Malala . Courting controversy

Courting controversy

Waqar Gillani Encore July 25, 2021

The Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board denies that it confiscated a textbook for featuring a picture of Malala Yousafzai

Courting controversy

Malala Yousafzai remains a polarising figure in our society. It seems that she is a different kind of symbol for some Pakistanis than she is for the rest of the world.

A number of people still share conspiracy theories about her. After the heinous Taliban attack against her, the world saw a new face – a face that, sadly, some people in Pakistan refuse to recognise.

Recently, the Punjab Text Book Board, the provincial authority that approves books for teaching at schools, raided a book store in Lahore and confiscated copies of a pre-primary book that featured her image.

The Oxford University Press had printed the book some months ago as part of supplementary social studies material. Her picture appeared on Page 33 of the book along with a picture of Maj Aziz Bhatti Shaheed, a recipient of Nishan-i-Haider. Other important personalities featured on the pages included Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Abdul Sattar Edhi and Begum Rana Liaquat Ali.

The board later denied that a picture of Malala was the reason behind the removal of the book from the market. It said the OUP had not obtained the necessary no-objection certificate.

Senior journalist Ansar Abbasi, however, quoted the board chairman in his July 15 column in Daily Jang as saying, “We came to know through media that Malala was portrayed as a national hero in the textbooks. On inquiry we learnt that it was not the official textbook but that the OUP had printed the book without an NOC. We, then, confiscated the available stock from the market.”

A PTBB spokesperson also told The News on Sunday (TNS), that the OUP did not obtain NOC for the books, a mandatory requirement. He said a picture of Malala was not the reason for the action. The OUP said it was a pre-primary, supplementary book, not designed for use as part of the Single National Curriculum. It said it “includes an image of Malala under the heading ‘famous people’, in the context of her being the youngest Nobel Laureate in the world.” Following the raid, the OUP itself removed the remaining copies of the book.

Last year, the PCTB had banned 100 textbooks being taught in private schools as those were deemed to have either “anti-national” or “blasphemous” content. According to the list, 17 of the banned books were taught to Class I students, 18 to Class-II, 19 to class-III, 24 to Class-IV, 13 to Class-V, 4 to Class-VI, three to Class-VII, one to Class-IX and one to Classes-IX and X.

Malala turned 24 on July 12, a globally observed worldwide as Malala Day on the recommendation of the United Nations as a tribute to the girl and to support education. However, some elements in Pakistan, observed this day as ‘I am not Malala Day’ as a gesture that they do not like her transformation into a ‘Westernised’ person.

“I was among the people who protested against the attack on Malala and condemned the Taliban but now I believe that she is following a Western agenda to defame our religion, country and society,” says Kashif Mirza, who heads the private schools’ association in Lahore. He says he started disliking Malala after reading I am Malala, her autobiography, co-written with journalist Christina Lamb.

Courting controversy

Malala turned 24 on July 12. The day is observed worldwide as Malala Day on the recommendations of the United Nations as a tribute to this courageous young girl and to support education. However, some elements in Pakistan, observed it as ‘I am not Malala Day’ as a gesture that they do not like her ‘Westernised transformation’.

“After reading her book… it seemed that the West was using her as a tool against Islam, Pakistani state and society. I dislike her Westernised agenda. We will continue to oppose it,” he says.

“She wrote in the book that her father wore a black band on August 14, the day Pakistan came into existence as he disliked the emergence of Pakistan. She wrote that Pakistan should have invested in education rather becoming a nuclear power. Recently, she has said a partnership may be better than a marriage,” Mirza said. “We cannot tolerate such views. They go against our religion and our national ideology,” he adds. “While Malala’s name was used as an author for the book it was actually Western agenda. She is becoming a symbol for the West’s liberal agenda. This society will never accept it. She will never be a role model for a majority of the women and girls in our society.”

He says he and some likeminded people had been protesting against Malala’s description as a national hero in the OUP for several months and had written to the authorities to not make the book a part of the curriculum. “We will not accept it,” he says.

Commenting on the dilemma of marriage from the perspective of a young woman, Malala, had said in a recent interview with ‘Vogue’ magazine: “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? My mum is like, ‘Don’t you dare say anything like that! You have to get married, marriage is beautiful’.”

The book, I am Malala, was launched in 2013. It was not well received in Pakistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, some sections of society, opposed launch ceremonies. Objections were also raised when the government renamed the school she had attended after her.

A conspiracy theory, popular in a section of the society, suggests that the attack on Malala in 2012 was staged. It says the episode was meant only to get her out of Pakistan and turn her into a symbol that could be used against Pakistan. Some people have also claimed that Malala was not born in Pakistan, that her name is Jane and that she was born in Hungary.

A Pakistani Army helicopter had transported her to a military hospital following the shooting. She was later taken to the UK. Since then she has been living in the UK. In 2013, she delivered a speech to the United Nations. In 2014, she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Oxford in 2020. Globally, she is recognised as a campaigner for the education of girls. She briefly visited her country and hometown in 2018 amid extraordinary security measures.

“Pakistan’s middle class — a rapidly growing demographic given to conservative, anti-American views — is the top conjurer and consumer of such conspiracies. But others, including some members of the political elite and even Pakistani-Americans, embrace them too,” American columnist Michael Kugelman once wrote. “Malala personifies what is admirable about Pakistan and its people: youth, resilience, bravery, and patriotism. But her story also holds up a mirror to the country’s dark side, not just in terms of terrorism, misogyny and conspiracy-mongering, but also its deep class divides and the sharply divergent worldviews generated by such fissures.”

“I see Malala as the needle of anyone’s ideological compass. Just utter the name and you will have an easily decipherable expression to read,” columnist Ghazi Salahuddin recently wrote, adding, “Those who hate Malala – some brazenly and others sheepishly – would give no credence to the UN because they see her global prominence as a conspiracy. At the popular level, there is no constituency for Malala in Pakistan. Among other things, it does not seem to matter that she is the youngest person to have been awarded a Nobel Prize.”

The author is a staff   reporter. He can be reached at; Twitter: @waqargillani

source Courting controversy | Encore |

Categories: Asia, Pakistan

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