“Brand Malala”: Western exploitation of a schoolgirl

“Brand Malala”:  Western exploitation of a schoolgirl

Malala Yousufzai

As Malala Yousafzai has told the media, that second when she was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan changed her life, (it is also changing the lives of others too), Malala has become a very marketable western commodity. My issue is not with Malala, I support and respect her wish of education for all, however (and it shames me to say this being British) I doubt she fully realizes the extent to which she is being exploited by her new “mentors” in the UK.

There is an element of risk to all now living in Pakistan since the US led War on Terror brought internal conflict to the region but there is only special treatment for some of those affected. Why not fly out every child harmed by US drones to the west for the most up to date medical care, there are plenty for wellwishers to assist.

Despite some victims trying to speak out on drones, for the most part we don’t even know their names, let alone details of injuries inflicted upon them. There are double standards on how terrorism is reported. Taliban terrorism is used to propel the “good west versus bad east” narrative in the media whilst US state terrorism is served up as “collateral damage” and is more likely to get buried along with its victims. All violence must be condemned.

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Drone victims, Pakistan

Since the shooting of Malala, western politicians and media alike have seized upon a very profitable “alliance” with the young Pakistani schoolgirl. She fits comfortably into the well- worn narrative of “rescuing” women from the east. Let’s face it an entire war was waged according to some to “save” Afghanistan’s females from the Taliban. (Let’s hope Malala’s story will not be used to keep occupation going a little longer). What press usually fail to mention however is how Britain and its allies are failing miserably on “gender justice” back home.

Exploitation of women whether emotionally, physically, financially is so ingrained in our society and institutions that I am not even sure whether some men realize their actions. The old saying comes to mind… “in the valley of the blind, the one eyed ‘man’ is king”! Former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Malala’s avid supporter, fits that description. He is known as a misogynist by his former work colleagues and to human rights campaigners for his refusal to address the plight of widows whose husbands were unlawfully killed by the state see my earlier story http://activist1.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/malala-becomes-poster-girl-of-western-government-double-standards-on-gender-justice/

malala-yousafzai-ban-ki-moon-gordon-brown-ban-soon

Malala (UN)

How many men do you see studying gender to work with women for greater equality though it would benefit society for more males to do so. Division of labour need not be problematic if given the same value for both sexes. The one man on my gender course at university was a young Pashtun man who was determined in his aim to improve the situation of women in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan whilst at the same time respecting the culture.

The special treatment of Malala is highlighting divisions in many ways. Week in week out, when I peruse the British press, we are subjected to articles about asylum seekers “ripping off” the UK. These stories show scant regard for torture victims coming to Britain that often end up being held in detention centres or virtually penniless in the community living on vouchers with limited access to health care. Yet one young lady is flown in to the UK and provided with the best possible care at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham appearing to bypass the hurdles faced by many. It would seem that there is something of a two tier system of care going on here and it is understandable that this will raise questions as to how we define a “deserving” case. I have met many juvenile survivors of torture, outspoken activists on human rights so what makes one person more deserving than another?

The commodification of Malala appears to have started at the time her father volunteered his daughter to the BBC to document life at school under the Taliban (this was before she was shot on a bus). She is seen on film at a younger age going to school and participating in lessons with her peers.

Media stories report that her father Ziauddin owns “for profit” schools which just happen to be high on the agenda of Gordon Brown, global envoy for education at the UN (again documented in my earlier article. One wonders why then, given that both Ziauddin and the BBC are so quick to warn of the dangers of the Taliban, they would put a child in the line of fire (albeit her identity thinly disguised) to write her diary for public consumption.

With regard to the question of another agenda, artist Jonathan Rao who painted the portrait of Malala that hangs in the National Gallery admits to his concerns in the Independent newspaper and states:-

 “I guess I was worried that she was probably a pawn in a bigger game and was being unduly influenced by the people around her.”

