SPEAKING FREELY The drone victim and 'Malala'
By Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Meet Nabeela Rehman, a nine-year-old girl from Pakistan's restive Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). Nabeela is not an international youth icon like her compatriot, Malala Yusufzai, though her story is no less traumatic.
In the first week of November, Nabeela quietly traveled all the way to Washington from Waziristan to ask the United States Congress to ask a simple question: Why is her grandmother not with her today?
On October 24, 2012, Nabeela was playing outside her home in Ghundi Kala, North Waziristan, when missiles hit her family's
fields. The drone strike killed Nabeela's 60-year-old grandmother, Mamana Bibi, the village's only midwife.
Nabeela tried to run, but her body was too badly burned. She had to be rushed to the hospital with shrapnel wounds. Her older brother, Zubair, 13, was taken to Islamabad and then to Peshawar, for surgery to remove shrapnel from his leg. Nabeela's little sister Asma, 7, has had hearing problems ever since.
"Everything went dark. I heard a scream. It could have been my grandma. I could not see. I was very scared and tried to run but could not. I felt something in my hand. It was blood. I was very scared," Nabeela told the lawmakers.
Despite overcoming incredible obstacles in order to travel from their remote village to the United States, Nabeela and her family were roundly ignored.
At the Congressional hearing where they gave testimony, only five out of 435 representatives showed up. There was no one to answer her questions, and few who cared to even listen. President Obama, who met Malala at his Oval office, busy meeting with the CEO of weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
Nabeela and Malala are equally innocent victims of the war on terror, yet the bias against Nabeela underlines the Western approach in picking and framing the victims of their choice.
Nabeela and Malala are two Pakistani girls born in restive regions of North Waziristan and Swat of Khyber Pakhtunkhwan Province in Pakistan. Malala, who is now 16, was shot in the head on October 9, 2012, while riding a bus from school in her home town of Mingora. Malala was flown to England for extensive surgery to repair her skull.
Joined by her family, she now lives in Birmingham, England, where she returned to school in March this year. Malala later became an icon thanks to the benevolence of Western media and politicians.
Malala was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. Malala's Wikipedia profile illustrates her overwhelming achievements in the past two years; she has received 26 national and international awards since 2011.
Malala spoke before the United Nations in July 2013, and met with Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace. In September she spoke at Harvard University, and in October met with US President Barack Obama and his family. Her Noble Prize nomination petition was first signed by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Nabeela, on the other hand, returned her home in Pakistan in November without much fanfare.
Meanwhile, feelings towards Malala in Pakistan have increasingly darkened. Pakistani news Daily Dawn columnist Huma Yusuf summarized the three main complaints of Malala's critics: "Her fame highlights Pakistan's most negative aspect (rampant militancy); her education campaign echoes Western agendas; and the West's admiration of her is hypocritical because it overlooks the plight of other innocent victims, like the casualties of US drone strikes."
Journalist Assed Baig says she is being used to justify Western imperialism as "the perfect candidate for the white
man to relieve his burden and save the native".
Her book, I am Malala, co-authored by prominent British Journalist Christina Lamb, ranks highly on Amazon's bestseller chart. Yet it is banned in Pakistan's private schools due to anti-Islamic and anti-Pakistani content.
Journalists Ansar Abbasi and Talat Hussain have criticized Malala for showing disregard for the sentiments of Muslims, and have raised doubt in their articles that a 16-year-old could actually write such an in-depth analysis on international relations.
It seems that Malala is wittingly or unwittingly being used by the Western propaganda machine for their own benefits. They have no love for Nabeela or the millions of other Malalas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwan or elsewhere in
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami is a New Delhi-based geopolitics and geoeconomics analyst focusing on West Asia and North Africa. Bilgrami is a researcher on Shi'ite-Sunni relations and its impact on the Islamic world.