Editor’s note: Malala Yousafzai has been extensively covered in media lately, and several MMW writers wanted to weigh in on the way she is being portrayed. This is the final post about her; see also Amina’s and Nicole’s posts from earlier this week.
Malala Yousafzai has figured in MMW’s posts since the Taliban attempted to kill her due to her activism, which was discussed by Merium last year. In another post, guest contributor Ossob described the difficulties that Malala’s figure posed not only to images of silent Muslim women, but also to narratives of imperialism. Today, these narratives permeate the news.
In the past few weeks, Malala was granted honorary citizenship in Canada. She was also nominated for the Nobel Prize (which she did not win), and has been recently awarded the Basavashree award in India. Malala also had the chance to meet Barak Obama and discuss drone attacks. These developments have led Aljazeera to describe her as a “feminist.”
For a few weeks now I have been pondering the “Malala issue,” but I could not pinpoint what was bothering me about media coverage on her. Fortunately, in the past few days I have discovered I am not alone in my discomfort with portrayals of Malala. The issue is not Malala’s work per se. Her activism for girl’s education is empowering and important, but her image has become associated with the politics of “the West vs. Islam” since her attack. Malala in now portrayed as a star, a heroine of women’s rights and a symbol of everything that is wrong with “radical” Islam. At the same time she has been made into the “brown-next-door-girl” through her love of Twilight and American TV shows. But is Malala all those things?