The Independent points out that:-

Those people include Edelman, the global PR firm that manages Malala alongside its work for clients that include Microsoft and Starbucks. Jamie Lundie, an impeccably connected senior executive for the firm and former speechwriter for Paddy Ashdown when he was the Lib Dem leader, leads a team of five who work with Malala on a pro bono basis.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/the-making-of-malala-yousafzai-shot-by-the-taliban-for-going-to-school-and-now-in-the-frame-for-nobel-peace-prize-8862588.html

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Portrait, by Jonathan Rao

During a BBC documentary this week, Malala’s former friends are shown in Swat valley, Pakistan continuing their education. However there is fear among children in the region. Fox news reports the following words from school principle Selma Naz:-

“We have had threats, there are so many problems. It is much more dangerous for us after Malala’s shooting and all the attention that she is getting,” said Naz. “The Taliban are very dangerous. They have gone from Swat, but still they have a presence here. It is hidden, but it is here. We all have fear in our hearts.”

What is disturbing also is that we are told in the film which area of Birmingham Malala now goes to school, careless words given threats to target her once again repeated from Taliban. Can we assume she will not be targeted in UK?

Safety is pushed aside for “brand Malala”. There is Malala the book, Malala the film, Malala the award nominee, Malala the portrait, with the schoolgirl being skilfully marketed by Edelman, the world’s biggest PR company. Wavering a fee will no doubt be compensated by the value of the publicity she will bring to the company. I wonder, how many people can name the other girls injured when Malala was shot? What quality of care and support did they receive? Are they represented by PR companies?

All this stage management behind the scenes strikes me as far removed from the image portrayed on our screens of a simple, very bright girl, with a love for school standing up for her rights. We are now into the dangerous cult of celebrity. To ease the entry into western homes via multimedia, we are told Malala likes pop star Justin Bieber, is championed by actor and UN ambassador Angelina Jolie and what transition would be complete without the obligatory photo with a smiling David Beckham. With the “A” listers behind her, Malala’s future looks rosy. How different to the many women that have been harmed in Britain and received no such support.

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Meeting David Beckham and book with Christina Lamb

It is fascinating to see the establishment prizes Malala is collecting including “Pride of Britain”. Will we see her projected from Quilliam next, sat beside former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson. Even to Tommy, she must surely be the acceptable face of Islam. Then of course we are gearing up for the Nobel Peace Prize with Malala a firm favourite to take the award. Putin’s heart must be sinking with Malala predicted to follow in the footsteps of champion of drones, supporter of targeted killings, President Barack Obama.

I can’t help but think of another Nobel nominee two decades ago, one Rigoberta Menchu. Like Malala she was thrust into the limelight, pressurised by others. She also wrote a book and appears to have been so eager to fit the expected narrative that she is alleged to have altered facts to project her cause, that of Quiche people in Guatemala. Ten years after the Nobel she was mired in controversy, though allowed to keep her prize. I quote a newspaper story in the New York Times  December 15th 1998:-

images   url

Rigoberta Menchu

In the autobiography ”I, Rigoberta Menchu,” first published in Spanish in 1983 at the height of Guatemala’s brutal civil war, Ms. Menchu, now 39, tells a wrenching tale of violence, destruction, misery and exploitation as moving and disturbing as a Victor Hugo novel. So powerful was the book’s impact that it immediately transformed her into a celebrated and much-sought-after human rights campaigner and paved the way for her being awarded the Nobel Prize.

Key details of that story, though, are untrue, according to a new book written by an American anthropologist, ”Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans.” Based on nearly a decade of interviews with more than 120 people and archival research, the anthropologist, David Stoll, concludes that Ms. Menchu’s book ”cannot be the eyewitness account it purports to be” because the Nobel laureate repeatedly describes ”experiences she never had herself.”

