This week Malala Yousafzai has become the second ever Pakistani to win a Nobel Prize. Malala came to prominence as an anonymous blogger for BBC Urdu in the deeply conservative Swat region of North West Pakistan, where she bravely defied Taliban dictates that girls should not go to school and remain in Burqa. In 2012, after she had gone public with her support of education for girls and also against the custom of Burqa (she wears only a head scarf), she was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen while returning on a school bus in the orders of the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. Rushed to Britain for treatment, she miraculously recovered and became an international campaigner for the rights of children, especially girls to get education and equal treatment in Pakistan and other Islamic countries. However, most people in Pakistan are not rejoicing on Malala’s winning the Nobel Prize as they see her as someone against their religious and social belief and custom. Even as people all over the world are praising the young girl for her courage, many conspiracy theories are abounding in Pakistan. Pictures with notes showing Malala and her father are circulating giving so called ‘proof’ that the Taliban never attacked her and that she alongwith her father are CIA agents. According to some, she was attacked because the USA wanted to malign Pakistan. The belief that the Taliban are not responsible is startling as Taliban commander Adnan Rasheed wrote a letter to Malala and publicly acknowledged the attack. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan(TTP) spokesperson, Shahidullah Shahid threatened her again recently with a statement to French press agency AFP, saying “she is not a brave girl and has no courage. We will target her again and attack whenever we have a chance”. Even the mainstream media in Pakistan is also condemning her. Tariq Khattack, editor of the “Pakistan Observer”, condemning the prize and Malala wrote in an editorial that “she is a normal, useless type of a girl. Nothing in her is special at all. She’s selling what the West will buy”.
The CIA angle is a very common thing in Pakistan, which tends to see “foreign hands” as the root of all problems faced by that country. Everything that happens in Pakistan is a plot by the Indians, America or Israel or all three - the Taliban, power cuts, flood, corruption, economic stagnation, Osama bin Laden et al. The tendency to see plots and enemies behind every tree is a common trait of the Pakistani people, which is overwhelmingly conservative and suspicious of India and the West. Non-Muslims, foreigners, anyone embraced by the United States (such as Malala) and even minority religious sects in Pakistan are all seen as agents of foreign powers. The powerful Armed Forces of Pakistan who ruled the country more than half of its existence need enemies to justify itself and “foreign hands” are a convenient target. For decades, generations of Pakistanis have been indoctrinated with false stories, distorted history, religion based education and encouraged by the media, the military and the govt. to blame everybody who is a non-believer for the country’s problems ignoring the cancer of “Jihadi culture” that is eating away Pakistan since its birth. Therefore, how can Pakistanis accept Malala to be a hero, when her speeches do not have any Islamic agenda? How can they consider her to be an ideal future leader when nothing she says or does imbues a false sense of superiority in them as Muslim or Pakistani? Just see her plight. When Malala can't even live in Pakistan and is spending her life in exile for what she stands for, do you really think her work is appreciated by the majority in that country? She stood for a just cause but had the majority of the population in Pakistan and Govt. supported her, she could still have continued her life and fight from the soil of that country. But why is she unable to do so? We have to accept what is reality and no point in trying to deceive ourselves by saying that Pakistanis stand for peace, civilization, rule of law and a modern pluralistic state where people have freedom to live their life as they like. I too agree that there are people in Pakistan who are moderate, love peace and a modern, scientific, rational and liberal civilized social order. But the people who are moderate in Pakistan are not effective and the people who are effective are not moderate. The moderate people in that failed rogue state don't have any say in their scheme of things and they are a miniscule minority. Had they been effective and influential, Malala would have still been living in Pakistan.
But disowning and insulting its Nobel laureates is a tradition in Pakistan. Before Malala, in 1979, Dr. Abdus Salam won the Nobel Prize for Physics. He was the first Pakistani Noble Laureate and also the first ever Muslim to win a Noble Prize for Science. But the story of this first Pakistani Nobel laureate is worth remembering and not for particularly happy reasons. He too, is a pariah in Pakistan, rarely acknowledged and never claimed as the “pride” of the nation. But his crime? He was an Ahmadiyya, a minority Muslim sect whose adherents are considered heretics by so called true Muslims because they don't believe that Muhammad was the last prophet and Pakistan declared them un-Islamic and against which it discriminates horribly. Like Malala he, too, was in exile when he won the Nobel Prize. Despite being a leading figure in Pakistan's space and nuclear program, Dr. Salam was shunned by Muslim fundamentalists when they took control of the country in the 1970s. In 1979, he was joint winner of the Nobel Prize for his research on electroweak unification, known as the Standard Model of particle physics, which theorized that fundamental forces govern the overall dynamics of the universe. Dr. Salam and Steven Weinberg, with whom he shared the prize, independently anticipated the existence of the 'God particle' which many decades later became formally known as the “Higgs Boson Theory” after the British Professor Peter Higgs who said the particle was responsible for endowing other particles with mass. The 5 million members of the Ahmadiyya community face persecution in Pakistan, where the constitution was amended in 1974 to declare them non-Muslims. The members of the Ahmadiyya faith believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad a 19th century saint from Qadian town of Gurdaspur district was a messenger of the prophet and obey his teaching based on Quranic teachings of Prophet Muhammad. The motto of the Ahmadiyya Community is "Love for All, Hatred for None". In Pakistan, Ahmadiyyas, face prison or even death if they pose as Muslims, practise their faith publicly, describe their places of worship as mosques or take part in the sacred Muslim call to prayer. On grounds that they are supposed "apostates," Ahmadiyyas face the perpetual risk of prosecution for simply observing their faith. None of Dr. Salam's great accomplishments mitigated the bias against his community in Pakistan. In applying for a Pakistani passport, all Pakistanis are required to declare that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is an impostor prophet and that his followers are non-Muslims. Madrasas of all sects of Islam in Pakistan prescribe reading materials for their students specifically targeted at refuting Ahmadiyya beliefs. As a result, persecution and hate-related incidents are constantly reported from different parts of the country, and Ahmadiyyas have been the target of many attacks led by other Islamic religious groups.
