‘Malala’ – The Face of Global Youth

The past few days have been disturbing. News channels are filled with the news of 14-year old girl Malala’s shooting by Pakistan Taliban. Her crime: she took the stand for her and the girls’ fundamental right: education.  Her picture remains in my eyes and mind, making me realize how lucky I am that I had education and didn’t had to fight for this right.

But the harsh reality is that in a highly patriarchal and feudal society like that of Pakistan, educating girls is a challenge. It is a taboo for women are seen as inferior beings. Give them education and they will demand freedom, their rights and therefore, to keep them subjugated so that they never raise their voice ever, take away even their foremost fundamental rights – the rights that Islam itself has bestowed the very day a girl is born.

Although, children continue to be killed in drone attacks and schools are destroyed by both drones and Pakistan Taliban, Malala’s shooting has opened a Pandora’s Box. It is letting some important issues slip from the main picture that are siginifcant for they offer an insight not only of reality on the grounds, but, of the mechanisms that might be playing in the background.

1: The Timing of the Incident

Pakistan, in terms of economic, political and social context is unstable. Every other day there is news on either the social, political or economic front that ushers in a new low.  With the current government, Pakistan is widely believed to be ‘a sinking ship’ and the future prospects are gloomy. The incident has arrived at a time when American elections are looming and elections in Pakistan is also near. Further, the sentiment against the drones strikes is rising within the people. Currently, when the national government is losing popularity with the masses, the Supreme court giving verdicts against its interests, what could be done to divert the attention?

Malala’s shooting has caused outraged in Pakistan. If anything she has won the hearts of youth praying for her recovery. People are now focusing on the Malala issue and strangely, the political entanglements, the volatile issues of corruption and embezzlement all have taken a back seat.  Unfortunately, the incident has given some breathing space to the government. Yet, the state has no idea on how to deal with the economic, social and political issues of the country. They are failing to recognize that the time requires action, not contemplation. Setting of an investigation into this young girl’s shooting – who is battling for her life – will not solve anything. It is time that the government admits its failures and comes in to action to correct the imbalance setting in the society.

Interestingly, it is also a signal to people: don’t think about hope. If there is any hope, it will be extinguished. There can never be hope in this country –  a clear message that indicates that people will continue to be suppressed in all forms. The politicians in fulfilling their own agendas will never allow space for any positive aspect.

2. The Feudal-Religious Mindset

The harsh truth is that the feudal-religious mindset continues to be dominant in our society. This incident has clearly exposed the factor wide open. Honor killings and acid attacks are everyday news. Last year, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s film “Saving Face” – winner of Oscar award – was an insight of the status and treatment of  women in Pakistan. Ironically, this is  a country that has had a woman Prime Minister and now has a woman Foreign Minister (this is irony at its height). It shows that despite much economic development, education has clearly failed to change the mindset of the majority and of the society that still strongly clings to the perception that women don’t have any rights. The question blaring at the people; is it that education has failed us or have we failed ourselves?

Woman, in a highly patriarchal society, is still viewed as burden and an inferior being that has no soul. Despite the fact that Islam has given fundamental rights to women, starting from the very day she comes in the world, men in all their superiority and ego complex view it as a threat to their status and strength. Malala had the courage to stand against the people (sorry, I should not have used this word) cowards who openly believe that woman is the sole reason of chaos in this world. Thus, take away her rights, treat her like an animal and she will remain in control. In a male-dominated society, the fight for one’s rights means death. Many young women have lost their lives in their quest for justice and rights.  So how should this feudal-religious mindset be dealt with? How should it be eradicated?  Is there no middle path?

3. Malala – The Face of Global Youth

I strongly disagree that Malala serves as the face of Pakistani youth alone. No. Malala is the face of the global youth. This 14-year old had the courage to defy the system that denies her rights and freedom. And in the developing world, there exists a million of Malalas’  who on a daily basis are fighting this war at all levels, be it personal, societal or at national level. Malala is the face of every girl who wants her fundamental rights, dreams to have education and has aspirations to contribute to their country and society.  The only difference is such girls never make the news.  Malala made news because of the attention she already had via her anonymous BBC Blog and the Pakistani news channels who had interviewed her. What about those girls who are fighting this war every other day, in different countries? Why is it that the media does not mention such girls and young women out in the open?  Why is there a preference in the media to only cover someone who is well-known and not acknowledge the issues across the specturm? Unless, the issues is widely brought out, many young girls and women will continue to tbe the victims. Many stories will go unheard, many will not have justice.