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/15/world/tarnished-laureate-a-special-report-nobel-winner-finds-her-story-challenged.html?scp=7&sq=rigoberta%20menchu&st=cse&pagewanted=1

Malala is a bright, articulate young woman. She comes across as caring and committed and has great potential to make a difference in this world finding her own route. She is not in the UK to boost careers or further the bank balance of those in the media. Those who claim to support gender justice should ask themselves why it is that some cases are projected into the media whilst thousands of other cases are suppressed by government including by one of the same politicians so supportive to Malala.

I recall one campaigner harmed by the state writing to Gordon Brown on his deathbed requesting a meeting in a last ditch attempt to obtain gender justice for widows left behind. The BBC spoke highly of this activist, noted how he “died a disappointed man” ignored by Gordon Brown. Such requests were repeated by others many times.

The support people receive after trauma makes a significant difference to how they recover and move forward in life. Malala has been surrounded by care, offered opportunities and her story given immense media coverage. That does not happen for most women. Many go unheard no matter how vocal they may be or what risks they take, they simply don’t fit in to a popular narrative, especially if victims of the state.

Malala should not be used as a diversion to distract away from other women that have been fighting in British courts for years to highlight injustice and the wrongdoing of government. This does not help the cause of any woman while one is exploited and others are being suppressed!

As an intelligent young role model, I don’t imagine Malala would want this. I would think all she wants to do is knuckle down and get on with her education and hopefully will be allowed to do so in peace.

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.

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About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/experts/Health_and_Wellbeing.aspx Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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35 Responses to “Brand Malala”: Western exploitation of a schoolgirl

  1. correctly pointed out why not the effected children badly damaged and targetted by drones were not treated by the west as against one hit by Taliban.This double standard only reflects the attitde of powers towards weaker.

  2. visakanv says:

    Well put, Carol! You make some great points. How would you advise and direct Malala, if it were up to you?

  3. Yasmin says:

    Reblogged this on I speak for myself and commented:
    This needs to be read by all.

  4. Yousef says:

    It doesn’t surprise me the selective hipocracy, it serve their objective in justifying the horror they have preached in the reagin, their killing machine.

  5. Rehan Asif says:

    I can’t agree more. Its very distinct way of looking her case. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  6. Zain says:

    Yes, the west is hypocrite for supporting and marketing Malala. But what’s her fault in this…or how all this makes her cause ‘education for all’ any less important???

  7. Pia Khan says:

    This is really interesting – you’ve articulated exactly why I always feel slightly uncomfortable whenever Malala is on TV. Being a British woman of Pakistani descent – I am uncomfortable that as we praise Malala (and yes she is praiseworthy) we forget that there was another girl shot with her, who still lives in the Swat Valley, and is attempting to gain an education there; we forget the real issues that face that particular region.

  8. JIM AGHA says:

    LADY I WISH YOU WERE BORN IN A PATHAN HOUSE HOLD BELIEVE ME YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TORTURE THESE WOMEN GO THROUGH IT IS ACTUALLY A CURSE TO BE A BORN WOMAN IN PUSHTUN CULTURE

  9. Asad Khan says:

    I love how you’ve broken the trends of “for vs against” opinions for the person involved and portrayed the story from a third party’s view point. Excellent points raised. Perfect!

  10. Some great insights of the Malala saga.

  11. Patrick says:

    Very well written and in a very unbiased way. The truth is however that this has been the norm for decades. One can replace Malala’s name with a number of other people and the points would be equally applicable. Every cause célèbre need a face, a mascot as it were. Rosa Parks was just a tired woman sitting on the bus. “Some men are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them”. We can only hope that when her “shelf life” expires she is not just discarded for a new brand.

  12. Your first point, why only Malala? When you were nominated for Oscar, why is it only you who was picked up? Why not so many other great films like “Innocence of Muslims”, “Manila ki Bijliyaan” “Punjabi Gujjar” and “Moosa Khan”?

