Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Global Hero, Local Lightning Rod? Why Malala's Nobel Rankles Many Pakistanis

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Global Hero, Local Lightning Rod? Why Malala's Nobel Rankles Many Pakistanis

Article excerpt

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani advocate for education and peace, has won the Nobel Peace Prize almost exactly two years after the Pakistani Taliban attempted to assassinate her.

Malala was jointly awarded the prize with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said on Friday.

At 17, Malala is the youngest Nobel Laureate in the prize's history. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulated her and called her the "pride of Pakistan."

Despite the global attention, the young education advocate is often ridiculed rather than praised in her home country. Over the past two years, right-wing activists and conspiracy theorists have flooded social networking websites with allegations against Malala, accusing her of everything from working for the CIA to faking her injuries and defaming Pakistan.

Reaction to Friday's prize was largely congratulatory on Pakistani television networks, though coverage was limited and quickly shifted to reports on the ongoing political protests led by opposition leader Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul Qadri.

"How did she win a peace award? I don't understand this. She is a traitor to Pakistan and to Islam," says Umair Khan, a Karachi shopkeeper. "She has ridiculed the way people used to live under shariah law 800 years ago. She is 99.9 percent a CIA agent. Her entire story is based on lies."

Conspiracy and criticism Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize exactly two years and a day after gunmen stopped her school van in Pakistan's Swat Valley on Oct. 9, 2012 and asked for her before they began firing. The Pakistani Taliban accused her of carrying out a '"smear campaign" against the group.

Malala came to prominence after writing an anonymous diary for the BBC on living in Swat and going to school while the Pakistani Taliban waged an insurgency in the region. She was the subject of a New York Times video feature, and was given an award by the Pakistani government after she went public about her role and became an advocate for education in late 2009.

Conspiracy theories about Malala have circulated for several years, even before she was targeted by the Taliban. In 2010, Malala attended an event with Richard Holbrooke, then the US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which sparked many conspiracy rumors that she was being used by the United States government.

The US is viewed favorably by 14 percent of Pakistanis, according to a 2014 Pew Research Global Attitudes poll. Over the past decade, favorable views of the US peaked at 27 percent in 2006.

Criticism exploded in the wake of the assassination attempt in 2012. Opponents accused her of faking her injuries to gain sympathy abroad, akin to when former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2005 accused women of claiming they were rape victims in order to get visas from Canada. …

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