Malala serves as a beacon of light to every girl regardless of caste, creed, race or nationality, who wants to achieve dreams and growth. She is hope. Her bravery shows that young girls and women are not weak. They are strong beyond imagination. If we have the power to create harmony, we have the strength to fight for it and for our independence.

Being a woman in today’s world is difficult. I look at her picture and ask myself: why? what did they achieve shooting this young, vibrant girl? What was her crime? To continue education? Where did we go wrong? If we are inferior beings, then why did God create us?

Despite various advances, we continue to fight for our identity, dreams and rights in multiple ways. A decade has passed, yet, woman continues to a slave to either traditions, values or customs that only hinder her growth and suppresses her character. Malala is the heroic face of young girls struggling with their battles. A thousand miles away from her, yet, I am praying for her speedy recovery and health from the bottom of my heart.

But at the same time, I ask myself: will our battles ever end?

Are we born only for suppression?

Will I continue to fight customs and traditions all my life?  How long will the war for identity go on?

Will I ever attain my freedom and rights?

 

The Arab Revolutions 2011

These are uncertain times. The year 2011 like its predecessor began differently. Middle East – the region assumed by many to be safe, erupted like a volcano when streams of people came out on the streets, demanding change for a better life, for better conditions and for freedom.  What began in Tunisia spread like contagion in various other parts of the Middle East.  Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria and Libya saw people rising against their own rulers and taking fate in their own hands. It is as if nations are awakened from a long sleep.

Many of us have read about revolutions only in history books.  We know the accounts through the eyes of the witnesses present at the time, who wrote about the circumstances and the conditions that prevailed and the chaos that came.

But today the story is different. Although we are not directly present in the current uprisings in the Arab region, we are witnessing via satellite images, news and social media, accounts of hundreds and thousands of people who want change and are struggling to find their place in both national and international arena. We are observing a tremendous phenomenon in a region that for over a decade have been led by dictators, was thought to lack intellectual thoughts on concepts such as democracy, constitution, poverty and international relations and only knew how to subordinate to outside demands. That has changed.

The Center for Regional Studies, Georgetown – School of Foreign Service in Qatar presented the distinguished lecture on “The Arab Revolutions 2011” by Rashid Khalidi  last night in Grand Hyatt, Doha, Qatar. Dr. Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York and is also the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. He was an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington Arab-Israeli peace negotiations from October 1991 until June 1993. He is author of many books such as Sowing Crisis: American  Dominance and the Cold War in the Middle East (2009) and The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (2006). Thus, the lecture was of critical importance due to both the timing and the changes taking place on a global scale.

The Arab Revolutions

What we are witnessing are tectonic changes and historic moments in the Middle East. Countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and more possibly Yemen saw despotic regimes crumbling before the very eyes of the world. Yet, this is not the first time that the region is witnessing such movements. For a decade, the Arab world has witnessed movements against various regimes such as Syrian Revolt in 1925-1926 and Libyan-Italian resistance movement in 1911 and onwards. In these movements, massive force was deployed by regimes to crush the uprising. History bears witness to massive air strikes against civilians that  resulted in major causalities, which became a sombre human chapter. Thus, for Rashid Khalidi,  the current uprising is not new at all.

Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak

However, for the first time,  the revolutions throw some light on how Arabs were perceived by the world. Thought of as a region lacking intellectual thoughts on concepts such as democracy, constitution, political rights, freedom of speech, human rights, international relations and social justice, the revolutions have shown with crystal clarity that intellectual thoughts within the Arab world have always existed and it was only forgotten with time. There exists an immense dynamic in terms of intellectual discourse as the Arab youth is well aware of many ideas and knows how to delegate its thoughts. The Egyptian revolution organized through the use of social media is an example of how the youth today knows ways to achieve its goals and is aware of the global dynamics being played out.  Rashid Khalidi argued that the ideas of constitutions and democracy are now new to the Arab world. They came from the Ottoman Empire. Yet, within the Arab world, they all faced failures simply because the self interest and other internal factors came into play. In addition to this, the European colonialism obstructed the democratic rule by undermining the democratic systems in these countries, which led to military driven corrupt regimes.

