Saturday, October 13, 2012

On the courage of Malala Yousafzai, the drone attacks and a culture of extremism

                                         (Credit: Associated Free Press, Asif Hussain)

When I logged onto Twitter Tuesday morning and saw that #Malala was trending, I had a feeling that it might be about Malala Yousafzai. I first became aware of her through Adam Ellick's video feature in the New York Times. And then I found out that she had been targeted for her ongoing activism for children's education, especially for girls in the Swat Valley (pronounced Sawat, not SWAT). For the last two days, I had been working on a blog post with regards to this attack, one which was ready to be published a few minutes ago, when a technical hitch with Blogger resulted in my draft being deleted in its entirety. So here is a condensed version on my thoughts instead.

The deliberate attack on Malala by a member of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), represents a dark chapter in the history of Pakistan. The fact that even children are not off limits from violence by religious extremist forces in this country is shocking to say the least. However, this is nothing new. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy's Emmy winning documentary "Children of the Taliban", highlights the use of children by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other militants in their fight against the Pakistani state.Unlike these children, Malala is not a direct victim of Pakistan's misplaced priorities of defence spending at the expense of public education. Instead as a children's rights and education activist, she found herself in the cross hairs of an extremist ideology that has taken root in our society and has paid the ultimate price for her beliefs.

A bullet lodged in her neck is not enough, not for the TTP. If she recovers from her critical condition, the TTP have promised to target her again until she is dead. Her family members, including her father and brothers have been placed on hit lists. Is this what we, as a nation have become?

It is heartening to see the widespread condemnations across political, social and ethnic divides (also see fatwa issued against this attack). The ongoing protests and vigils across the country provide hope that it is still possible to stamp out extremism and intolerance in our society. However, there is a disturbing trend on social network sites with conflating the attack on Malala with the death of non-combatants, women and children in drone attacks carried out by the United States in the FATA region, especially Waziristan.

Case in point, the following tweet:

There is one major underlying problem with this assertion. The United States does not deliberately target the women, children and non-combatants that die as a result of collateral damage from its drone programs, but the Pakistani Taliban did deliberately targeted Malala for assassination. This is not to say that there are not important ethical problems with the drones themselves, ranging from defining a combatant as any military age male in the region, to the targeting of alleged militants in areas of high civilian traffic including mosques, schools and funerals and the assignation of guilt without any due process. But these deaths (one too many) should not be compared to Malala's attack. Intention matters.

In the weeks and months ahead, let's not forget our visceral reaction to this atrocity. This rage needs to be channeled into action against extremism and intolerance within our society, lest this attack becomes another marker, a footnote in the history of our decay. Apathy is no longer justifiable. Silence is no longer an option.


  1. Good post. I agree with the issue around conflation. I think people are looking at it from the victim's perspective (so it's not much of a consolation to know that, for example, a girl was killed in a drone attack by accident and then classified as an enemy combatant-which as you know is precisely what happens).

    A lot of people just don`t seem to understand why Malala has become such a cause celebre - but a single individual (especially an existing celebrity) will always get more attention from the media than the dehumanizing statistics from each murderous drone attack. and editors think (or rather, have to operate,especially in a 24/7 news cycle) like butterflies partly because that's how we pay attention - it's hard to sustain focus on one thing for a long time while so much is happening.

    because of this misunderstanding,it's easier to see the irony (or rather hypocrisy) that some people see-'these americans kill hundreds of innocent children and call it collateral damage, and one girl is shot and all of a sudden they're sympathetic?'

    my problem with this line of thinking is that it feeds into a seductive, blame-the-other anti-Americanism and shifts attention away from extremism and how to deal with it.

    the other related problem, which you haven't really touched upon, is this problematic binary of terrorists or drones/war. can't use extremism to justify drones or military operations that displace millions.

    btw: i'm part of a group in toronto that discusses issues like this every few weeks, and once a month we have discussion forums on specific issues. the next one is Sunday the 21st at the Academy of the Impossible, on labor rights in Pakistan. would you like to join us?
    more info:

  2. There is little difference between the targeting of Malala by extremists - Taliban and the bombing and killing of innocents by the USA 'terrorists' remotely flying Predator Drones from as far away as Creech Air Force Base in Nevada not too far from Sin City, USA -- Los Vegas!

    Let me explain:
    -- Collateral Damage has become a key phrase in the USA and the West to condone killings of others in close association of a target. Unacceptable! This is nothing less that a double-speak excuse to kill without regard to anyone's rights to life.

    -- The Pakistan military, though limited, does one heck of a better job rooting out true Taliban extremists rather than blowing up everyone in sight holding a rifle, AK-47 or what-have-you.

    -- A lot of these drones are flown by CIA people from bases in Yemen. They like to try to keep this quiet but its happening. Officially the CIA are non-military personnel and, by International Law, are prohibited from fighting in a war. They are a civilian agency that acts illegally everywhere it goes.
    While innocents sit in Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre for crimes they did not do -- the CIA is committing these crimes with the pleasure of the USA as represented by the president and Congress and the arrogant Pentagon.

    -- The USA, even more criminally uses a double strike technique with the drones. First a suspect ( not a proven criminal) is acquired by a drone controller. The suspect is targeted and, if he/she is in a home the home is blown up with no regard to who is in the home.
    People rush over to help the wounded, if any.
    There is a second strike to take these people out too!

    To me, this is more than unbelievable. I ask you, how many children, young people, newly married, parents and grandparents are murdered by the USA and their drones?

    This is insane. This type of arrogance by the USA and its Western supporters in murder! No wonder the extremists are gaining power and creating more strife!

    I talk a lot about these things on my blog and in newspapers.

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