    Your 2nd point that where is the justice to other girls? First of all, the other two girls Shazia and Kainaat, who were shot were also flown to the UK for treatment. The fact is that they were caught in the fire and WERE NOT the main target. You know when Benazir got shot, a few days ago 100s other died in her rally, a few died with her in Rawalpindi. Why not the same inquiry was done for each one of them? Why didnt the UN send a team for each of them killed? Why didnt every journalist in Pakistan or the west wrote an article on each one of them? Why didnt all the politicians of Pakistan went to each of the graves and offered prayers? The simple fact is that because Benazir was the celebrity. She was the target. There was no universal conspiracy that every journalist, tv anchor and politician colluded on Benazir’s death.

    Your 3rd point that why only treat Malala and not other victims of Drones: Absolutely right that we should treat them as well but does that mean that until each drone victim gets the perfect treatment, education and health, we stop giving justice to all other children? It is the responsibility of the Pakistani govt to provide safety to all its children. The west will do as they please. They are separate countries and will work in their own interest. Like Pakistanis do in their own interest. For example: Pakistanis do not hold rallies or protest against the killings of their own fellow countrymen who are Christians and AHmedis but do it at a drop of a hat for the Burmese Muslims. Its in Pakistanis’ interest to promote that “Ummah” cause, so they do it. Same way, UK or the US work in their interests.

    Your last point that Malala will become the champion of Drones like Obama. So for your kind information and so that you can breathe a little easy, Malala met Obama today and told him in his face “Drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact” See the news here http://dawn.com/news/1049183/obama-meets-malala-yousufzai

  13. mehreen says:

    Beautifully written, truth to the core.

  14. I think Mala case reflects the dilemma of Pakistani culture. That is why it has been highlighted.
    Pakistani government has isolated its people from the rest of the world. It is a conspiracy of the few politicians against the people that they govern. They want to keep them selves power ful .
    There are two types of educational schools in Pakistan one that teach how to be a good subject and the other schools are for rich and influential to teach them how to rule these stupid subjects who are born to be subjugated. I think this case is complicated because it also talks about the condition of women and children inPakistan.
    I can talk alot about US POLICIES BUT THEN pAKISTAN IS SUFFERING FROM THE FUEDAL SYSTEM THAT B RITISH ESTABLISHED.
    My question is what is the responsibility of the Pakistani people?
    Should nt they stand up against the fuedal system that British imposed ? Equip them selves with new systems and education? Talk the truthand participate actively in the making of the laws and passing the bills and not letting the politicians play with them.
    What do you think?

  15. Ekbal Kidwai says:

    I beg to disagree; if she was an empty vessel, which many times are built up like George W. / Reagan even, every time I read her/ see her she continues to amaze me.
    She has brought focus to a big issue and will generate money and sweat for this just cause.
    The Taalibaan truly are bad and her message, PR firm even would be on a right & just cause! They bring shame to Islam; May God guide them to the right path!!

  16. Ash says:

    Malala does not want to left alone “in peace” – she wants to make a difference. And now that she has been given a platform (one that the Muslim world didn’t offer her) you want that platform to be taken away. It is pure whataboutery to complain that others have not been given similar attention. And the issue of dones (or rather the missiles the drones fire) is a separate one. I have challenged my government on that (http://bftfblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/drones-killing-civilians-in-afghanistan.html), I hope you have too. It is a shame that you complain about the West hijacking Malala to promote another agenda in an article that does PRECISELY the same thing. Very disappointed. Summary of my thoughts here http://bftfblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/malala-yousafzai.html

  17. MAAAA says:

    Personally, I think, she is hand picked by some special interest group as she speaks so fluently, flawlessly without any fear and tells you exactly what you want to hear. Her dialogue are like a movie script … I think its more propaganda or fiction that the reality of what truly transpired !! just my intuition

  18. ibrahim says:

    The whole incident was not about education for girls. The taliban letter to malala explains that. Malala published anti beard and anti niqaab things, not really a smart move for someone living in swat valley. this would make great journalism if someone in swat valley could instigate these common claim

  19. Disappointed with western values. says:

    Yes. A well written piece that gives insight about the marketing campaign about a human commodity to serve western interests. Pathetic.

