How do you solve the problem with Malala?
How do you begin to pay adequate homage to this tiny pillar of prophetic courage while retaining the necessary reservations about celebrity politics and skepticism toward the Nobel establishment, the U.S. government, and their bundle of motives?
You might consider Nabila.
Nabila Rehman was 9 years old when she traveled to Washington, D.C. late last year with her father and 12-year-old brother to testify to Congress about a Predator drone strike on their remote village in Pakistan, which, according to their testimony and news reports, wounded seven children and killed Nabila’s grandmother as she watched.
You and I missed the meeting. So did the entire House of Representatives, save for five members. An American political establishment, press and public that has showered Malala Yousafzai with the praise she so well deserves had no time for a traumatized and likewise courageous girl who was victimized, not by the Taliban, but by our government.
A government conducting dubiously legal military operations in various countries under a president who had barely taken the oath of office when he himself was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Barack Obama’s award, I presumed at the time, was a token of encouragement for a man who’d refreshed America’s historically ethnocentric rhetoric toward the Middle East. Alas, while he’s indeed tried to wind down the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s pretty much taken up the virility cudgel of his predecessors and finessed – with the complicity of the “liberal” media – the civilian toll with which people like Nabila Rehman live and die.
Pakistan, of all places. Where we bomb and assassinate with indifference, even with celebrations, and without caring what the sovereign government has to say about our agenda. Pakistan, where Malala cannot return, bearing as she would the great weight of our wishes for peace.
Her problem is, she makes it easy. If we’re selective, that is.
Who hasn’t heard her stirring words to the United Nations?
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
Ah, and how few have been privy to her other observations:
“I am convinced socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”
Americans, and I would include the Nobel fathers with them, prefer the Hollywood image of the splendid lone warrior without weaponry who turns away armies. But Malala, all honor to her, will not bring peace to Pakistan, any more than Nelson Mandela ended white rule in South Africa or Rosa Parks brought liberation to Southern blacks or Ryan White mobilized a homophobic society against AIDS.
Long, bitter, and, yes, often violent struggle against forces to which the rest of us owe our comfort is what leads to the progress we call peace. Malala knows no one is the face of that struggle, and to her credit she seems aware of the danger of stardom that the disingenuous and downright clueless West persists in inflicting on her. Her resistance to playing a newscast “Hunger Games” heroine ultimately will be her true achievement, her true gift to her people and the world that wants to forget them.
And she’ll be, not our rose, but our thorn. Much like a great suffering woman in whose path she treads.
“Don’t call me a saint,” said Dorothy Day, whose canonization so many U.S. Catholics have sought in vain. “I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”
Nor will Nabila, I’ll wager – if she survives our long-distance, remote-control peacemaking.
Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, a contributor to The Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”