Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousufzai were recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people, and for advocating for the right of all children to an education. Satyarthi has worked towards protecting the rights of over 83,000 children through his program Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Children Movement). Malala, who also happens to be the youngest winner of the prize, has been an unyielding advocate for female education since 2008. Both Sathyarthi and Yousufszai have worked hard and risked alienation from their societies in order to work towards the expansion of education throughout South Asia. They both very much deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and their contribution to society is commendable.
Malala began speaking about the rights of female education in 2008, which the Taliban was strictly opposed to. She spent four years advocating before she was shot by the Taliban. Yet, it was only after an attempt on her life by one of the most heinous and hunted terrorist groups that she received widespread Western attention for her cause.
The attempted assassination on Malala took Western media by storm. Headlines popped up left and right, featuring her fight for female education and her survival from the Taliban’s attack on her. She has become the poster child for the values that reflect Western interest in the East.
President Obama, another fellow Nobel Peace Prize Winner, met with Malala in the Oval Office one year after she was shot, to commend her on her advocacy and to tell her she is safe now from the oppressive horrors of where she grew up. Barack Obama became a winner for “fostering new international relations” and “reaching out to the Muslim world,” as stated by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. That was a nice, vague way of summarizing the fact that since he has been in office, he has been sending drones to Malala’s home country of Pakistan and terrorizing random, mostly innocent people in order to “reach out to the Muslim world.” These drone attacks have perpetuated a constant state of fear for the people who live in the targeted regions, something which Malala mentioned to President Obama. Unfortunately, this was something he did not seem to pay much attention to. It seems that when Malala spoke about education, she was seen as an amazing young advocate. Yet when she pleaded for the lives of her people, the leader of the free world chose to view her as a naive young girl.
There is a taste of bitterness in these recent Nobel Prize victories. The Prize is a very prestigious award, but it has always been very a Eurocentric one. The very same people who love Malala and see her as an inspiring young person are the same people who ironically approve of unmanned drone strikes all over South Asia and the Middle East, as long as it is in the name of “protecting your own country.” The people who adore Malala from reading Time magazine and watching CNN are the same people who do not think twice about how the “war on terror” has ravaged countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. In a Gallup Poll from 2013, 65% of Americans said they support drone warfare in order to find suspected terrorists in other countries.
The West seems to love talking about how backwards and uneducated the East is, and turning Malala’s story into one of how she was saved from the Taliban, further reinforcing the idea of the white man’s burden to invade and intervene in this region of the world. Malala speaks against global poverty and capitalism and plans to combat it by making education more accessible to everyone. Ironically, the Western media uses Malala as a symbol to represent how capitalism and imperialism is what enabled her fame and success in the first place and blatantly ignores many of her idealogies. Malala Yousufzai is a young woman who truly is a beacon of hope to this unjust world, but we may never hear what she actually has to say if she continues to be stolen, pressed, and shaped by Western media.