The writer is a physicist and a cosmologist currently teaching at NUST. He received the Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 2008
In the issue of The Express Tribune of November 1, there was an article by Razya Siddiqui entitled “Maligning Malala — the sound and the fury”. She said no more than what I had been saying. However, she said it a lot better and, more importantly, she published it. The article shamed me into realising that this is a time to stand up and be counted. If a little girl who desperately wanted education, can stand up for education for girls in a conservative society, how can an educated old man stay silent — especially when the said man is an educator who fervently believes in the equality of men and women in intellectual activities? Let me add my two pennies’ worth.
It is an honour for Pakistan that a teenage Pakistani girl has been given this most prestigious award. Why wouldn’t Pakistanis be delighted with this honour? As Siddiqui pointed out, people ask what she has actually done to achieve this recognition. Everyone has a favourite candidate who, it is claimed, deserved this award more than Malala. I, myself, had thought that Abdul Sattar Edhi might have deserved it more. However, I realised that Edhi’s work, however selfless, useful and significant for Pakistan, does not merit international recognition. What impact has it had outside Pakistan? Malala, on the other hand, has had an immediate and dramatic impact the world over.
Apart from denigrating her contribution, there is active opposition to Malala. That partly speaks of sympathy with those who shot her. Those are, in any case, enemies of the state and there is little point in giving arguments in response to those who speak with bullets. Of greater concern are the apologists, who argue that she has spoken against Pakistan. Of course, a girl who was shot in the head and miraculously survived may be forgiven for being bitter at the lack of support provided by the state when she really needed it. However, I feel she has not spoken against Pakistan. She has criticised those of us who condone militants who try to stop education for girls and blow up their schools. She should criticise them! I should condemn them. You should condemn them. We, as a society, should condemn them. Injustice has to be opposed at all costs. The child, Malala, put her life on the line. Can we, adults, do less?
People criticise her for not living in and working for Pakistan. Given that her life is in danger here and the state is not ready to provide adequate protection, she could be forgiven for that. It is, perhaps, relevant to draw a parallel here between our two Nobel laureates. When Abdus Salam was offered a position as professor at Imperial College, his father wanted him to stay on in Pakistan and serve here. The vice-chancellor of the Punjab University at the time, Mian Afzal Hussain, called him and said to him, “Your son does not belong to you or to Pakistan, he belongs to the world.” Malala, too, should be viewed as one of those people who now belong to the world, and we can take pride in the fact that she is a daughter of our soil, as we can at the fact that Salam was a son of our soil. Salam criticised society for the type of education it provided to its children. Malala criticises society for allowing male injustice against females. Salam was a member of an oppressed minority that has repeatedly faced threats. Malala is a member of an oppressed majority that repeatedly faces threats of life, safety, liberty and the right to education — on account of their sex! Salam did more for us while sitting abroad than he could have done sitting in Pakistan. I hope that Malala, too, will prove more useful abroad than she could have been here.
It is time to stand up and be counted. I stand up for Malala and the women and girls of Pakistan. I stand up for Salam and the minorities in Pakistan. I stand up for the right of all children to education. I stand up for the right of all Pakistanis to practise their religious beliefs. Join hands with me and stand up — it is time.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2014.