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Global Struggle For Education
by Dr Farzana Bari

The incident of an attempted murder of a fifteen year girl child Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head by Taliban on 9 October 2012 for speaking in favour of educating young girls in Pakistan got an unprecedented attention domestically and globally. The reason for the massive outcry at this brutality and widespread support given to her in today's global political context is because she represents an ideological divide between conservative and progressive forces around the world.

At home, Malala represents in her person the contradictory trends that exist in our society. The attack on her life by the Taliban shows the ugliest, the extremist and the most decadent side of our society where children are attacked for demanding their fundamental right to education. On the other hand her resistance to Taliban and her resolve to acquire education even at the risk of her life shows the resilient side of our society. The attack on Malala demonstrates that a society where even children can stand up to the pressure of extremist religio-political forces has got undoubtedly an enormous capacity and potential to fight the forces of darkness and obscurantism.

Those who believed in a free, democratic and progressive Pakistan celebrate Malala for her courage and fearless fight for girls' right to education. In their view she represents the brightest side of the society that is pro-women, pro-education and anti-Taliban mindset. Thus they take pride in owning her as a courageous daughter of Pakistan.

At the same time those who believe in orthodoxy and theocratic Pakistan criticize Malala as a western stooge. They argue that Malala is playing in the hands of the West who is demonizing Muslims. By making Malala controversial, they hope to divert public attention on the brutality of Taliban against a girl child and the atrocities they are committing in this bestial terrorism.

Thus Malala has become a battleground where a fight for the ideas and ideologies is being fought by the conservative / fundamentalist and liberal forces in the country.

Global Struggle For Education

Similarly, the appropriation of Malala by the West has also sharpened the tension between the "Christian North" and "Muslim South". Through the adoption of Malala, the West is trying to project itself as liberal, humane, pro-women and pro-education. Showering Malala with all kinds of awards and nominating her for Nobel Peace Prize helps the West to construct its image as a saviour. This is an attempt to deflect global public attention from the injustices and atrocities that are being committed by the West under the leadership of the United States of America (USA) in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Continuing drone attacks on Pakistan as part of a mindless, inhuman war strategy of imperialist America against terrorism has killed scores of innocent civilians. By patronizing Malala, the West is trying to camouflage its hypocrisy and criminal silence about drone attacks in Pakistan and the violation of human rights that are a result of their economic agenda that they are aggressively pushing around the globe. The neo-liberal economic policies (liberalization, privatization and informalization of labour) and the supporting international monetary and financial institutions (IMF, World Bank) have been responsible for creating massive poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy around the world. Consequently, 57 million children globally are out of school, 60% of them being girl children.

What is important for us is to understand the politics of Malala's support and condemnation within the country and abroad. We must not disown our fearless daughter who represents the brave and brightest face of Pakistan. Her cause has a universal appeal. By upholding the right to education for all, Malala is highlighting the global failure of nation states' to provide fundamental rights to its citizens. Malala has moved beyond borders and has emerged as a global leader to promote the rights of poor, marginalized and the oppressed who are denied the fundamental right to education. Her struggle and story has pushed the cause of education for all to the centre of UN rights agenda. Gordon Brown, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, launched a UN petition in her name, using the slogan "I am Malala" to demand that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015.

In her global fight for girls right to education, at one level, she exposes the hypocrisy of western capitalist states and their macro-economic policies that constantly squeeze the poor and working classes. Her ordeal has also laid bare the vicious and harrowing nature of religious fundamentalism. On the other hand she galvanized the global public opinion on girls right to education. She is truly a loud voice of the oppressed and marginalized.

Malala's celebration is the celebration of liberal democratic thought in our society. This is what makes Malala so hated, dangerous and threatening to the very few retrogressive forces in the country. At the same time she has become a global source of inspiration for children specially girls to fight for their basic right of education.

The writer is a human right activist, is a PhD and the Director of Center of Excellence in Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University.
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 (Courtesy Hilal Magazine)