The Western Imperial Narrative: Malala vs Nabila

These two articles are not hard news journalism pieces but opinion articles. The first article called “Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex” appeared in July 2013 on the Huffington Post Blog is by a journalist named Assed Baig. The second is “Why I can’t celebrate Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize” on a blog called Middle East Revised by Ivana Peric from November 10, 2014. Both these articles gained significant popularity when they were first released.

The first two articles discuss how while Malala’s personal agenda to restore women’s right to education is highly respectable, the western media’s reception of her is dubious. The two discuss how Malala adheres to the western imperial narrative, offering countries like the United States and Britain excuses for their political, economic, and physical destruction of countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and so on. Their findings parallel significantly with Edward Said’s discussion on orientalism and the construction of the East in a manner that solidifies the identity and complexes of the West. In Assed’s article, a passage speaks directly to this idea.

He says, “This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalized.”

He goes on to add, “The actions of the West, the bombings, the occupations the wars all seem justified now, “see, we told you, this is why we intervene to save the natives.”

In part two of orientalism, Said discusses how the West creates an “us” versus “them” dichotomy and asserts itself as the superior power. The appropriation of Malala (and I quite literally mean the person) under the guise of “appreciation” and “protection” enforces this patronizing idea that Pakistan cannot care for its own children. Which, yes, it cannot and that is predominantly due to western intervention that has caused significant instability in Pakistan and its neighboring countries. The immigration of Afghani refuges due to the war and the installation of various Taliban groups in order to protect themselves from the US military in northern Pakistan have made the country increasingly dangerous and unstable for the people living there. However, that part of the story doesn’t support the western narrative of dominance thus it remains largely underexplored by the media.

            Assed says, “The current narrative continues the demonization of the non-white Muslim man. Painting him as a savage, someone beyond negotiating with, beyond engaging with, the only way to deal with this kind of savage is to wage war, occupy and use drones against them. NATO is bombing to save girls like Malala is the message here.”

These claims also adhere to Said’s arguments in “Overlapping Territories, Intertwined Histories.” Said discusses how scholars and authors helped construct the orient through their fictional writing by creating either villainous, hyper-exoticized, sexualized, or weak characters. Malala becomes the weak, exoticized character in our present day telling of an Orientalist tale. The men who attacked her, and those that continue to resist female education in the East, are the hideous villains. Yet no one describes the American’s operating the drones that kill young girls just like Malala in Waziristan as crooked nosed, perverted murderers.

Malala’s story stands in direct contrast to then 10-year-old Nabila Rehman and reinforces the Malala plus western Imperialism narrative. Nabila lost her grandmother to a CIA-operated drone in 2012. The drone, which dropped in the field behind Nabila’s house, also injured seven other children. This countered the Obama administration’s fierce insistence that the drones would not injure any civilians. Nabila, her father, and her brother approached Congress urging them to end the drone strikes in northern Pakistan because they pose huge threats to the inhabitants of the area. Only five representatives appeared at the hearing and the American media did little to address Nabila’s story. Nabila wasn’t sensationalized like Malala because her political stance did not contribute to the American political agenda. This method of selective hearing is a global media issue because an alternative side to civilian and female rights, child protection, and war casualties has been offered and denied to exist due to the monopolization and manipulation of power and media. This event, while rather specific, demonstrates how only certain arguments and experiences from an ongoing War on Terror are popularized based on the benefits of their outcome.


 Articles Referenced: 

Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex (Huffington Post)


Malala and Nabila: World’s Apart (Al Jazeera)


Why I can’t celebrate Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize (Middle East Revised)


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