Shooting the Messenger All Over Again
A few days ago, I mentioned the speech given to the United Nations by Malala Yousafzai—the 16-year old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head for defying the Taliban—touting the importance of education as the ultimate weapon against her attackers.
So I was appalled to see a report in the Pakistani newspaper The Dawn from novelist Bina Shah on the hostile reception for this speech in Pakistan.
The insults flowed freely.... The whole shooting was staged by "the West" and America, who control the Taliban. She was being used to make Pakistan feel guilty for actions that were the fault of the Western powers in the first place. Posters were circulated that showed Mukhtaran Mai and Malala with Xs through their faces, and berated the two women for speaking out about their experiences in order to receive money, popularity and asylum abroad.
Another popular refrain was "drone attacks." Why had Malala not spoken out about drones at the UN? Why did everyone care so much about Malala and not the other girls murdered by drones?
Shah describes this as "shooting the messenger all over again," since Malala has, of course, already been shot once.
She also offers some intriguing clues about the reasons for this perverse reaction.
As British journalist Alex Hamilton said, "Those who stand for nothing fall for anything." Because we don't know what to stand for, we fall victim to conspiracy theories, wild imaginings, and muddled thinking about what is so clearly right and wrong.
Secondly, people who deflect from Malala's speech to the issue of drone attacks may believe they care about drone victims, but it is hard to find what if anything they have actually done for those drone victims besides register their displeasure on social media. Instead, it is a way of deflecting the guilt they feel about their own impotence, their own inability to make any substantial change or impact in this country.
What she is describing is a kind of societal death spiral of shame, in which a culture becomes so defensive about its own backwardness, impotence, and lack of direction that it lashes out even at the heroes in its own midst, because they are reminders of everyone else's failure.
I still think the Malala Yousafzais of the world are, or can be, the future. But we have to acknowledge the deep cultural pathologies they will have to overcome.
[fbshare type="button"] [twitter style="horizontal" float="left"]