The importance of light

Malala – a name that puts fear in the hearts of the Taliban who have terrorised millions and killed thousands of innocent human beings; a name that gives hope to millions of young girls and women that they can achieve their dreams regardless of the hurdles put in their way by patriarchal systems and societies; a name that inspires confidence in people affected by terrorism that they can survive this dark period and still move forward successfully; a name that has shown Pakistanis that one of their own can take centre stage on a global platform and make them proud; a name that is many things to many people around the world.

While many in Pakistan celebrated Malala and her courage, there were thousands of others in the same country who launched a vicious anti-Malala campaign, denouncing her courage and commitment to education. Conspiracy theories could be found in abundance after her brilliant and deeply moving speech at the UN.

It was disturbing to see Malala being called all sorts of names by her fellow Pakistanis but they are forgetting that she survived her attacker’s bullet and has the prayers and good wishes of the entire world to last her a lifetime. A few naysayers here and there are only bringing a bad name to themselves. Her name will forever be etched in golden words in history while they will be condemned to some dark, dusty corners of the dustbins of history. Nothing they say or do can diminish this brave girl’s stature.

Why is it that so many of us cannot bring ourselves to hail Malala the way she is being celebrated globally? There are many different and complex reasons for this but one of them could possibly be the dysfunctional nature of our state. When a state becomes dysfunctional, its people are affected on many different levels. Insecurity, paranoia and resentment lie at the heart of it. In the Abbottabad Commission Report, the then ISI chief Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s comments about Pakistan were quite telling. He said, “We are a failing state, even if we are not yet a failed state.” When a country’s intelligence chief admits to our failings and predicts the failure of the state as a whole, it is time for introspection. This is not to say that Pakistan can never become functional again. In fact, people like Malala give us hope that our country will overcome its failings and start afresh. A new era of democracy in Pakistan gives credence to this belief. Who would have thought that a former military dictator would be on trial in our country but here we are. Democracy and education can bring real change in the country.

As Malala said, “We realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced.”

We may have lost our sense of direction but we can and we must move in the right direction now. We have fought difficult battles in the past so we must continue our struggle.

Here is to Malala and Pakistan. Let there be light!

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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