction, I still want to hang my head in shame. It doesn’t make me feel ok about it.

  3. chrislawson says

    I don’t know, Ophelia. The comparison seems fair to me. The author isn’t saying that what happened to the two girls is the same thing. He’s comparing the American reactions to them. And I think he’s got a point that Malala has been feted because she’s a victim of the enemy while Nabila’s story was neglected because the perpetrator is the US drone program. I didn’t see any implication that Malala didn’t deserve to be honoured or that the Taliban shares some moral equivalency with the US (although I happen to regard the drone program as another form of international terrorism, so even comparing the victims isn’t entirely unreasonable in my view).

  4. Konradius says

    I’ll say one more thing for Malala: she has been very vocal against the drone program. In the interviews I saw she sounded too naive for me when speaking about not doing anything against the Taliban. Self defence is justified, and the terrorism of the Taliban is mostly concentrated on their own population.
    But her stance against the drone program is good, and it has been reported she berated Obama about it. I don’t know whether Nabila could have done any better, it seems to me if any message would sway this policy it has already been delivered.

  5. freemage says

    Chris: At least some of the comments made indicate a belief that Malala was ‘over-used’, because her story made good propaganda (that this bold young woman opted to not let herself be used quite so readily doesn’t surprise me in the least). That’s taking the criticism a step too far. I agree that Nabeela should’ve gotten more coverage (and I’ll note–from her perspective, I’m not sure I would say she IS less brave than Malala; after all, how gutsy do you have to be to travel to the nation that sent the drones that devastated your family with missiles, and tell their leaders “You have done wrong”?).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *