A different perspective on Malala

from philosopher Saba Fatima:

However, some Pakistanis are wary of this recognition, precisely because it fits neatly into a Western narrative of backward Muslim countries. Yet again, the West rescues and honors brown women who defy their barbaric cultures. This is not to say that Malala is a stooge of the West (as some lunatic conspiracy theorist claim.) In fact, her agency is on full display and her strength shines through her character. Indeed she ought to be a source of pride for the country.

The wariness stems from the lack of outrage at death of young girls caused by acts in which the West is complicit in, such as drone strikes, and a simultaneous embrace of those girls that highlight Pakistan’s regression on women’s rights. For people in the west, indignation comes much easier at the oppression of women/girls’ rights by the Taliban in Pakistan’s northern regions, however, there is a glaring absence of any reflection (and a definite absence of outrage) on our complicity in these very same girls’ death by drones.

12 thoughts on “A different perspective on Malala

  1. While the deaths of innocent people in military attacks are absolutely something that should not happen, I don’t see where it has enough similarity or connection to oppression within a country to be relevant to how we should respect those who stand up to their own culture.

  2. D.T. Nova, maybe putting it in a more general context would help. Many of my friends from the Middle East are unhappy about the way in which we criticize their treatment of women when our treatment of women is very bad. We have also rapes, domestic violence, and our own problems with women doing science – a surprise to scientists from many Middle East states. And so on. In addition, while we like to think we are willing to ‘rescue’ women from this brutal countries, we are happily killing them, without much discussion or regret.

  3. I do not think that the problem is critiquing or condemning patriarchal and oppressive practices in other countries; I think the hypocrisy arises when we blithely refuse to examine our own cultural and our various practices, including the ones we hold so dear (e.g., our conceptualization of/emphasis on autonomy and choice, what constitutes sexual liberation, etc.)

  4. Well, this is pretty hilarious. Since June the Pakistani army and air force have been engaged in a brutal air and ground war in North Waziristan – although there is virtually no press coverage as the army allows no reporters in, over a million people have been displaced and are suffering hunger and disease. Direct deaths from air strikes and ground forces are a in at least the thousands. Most of the displaced are women and girls.

    Obviously, the answer to violence in Pakistan is that Westerners should give not give prizes to non-Europeans. If the Peace Prize were given only to white Europeans, the urgent problem of Norwegian hypocrisy would disappear.

  5. Malala specifically writes about drones in her book, and raised the issue with Obama when they met. She also writes about Western backing of dictators and how that fuels extremism.

  6. I agree with D.T.’s take on this. Saba Fatima’s article has almost nothing to say about Malala or Muslim women, Pakistani women, or even the West’s view of Muslims generally. She’s interested in criticizing (perhaps appropriately) U.S. foreign policy.

    She’s keen to discuss drone strikes and the misuse of health NGOs to serve US interests. But this has nothing to do with the Nobel. The prizes are not issued by the US government. The drone strikes and other NSA activities have been roundly criticized by many in the US, to say nothing of the rest of the “West”. US foreign policy is not the West’s view of women.

    Further, it silly to draw comparisons to treatment of women, as women, to indiscriminate killing involving women as victims. US drone strikes, whatever one thinks of them and so far as we know, don’t target women for being women. The women that are killed are not killed because they women, or because those in the US state department think women are of less worth, or because they have acted not as they believe women should. Unjust killing of women is not identical to the unjustness of the killing of women because they are women. Perhaps Fatima’s a thoroughgoing consequentialist, but I hope not.

    This article looks a lot like the author was seeking an excuse to hit US foreign policy. And it’s a shame that Malala’s story has to be sacrificed for this, however laudable the goal. If only it were about the more substantive points raised by Jacobson and Egbert.

  7. “re-establish some credibility for the Nobel Peace Prize, once won by Henry Kissinger.”

    And Barack Obama.

  8. Thank you everyone for the uptake. In the full blog post, I too admire Malala. I think it is wonderful that she was recognized by the Nobel committee (and yes, I know committee is not American). I hope many others like her win. I hope Pakistan has a million more fierce Malalas. The blog was not about *not* celebrating her (in fact I emphasize that Pakistanis have plenty of reasons to be proud), but it is rather about examining our (America’s) own complicity in the war on/of terror as it affects the lives of women. It is true, I didnt lay it out here, but the book, ‘Feminism and War: Confronting US Imperialism’ (2008), does a wonderful job of showing how American administrations co-opted feminist rhetoric to excuse the imperialist endeavor in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And one of the reasons that Malala can be celebrated (as she should be) is precisely because she can nicely square into this rhetoric and other female voices cannot/ are not recognized because they are too uncomfortable to face.
    I dont think the blog ‘sacrifices’ Malala’s ‘story’ at all. But yes, I am using the celebration of Malala as an excuse to bring light to something else, but I have a feeling that Malala wouldn’t mind, considering her vocal opposition against drones and constant reference to her faith Islam in a possible effort to redefine the image of Muslims.

  9. Powerful and to the point. We need a diversity of narratives, no matter how inconvenient and uncomfortable they make us feel. Well done Saba!

  10. Some of the comments here treat oppression of women and U.S. foreign policy as unrelated. But part of the reasons that opponents of women’s rights have come to power in places like the Middle East and Central Asia is U.S. foreign policy. The United States armed the Taliban in the 1980s. ISIS is in power largely because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Whether or not drone strikes target women for being women, it is disingenuous to suggest that U.S. foreign policy is not empowering many forces who do target women for being women.

  11. The women and children being killed in the drone strikes are dying precisely because they are women and children. They are in the house/buildings that drones are targeting and in that society they are not allowed to be anywhere but those buildings/houses. And because they are women and children their death are not counted. Only statistic we hear is a terrorist was targeted.

    They are nameless victims whose families don’t even acknowledge their deaths because they were not the earning member of the society. They are victims who while living are marginalized by the society and in death by us too.

    Lastly, reason for the death to dead doesn’t matter. Whether they were slaughtered by religious fanatics because they were women and children or they were incinerated by logical beings because their lives didn’t contribute to society by western standards, they are still dead. Their lives ended by both parties while they are not party to anything.

    Since the article only brings light to the issue that Malala wants us to pay attention, I don’t see it as distraction at all. Unless we want to put Malala on a high pedestal and only listen to first 3 sentences of her speech that talk about women and education. Then ask her to stay quite because rest of speech makes us uncomfortable.

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