Before a mob turns up at my house and someone starts dragging up that unfortunate picture of my grandfather with Hitler, the headline is a joke, but I do wonder if the media has given a rather misleading idea of Malala Yousafzai. For example, the Pakistani International Marxist Tendency claim that the schoolgirl sent a message to their 32nd congress stating:
‘I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.’
That’s according to their site, and although I can’t find that verified in the media here, I understand from Pakistani sources that it is genuine and that Malala, like her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, is heavily influenced by Pashtun reformists who tend to be pretty well to the Left. Reputable sources on her politics can be found here and here.
The Pashtun reformists are a minor theme of her autobiography. She writes of her father ‘wanting to end the feudal and capitalist systems in our country, where the same big families had controlled things for years while the poor got poorer. He found himself torn between the two extremes, secularism and socialism on one side and militant Islam on the other. I guess he ended up somewhere in the middle.’
Perhaps, but she doesn’t seem that close to the middle if this picture of her at an event in Swat is genuine, although again I haven’t seen it in the media here. Maybe this is all just another genre of the huge and bizarre Malala conspiracy theory industry, all those websites where someone has drawn red and green circles on photographs with ‘CIA MAN HERE’ next to them; my favourite of which promotes the idea she’s just a tool in a scheme to promote for-profit free schools. (Of course – it’s all Michael Gove’s doing! That doesn’t at all fail Occam’s Razor.)
But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this remarkable, brave young woman supporting socialism and speaking at Communist events. Children that age should support Marxism, it’s just when they’re in their forties and at marches carrying those ‘BLIAR’ banners that they really need to start thinking about where their life has gone wrong.
More importantly, in Pakistan at the moment Marxism is not the worst thing around. A secularist correspondent from a Muslim background writes:
‘Whilst Marxism in the west had a destructive quality, in places like Pakistan it can offer a genuine resistance to religious oppression, especially in the model that the Taliban and state Islamic nationalism represent.
‘In her speech at the UN she name checked Buddha, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Jesus as well as Muhammad. These are coded ways of speaking against the exclusivist ideas of Pakistani – Islamic nationhood and the Taliban’s vision. That truth and goodness can be found in non-Muslim sources. In the context of Pakistan this is very powerful coded language that people in the west have not picked up on. I can only think that these ideas are part of Malala’s father’s critique of religious nationalism in a wider sense, and a kind of universalism and humanism that found an outlet in abstract ideals of Marxism that offered a route out of narrow religious sectarianism.
‘You have to be brave to be a Marxist in Pakistan. You are equated with godlessness and atheism, liable to being called an apostate by extremists. I think its only natural for them to downplay this reliance on Marxism because the impetus here in the West is to confine Malala to Islam and not address her wider universalism.’
He adds that it’s significant she name-checked in her UN speech the ‘frontier Gandhi’ Khān Abdul Ghaffār Khān, who led a peaceful Pashtun opposition to British rule and allied with Gandhi and Congress against partition and against Islamic nationalism. A Pashtun woman’s viewpoint on this can be found here.
So while in the West we wish Malala to be a courageous fighter for western liberalism, maybe it’s Marxism that inspires her courage and determination; Marxists are often the bravest fighters in the struggles against dreadful regimes precisely because Marxism is a sort of quasi-religion.
Alas liberalism is not quite so muscular and people are reluctant to go out of their way to die for it; on a state v state basis liberal democracies win because their economies are far more effective and they can adapt better, not being led by paranoid lunatics, but on the ground it’s not something people are often willing to die for.
Religious extremism is the number one threat in the 21st century, and we should treat secular movements, however dangerous they may once have been, as potential allies against the Taliban or al-Qaeda. But we should at least give Marxists credit where it’s due, especially in the area of women’s education where they have a very good track record in that part of the world (and elsewhere). You might even say that they’re on the side of the angels – or should that be Engels! (You’re fired! –ed).