Putting footnotes where they belong








Published in the Daily Times on October 29th 2013.

Any exposition on the murder of Salmaan Taseer points to the fact that the Pakistani media was squarely responsible. Not just that, the pundits made a hero out of the killer. It’s déjà vu. In a ratings rave, both print and electronic media have picked on the pet peeve: Islam in danger, and now marked their new scapegoat. This time it is a teenager, who is both unafraid and brilliant: Malala Yousufzai.

Men way past their prime — who have to their credit beating of war drums, crying wolf and filling newspaper pages with trivia — have now taken it upon themselves to witch-hunt a young girl who is more articulate, focused and right-thinking than they could ever be. This is more than a case of sour grapes; it is a case of premeditated murder. What else do you call insinuating blasphemy and disrespect for the Prophet (PBUH) of Islam in a country where the next person is ready to kill for that?

Rather than honour the message of peace, tolerance and civility, like the legacy of the person who they claim to revere, they instead shout down and abuse anyone who disagrees with them. On a TV show led by anchorperson Kamran Shahid, with two guests parroting the same position against Malala, and Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy who defended her, the show was set to be a circus. So much for journalistic standards and balancing the opinion scales!

Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi began vilifying Malala and her book, I am Malala, with an oversupply of vitriol rather than fact. Once called out for doing this by Dr Hoodbhoy, they proceeded to enter into a shouting match with him, calling him ‘jahil’. Dr Hoodbhoy had

merely pointed out that the correct reading of language would leave no room for the interpretation that the two right wingers were touting, in terms of the fact that the book does not support Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and that she did not deliberately omit using the PBUH prefix after the name of the Prophet (PBUH).
Let’s step back a little. Pakistan has among the world’s highest out of school children, most of whom are girls. Facts check two: that makes it the sixth most populous country in the world, and one of the largest populations of illiterates. This means effectively a brain dead future generation, where they would be burdensome to both the state economy and the geo-political region. The tragedy of this fact is magnified when we look at the so-called labels we have garlanded on our constitution, homes and parliaments. We claim to be the flag bearers of that religion whose message was to get an education “Even if you have to go to China to seek it.” Malala, as a child, recognised her right to an education granted by her religion, and wrote about it when there was no media spotlight, simply for the cause itself. Today, after she has miraculously survived an attack by the Taliban to silence her, she is stronger, braver, the magnanimity of her mission leading her to greater fortune, both in terms of awareness for the cause and the personal self-actualisation she has achieved.

Now, back in this dingy news studio where agendas are manufactured and stories skewed, we have two wannabe televangelists hoping to raise national fury over her book over technicalities of language. They are missing the point, and that is forgivable. What is not forgivable is their astounding disrespect for the larger mission of education in this country. Markedly, their outrageous and abusive attack on Dr Hoodbhoy who has spent his life teaching this country’s scholars physics, tells of what respect they have for this noble profession or for science and the principle of independent verification. Furthermore, they condemned him for being just a physics professor and not an opinion maker, as if the latter needs a Ph.D.

There has been also much said on the show and elsewhere on social media about how Malala’s father is misguiding her and even ‘milking the tragedy’. Surely this stems from the same misogynist thinking that women should not be given a voice, be it via education or general empowerment to make their own decisions. Malala’s father, a great educationist in his own right said, “All I did was refuse to clip her wings.”

Pakistan will do well to have this family as a role model. And if somehow we manage to think this way, we can make the Abbasis and Jans nothing but a footnote on the book on Where We Went Wrong, where they truly belong.

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