  20. afshan says:

    Yes. She is a hero by accident. As for intentions and designs of empire, I suppose thinking people know their games. The PR company and others must be cashing on but her person symbolises a counter narative. She is a beautiful brave child and the other face of Pakistan. I hope she digest the exposure she is getting and grow up to be a lady who do not let anyone take undue advantage of her. I wish her and all girls her age to live the life they want.

  21. Maggie says:

    My son sent me the link to your blog. He knows that I am a fan (I use the word fan deliberately because I agree Malala, through no fault of her own, belongs to the cult of celebrity) of Malala. She is the sweetly defiant face of the global inequality of women. Yes, I agree that here in the West, we still have gender inequality that stems from the basic inaccurate premise that males are inherently superior in value. But as uneven as our societies are, our power structure is not as imbalanced as other places. So it falls to us in the West to maintain the world’s attention on the plight of women more oppressed than ourselves. I agree that all people are equal and the innocents harmed by governments deserve attention and care. Our governments should be responsible. I would rather my tax dollars go to providing medical care for drone victims than to giving money to the Egyptian military. But we have to start drawing the world’s attention to gender inequality as a real global problem. Hearing about Malala led me to the book “Half the Sky”. Reading that book raised my awareness which I discussed with my son. Now gender inquality is on my son’s radar. So when he saw your blog he read it out of concern for a girl just a year younger than himself. I hope Malala stays safe and continues to highlight the issues facing women and girls all over the world. Thanks for your blog

  22. muslimslut says:

    Very interesting post. Malala is just another example of Western Colonization.At the same time reflects how Patriarchy manipulates Media by showing we “Westerns” rescue those “poor Muslim oppressed women” as a masquerade to hide others forms of oppression that millions of women face all over the globe. It’s time to de-colonize Malala

  23. Abdullah says:

    You are spot with your analysis except you said nothing about the end game of this whole Malala exploitation by West..Let me tell you that in the bigger game she will be killed sooner or later by some hidden hands and then US and their puppet Pak Army will have every right to become the savior of women of Pakistan like they did in Afghanistan and Iraq

  24. mayflower says:

    Good story, but the same story again, hypocrite USA wants to start a war in Syria about chemical weapons, but supports Israel , who’s bombing Palestinians with white phosphorus, and the world does not even know about it…

  25. Elizabeth says:

    You made your point by exploiting her name and her face, one more time.

  26. silvina_dv says:

    The artist is called jonathan yeo. Thanks. Very well writen.

  27. silvina_dv says:

    The artist name is jonathan yeo. Well written piece

  28. Megan says:

    I agree with this article – I really think it’s disgusting the way there is such a media circus and yet people seem to be ignoring the actual issue and just using her to further their own agendas. It is appalling how biased people are and even worse how people don’t realise it.
    I do think though the ‘one-eyed man king’ comment was a little harsh considering the fact that he is extremely partially sighted-that was a bit too much I thought.

  29. Andy says:

    A fascinating conspiracy theory – one so often repeated by and flourishing amongst those with an ‘Uncle Napoleon’ psyche.

    Some cursory research would clarify that Malala’s treatment in the UK is paid for by the Pakistani government. Sorry – no ‘heroic West’ narrative on that front, I’m afraid!

    • I was talking about access to treatment actually as opposed to cost… knowing that many asylum seekers have not been able to access adequate treatment despite being tortured… so not a conspiracy… based on fact

  30. jamal says:

    ok issue is clear in all the posts.
    where is the solution of the issue.?
    this should be discussed instead of cribbing the conceptual differences
    comments plz

  31. tahir says:

    A working genious of a filthy intelligence antic aimed at creating gender disorientation in hard working Modesty driven Pashtun society and Pakistani culture… Malala’s rise and owning the diary of the intelligence agent in the patronage of her greedy dad is a disgrace to the natives wherefrom she originates…. what a shame for the western propagandists who didn’t even spare exploitation of innocence…. I fully agree with the authors opinion…

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