The Malala that they ignore

October 26, 2014
Malala Yousafzai told a Marxist conference in Pakistan last year: 'I am convinced socialism is the only answer.'

Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Pakistani activist, has won a well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize, putting her and her amazing, tragic story back in the spotlight.

But as usual, the corporate media have taken this positive development and exploited it in the service of US imperialism.

The corporate media love talking about Malala's remarkable bravery and strength in standing up for girls' rights to education ― and highlight the brutality of the Taliban forces that tried to assassinate her on her school bus.

Such coverage fuels their orientalist, neo-colonialist narrative about “backward”, misogynist Muslims and their need for “white saviours”.

Most people who win the Nobel “Peace” Prize do so for war-mongering and crimes against humanity ― former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger boasts one, as does President Barack Obama. But Malala actually deserves hers, making the exploitation of her win even more grotesque.

Malala has devoted her life to fighting for education for children. Speaking at the United Nations, she implored: “Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen, can change the world.

“Education is the only solution.”

The Western intelligentsia ate this up. After all, everyone can agree that education for children is a positive goal. By emphasising that education is the only solution, the West can draw attention away from the very real material concerns facing the vast majority of the world.

But in that same speech, just before that quote, Malala spoke of “a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism”. You can guess which of these points is highlighted, and which excluded, by the corporate media.

Roughly half the world still lives on less than US$2.50 a day. About one-quarter of people live in extreme poverty, less than $1.25 a day.

UNICEF estimates that 24,000 children under the age of five die each and every day because of poverty, meaning that every 3.6 seconds one person dies of starvation. Usually, it is a child under the age of five.

And, in many countries, poverty is getting worse.

Education certainly has a role in the fight against poverty, but learning chemistry does not provide billions of impoverished people with food, clean water, and health care. That takes material, collective action.

Malala understands how poverty creates and perpetuates the very social and political ills against which she is fighting. She continuously stresses the importance of not just spreading education, but of directly combating poverty.

Yet these calls fall on the selectively deaf ears of the Western media.

The press pick and choose which of Malala's messages are amplified ― and which are silenced. They can hardly get enough of her insistence on the importance of “the philosophy of nonviolence I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa”.

The Western intelligentsia positively salivate upon hearing such messages, despite the fact (or because of it?) that Gandhi was a virulent racist and Mother Teresa had ties to Central and South American dictators.

Many of those lauding the Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her advocacy of nonviolence happily cheered on the violence of the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The utter hypocrisy does not strike them.

As much as they highlight Malala's words on education and nonviolence, the corporate media never mention the side of Malala that they do not like. That is the side that challenges Western imperialist interests ― the side of Malala that not just opposes US drone strikes, but capitalism itself.

Last year on October 11, Malala met with Barack Obama in the Oval Office. The press could hardly have lauded the president more for taking the time out of his busy schedule to meet the 16-year-old activist, and for bringing his family with him.

What went much less reported was that at this meeting, Malala warned that US “drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people”.

The White House left these comments out of its official statement.

Just a few weeks after this meeting, another Pakistani girl visited Washington to testify before Congress, and received much less media attention. Nabila Rehman was eight-years-old when she was out in a field picking okra and her grandmother was eviscerated before her eyes by a US drone strike. Seven children were also wounded, including family members.

Nabila's brother Zubair, a 13-year-old who was injured in the US drone attack, told the five congress-people decent enough to show up: “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don't fly when sky is grey.”

The Rehman family's story was so dreadful that the translator burst into tears while telling it to Congress. Out of 435 House members, only five attended the hearing.

Al Jazeera writer Murtaza Hussein noted that, in a symbol of the “utter contempt in which the government holds the people it claims to be liberating, while the Rehmans recounted their plight, Barack Obama was spending the same time meeting with the CEO of weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin”.

Clearly, stoking the military-industrial complex that creates the Predator drones that have murdered and injured thousands of innocent civilians is a higher priority for the US president than meeting the actual victims of what can only correctly be referred to as state terrorism.

Malala herself is well aware of the way she is manipulated. In a statement released on October 13 last year, she defiantly declared that she is “not a Western puppet”.

The bid to deliberately silence Malala is also evident in the even more insidious complete disregard for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's politics.

In March last year, Malala sent this message to a congress of Pakistani Marxists: “First of all, I'd like to thank The Struggle and the IMT [International Marxist Tendency] for giving me a chance to speak last year at their Summer Marxist School in Swat and also for introducing me to Marxism and socialism.

“I just want to say that in terms of education, as well as other problems in Pakistan, it is high time that we did something to tackle them ourselves. It's important to take the initiative. We cannot wait around for any one else to come and do it.

“Why are we waiting for someone else to come and fix things? Why aren't we doing it ourselves?

“I would like to send my heartfelt greetings to the congress. I am convinced socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”

This is the Malala the Western corporate media do not like to quote. This is the Malala whose politics do not fit neatly into the neo-colonialist, cookie-cutter frame of presentation.

This is the Malala who recognises that true liberation will take more than just education, that it will take the establishment of not just bourgeois political “democracy”, but of economic democracy, of socialism.

When the courageous activist speaks of the importance of education and non-violence, the West shouts her words loudly from the mountain tops. When that same activist criticises predator drones and, that most sacrosanct entity of all, capitalism, the silence is deafening.

Only the distinctive buzzing of US killer drones can be heard, watching and bombing overhead, protecting empire and “freedom”.

[Abridged from US Socialist Worker.]

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