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The (Socialist) Malala Yousafzai the US Media Doesn't Quote

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From Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai
(image by Southbank Centre London)

Now that Malala Yousafzai has won her hard-earned and well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize, she and her amazing, tragic story is back in the spotlight. Per usual, nevertheless, the corporate media has taken this positive development and exploited it, in the service of US imperialism.

The US corporate media loves talking about the remarkable bravery and strength of Malala and the brutality of the Taliban forces that almost killed her. Such coverage fuels its racist, orientalist, neocolonialist narrative about "backward," violent, misogynist Muslims and their need for "white saviors," thereby legitimizing Western imperialist interests in South and West Asia. Malala's victory can be appropriated and whitewashed by the US political establishment to "prove" that its (internationally illegal) invasion, occupation, and destruction of Afghanistan has "helped" its people (as for the hundreds of thousands killed and injured in the process, well, those inconvenient exceptions aren't part of this narrative).

While most people who win the Nobel "Peace" Prize do so, as Michael Parenti points out, for war-mongering and crimes against humanity (for a prime example, consider that none other than Henry Kissinger boasts one, along with of course Obomba himself), Malala actually deserves hers. This makes the exploitation even more despicable and grotesque.

Malala has devoted her life to fighting for education for children--indeed a most noble and important cause. When she implored, before the UN, "let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen, can change the world. Education is the only solution," the Western intelligentsia ate it up, like a voracious canine gobbling up its kibbles (on second thought, perhaps a vulture would have been a more apt choice for this simile). Everyone can agree that education for children is a positive goal. By emphasizing that "Education is the only solution," the West can draw attention from the very real material concerns the vast preponderance of the world endures--that is to say, horrific poverty.

This oversight is by no means the fault of Malala. She herself, in that same speech, just before the above excerpt, spoke of "a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism." Two of these three things can be found endlessly emphasized throughout the corporate press. You can guess which one is excluded.

Roughly half of the world still lives on less than $2.50 per day. Around one quarter of people live in extreme poverty, less than $1.25 a day. UNICEF estimates 24,000 children under the age of five die each and every day because of poverty. "Every 3.6 seconds one person dies of starvation. Usually it is a child under the age of 5." And, in many countries, poverty is getting worse.

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Education certainly has a role in the fight against poverty, and it's important that one learns, say, basic chemistry. (Malala was sitting in chemistry class when she was informed she had won the Nobel Prize.) But learning basic chemistry does not provide billions of impoverished people with food, clean water, and healthcare. That takes material, collective action.

Malala understands how poverty creates and perpetuates the very social and political ills against which she is fighting. She continuously stresses the importance of not just spreading education, but of directly combating poverty. Yet these calls fall on the selectively deaf ears of the Western media.

The press picks and chooses which of Malala's messages are amplified--and which are silenced. It can hardly get enough of the activist's insistence on the importance of "the philosophy of nonviolence " learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa." The Western intelligentsia positively salivates upon hearing such messages. It matters not that Gandhi was a virulent racist who defended Hitler and imperial Japan, or that Mother Teresa had ties to Central and South American dictators. Citing the "Saint of the Status Quo" and the "Mirror of Bourgeois Guilt" as influences is a surefire way to reach (that void in) the Western ruling class' heart.

Interestingly, many of the same people lauding the Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her advocacy of nonviolence also happily cheered on the obscene violence of the bloody US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The utter antinomy (and hypocrisy) does not strike them. After all, it has always been much more useful to advocate that individuals and small groups (particularly oppressed ones) adopt a philosophy of nonviolence, not hegemons and states.

As much as it accentuates Malala's thoughts on education and nonviolence, nonetheless, what the US corporate media never mentions is the side of Malala it doesn't like, the side of Malala that doesn't serve but rather challenges Western imperialist interests, the side of Malala that overtly opposes not just US drone strikes but capitalism itself.

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The Malala Who Opposes Drones

On 11 October 2013, Malala met with Obama in the Oval office. The press could hardly have lauded the president more for taking the time out of his busy schedule to meet the 16-year-old activist, and for bringing his family with him. What went much less reported was that, at this meeting, Malala warned that US drone strikes are "fueling terrorism." Obama ignored her (presumably mumbling something like "Sorry, but I have to drone strike your home/neighbors/friends cuz freedom"), and the White House left the comment out of its official statement.

In recalling the incident Malala said she "expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people." Again, no peep from the Obama administration--who, presumably, given its supposed investment in fighting terrorism, would not be interested in spreading it further.

Just a few weeks after this meeting, Nabila Rehman visited the White House to testify before Congress. Her story did not inundate the US media--it is much less favorable. The eight-year-old Pakistani was out in a field picking okra when her grandmother was eviscerated, right before her eyes, by a US drone strike. Seven children were also wounded, including family members. Given such a horrific report, you'd think the US government would express interest in learning from it, as to make sure random civilians are not again slaughtered by bombs falling from microscopic dots in the sky. Yet only five (out of 430) Congressional representatives attended the hearing.

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Ben Norton is a freelance writer and journalist. His work has been featured in Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada, CounterPunch, Truthout, ThinkProgress, and ZNet, among other publications. His website is Follow him at (more...)

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