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Malala and Salam: crusaders for education November 20, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , trackback

Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

Pakistan has had the distinction of winning two Nobel Prizes in its nearly seven decades of existence: Professor Abdus Salam in science and recently Ms Malala Yusufzai for girl education. Salam had shared his prize with two others while Malala is co-winner with Kailash  Satyarathi – a committed Indian social activist for children education and rights.

Interestingly, both Nobel Laureates hail from humble backgrounds and belong to the lesser developed and remote regions of Pakistan: Swat in KPK and Jhang in Southern Punjab. The parents of both were school teachers but suffused with a passion for giving education to their wards; both prize-winners faced cynical reviews by many of their countrymen when they won the coveted Nobel Prize: Salam, for belonging to the Ahmadiyya community, while Malala for being a tribal, teenage girl – too young with insinuations of being exploited by Western motives. The cynicism has turned morbid that she or her family had allowed her to be deliberately shot at for attracting public attention and sympathy.

Both the celebrities faced ordeals in life: Salam was discriminated against and hounded out from Government College Lahore for his faith while Malala was shot at point blank range and could not have survived had Providence not intervened to save her life.

Both earned laurels for their country of origin: Salam was the first ever Muslim scientist in the entire Islamic world to win the Nobel Prize in physics and Malala happened to be the youngest Nobel Prize winner in history. Both lived abroad; Salam strove for the cause of science education in Pakistan and after death willed that he be buried in his home country. Incidentally, he kept his Pakistani passport till last and remained a true Pakistani.

Strangely but not unsurprisingly, many eyebrows are being raised about Malala, too, as they were aired about Salam over three decades ago. Why educated and middle-class educated Pakistanis continue to think in this negative way? Is it part of conspiracy mind-set that has got ingrained and tends to shift blame on others or the evil West? Is it the misogynist outlook about women in our society? Is it ignorance or arrogance bequeathed from slanted history books, media propaganda and narratives? Is it national schizophrenia – of concurrent love and hate? Or is it a crippling lack of self-esteem or inability to see any other Pakistani excel in life?

Are we so undeserving of attaining excellence as a nation when we have so much of talent? Or why our sensibilities are so dulled by existential problems that we are unable or incapable to appreciate what is good, bright and beautiful?

Whatever be the reason, it is hardly a healthy state of national existence. Do we not know that in Pakistan nearly four million children are without education and fall prey to hard labor, physical and sexual exploitation? Are we not aware that our country barely spares a measly two per cent on social welfare, including education.

Do we not understand that education of young comprising nearly 60 per cent of the population – is a sine qua non for any national development? Are we not cognizant that once the doors of schools open perhaps the terrorist camps or prison doors may finally be closed? Are we so blissfully ignorant that in this globalized world attainment of hard power is not enough: it is the soft power of education, art, culture, trade, investments, economy and innovative ideas that turns nations into smart powers.’

Again, why do we easily forget that our closest friend and neighbour, China’s leader, Mao Xedong, famously stated that women hold nearly 50 per cent of the sky in place? And more importantly, our own, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) emphasized that education is an ornament for both men and women and that paradise lies under the feet of the mother.

It is a shame that when honours and awards are bestowed on our icons for their courage, commitment or some excellence many immediately turn into skeptics and seem apathetic, dismissive and even derisive of their compatriots’ accomplishments. A nation that does not respect its own heroes is indeed to be pitied.

Globalization is a trend where knowledge and awareness is growing fast about many issues like education, science, health and especially girl-child education and well- being. An idea, whose time has come, cannot be stopped even with the best of armies, said the French philosopher, Victor Hugo.

Granted, things and mindsets cannot be altered over night and many Salams and Malalas will have to come and go but when fresh breath of ideas start blowing they do carry seeds of change, renewal and hope. Our lives have changed for the better by the ideas and works of great men and continue to do so. Slavery is gone and education, diseases and many other things continue to improve. History moves ahead in a dialectical pattern and not in one giant leap ahead.

Pakistanis need to feel justifiably proud of the inspiring performance of their talented men and women instead of succumbing to self-wallowing pity, cynicism and dark cynical humour. They must realize that honouring the past and acknowledging the accomplishments of their heroes is the lifeblood of vibrant nations.

Citing an analogy, just as good families cherish and honour their forbears’ memories and good works and draw comfort, strength and inspiration – so must all grateful and successful nations do by acknowledging worthwhile contributions of their men, women and children.

Malala and Salam stand as symbols of change and hope for education; their clarion call is for progress and emancipation, light and hope for a better tomorrow. As national icons dedicated to advancement of learning and education they will continue to inspire many youth of tomorrow.

Pakistanis need to respect, first and foremost, their own brightest sons and daughters they have produced – if they desire that the outside world should respect them.

Dr Maqsudul Hasan Nuri is Adviser, International Relations (Dept of Humanities), COMSATS Institute of Technology, Islamabad, and an alumni of The Australian National University.

First published in The Frontier Post, 19 October 2014.

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