The revolutions were brought about by the amalgamation of several factors such as lack of social justice, poverty, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, unemployment and freedom of speech. But these factors were fueled in turn by the dogmatic neo-liberal policies of the Washington institutions such as IMF, World Bank and WTO. The uprisings, therefore, is also against the dogmatic policies which have brought nothing but misery and suffering. Privatization, shredding of safety nets such as subsidies, health care, increasing exports while lowering tariffs have only worsened the economic indicators. Income inequality, poverty, unemployment and inflation are just some of the on-the-side effects that the countries bore for following Washington institutions’ policies. The policies made international corporates fatter via super profits, while, the poor and local suffered. An example is that during Mubarak’s era, the real wages declined rather than increasing and people became poorer. Only 4% of the population the so called elite class received the benefits of the policies, while, the poor became poorer.  Thus, the revolutions demanded ‘dignity’; dignity of individual and dignity of nation.

It cannot be denied that the autocratic regimes excessively infringed the rights of its people. Most of these countries were police driven states that used violence as means to quell the public and to ensure that the order of the day goes in their favor. The ‘social malaise’ infested itself in the form of sectarian violence, violence against women, social injustices and various other forms that tore apart the social and moral fabric of the society. The rulers had nothing but contempt of their own people by perceiving them as immature, incapable of handling democracy, disillusioned and have no respect in the world. And there is no doubt that these are the characteristics displayed by rulers such as Mubarak and Gaddafi in their speech.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

On the other hand, it is unfortunate that within the Arab world, there is no real “Arab Power’ .  Thus,  the continuous infringement of  dignity, repression and lack of economic development and growth, paved the way for a rebellion that broke all the barriers. The scenes from Tunisia and Egypt with thousands gathering, protesting and demanding the removal of autocratic regimes are a testament to the fact that at the end of the day, it is the people who rule and not the governments.

However, there are many challenges in various fields. The present Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries presently face a daunting task in terms of rebuilding democratic institutions to provide social justice and economic growth for increasing equal opportunities. Further, according to Rashid Khalidi, the task is complicated by the fact that in the globalized world we are living in today, the rebuilding of countries cannot alienate the West. Thus, with the uncertainty and the vacuum in the leadership, there is a possibility that the forces of the repression could be back should there be a failure in achieving the critical tasks. The oldest tool in the book of politics is sectarian and ethnic violence, that is, creating tensions between certain religious sects such as Christians and Muslims in Egypt. This very tool could pave a way of comeback of a repressive regime. However, should the fire and the energy of the youth remains alive,it would be difficult for such regime to take hold.

The Role of US and Europe

Rashid Khalidi stated that with the internal struggle going on in various countries, both US and Europe should refrain from preaching the young Arabs about democracy. This is because each Arab country is different and with the consequences of the dictated policies by world organizations, developed world should let the Arab people decide the course they want to take. For a long time, US has been torn in its Middle East foreign policy in terms of pointing out several abuses in the countries and protecting its own self interests. But with the US media covering the unrest in the Middle East in a fair manner, the public wants the people to take their decisions which is dictating the US policies for now. However, as soon as the public interests wanders, the US policy would be back to protecting its own self interests. Thus, the US should realize that the stagnant Arab world is now changing and that the decisions are now being taken on streets with the realization that the freedom is not free and sacrifices will be made to achieve it.

Food For Thought

Clearly, the future of the Arab countries remains uncertain. The dynamics are changing, but, where will they lead remains in question. There are developments that require both attention and thoughts. The latest development of Morocco and Jordan invited to join the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) has taken everyone by surprise. Why in the face of uprisings are these countries being invited to join the GCC? The development raises an eyebrow for it seems that the two countries are now seeking external support other than from US and Europe. The freezing of assets of Mubarak and Gaddafi by the developed world indicates that perhaps some level of distrust has now taken place. The situation of Bahrain with Saudi Arabia and UAE coming in for help could also be one reason why Morocco and Jordan could seek membership of the Council and certainly this can change the dynamics even further.

In the face of such change, the relations between the Arab world and US-Israel will be tested. Israel has lost a crucial ally in the Middle East with the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. It will be interesting to observe the relations between the two regions over time and over the global scale.

Unprecedented changes are taking place and only time will reveal the results.