Dr. Salam received the Nobel Prize in traditional Punjabi attire and quoted the verses of the Quran in his acceptance speech. However, he had already been disowned in Pakistan. On his return to Pakistan in December 1979, there was no one from the public or Govt. to receive him at the airport. He was like a pariah in his own country. He could not even give a lecture in the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, since there were threats of violence from students belonging to Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba. This was not an isolated event and other institutes also found it difficult to invite him for the same reason. His reputation was further tarnished when the right-wing journalist stalwarts came up with their stories claiming him to be a CIA agent and a traitor, who had sold the country’s nuclear secrets to India. As a result of this, when Dr. Salam decided to resign from his government post and eventually moved to Europe, where he would live until his death, which only gave further wind to those hurtful theories about him being a ‘traitor’. While Dr. Salam was shunned in his own country, the world held him in high regard. The then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi invited him to India and bestowed a great gesture of respect by not only serving him tea with her own hands but even offered him Indian citizenship. In Geneva, Switzerland, a road was named after him. In Beijing, the Prime Minister and the President of China attended a dinner hosted in his honour while the South Korean President requested Dr. Salam to advise Korean scientists on how to win the Nobel Prize. He was also presented with dozens of honorary degrees of doctorate and awards for his hard work by foreign universities. But despite his achievements, Dr. Salam's name appears in few textbooks and is rarely mentioned by Pakistani leaders or the media.
Even in 1989, the world's first Muslim woman Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, who herself knew prejudice, refused to meet Dr.Salam even after keeping him waiting in a hotel room in Islamabad for two days. He was very disappointed when Bhutto’s personal assistant rang him up to say that the Prime Minister did not have the time. But his misery didn’t end there. For Dr. Salam, not even death saved him from being targeted. The “ultimate insult” was upon his death in 1996 in Oxford, England, his body was brought to Pakistan as per his last wish to be buried in his hometown. The highest official representative of the Govt. of Pakistan at the funeral was the local police inspector. But the wonderfully enlightened Islamic fundamentalists were not satisfied with that also. The epitaph on his tombstone was defaced and authorities removed the word Muslim from his tomb, which initially read ‘First Muslim Nobel laureate’ on the orders of the local magistrate. This final disgrace explains why this hero was abandoned in the first place. The theological amendment in the constitution of Pakistan does not allow members of the Ahmadiyya faith to call themselves Muslims. No Muslim nation or countrymen acknowledge him because they don't see him as Muslim
Ahmad Salam, the London-based son of Dr. Abdus Salam on hearing that Malala won the Nobel Prize said, “I am delighted to hear that Pakistan has gained its second Nobel. It is controversial but we can’t deny she is an amazing young girl”. However, he added that the Pakistani establishment never gave his father his due, “Pakistan still does not acknowledge my father in any official capacity. His name doesn’t appear in any history or science books. He has one small hall in Government College, Lahore, named after him, so there isn’t really any widespread recognition that he was a lifelong Pakistani or that Pakistan should be proud of him”. Ahmad Salam also said his father was very touched by the warmth and affection he received during his visit to India after winning the Nobel Prize and recalled that the then PM Indira Gandhi had offered him Indian citizenship.
This year alone, at least 13 Ahmadiyyas have been killed so far in targeted attacks in Pakistan. The Taliban insurgency in Pakistan, steeped in sectarian slaughter, has called for the death of Ahmadiyyas and other minorities and the destruction of their holy places. That "stony barrenness" is now once more in view. Like Dr. Salam, Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to kill for her outspoken role in promoting education for girls, lives in de facto exile in Britain. She is the source of a conspicuous and disgraceful amount of slander back home, with some critics deeming her a stooge of Western interests, a CIA agent and a "useless type of girl". Islamists of various stripes, including some with a great deal of influence, have all heaped such calumny upon the teenager and will likely to continue to do so. They were pleased with her as long as she was another local victim. But then, she cast off her victimhood and emerged as a hero, a beacon of hope for young girls around the Islamic world. So she is threatened with death, exiled, vilified and scorned so that children like her won’t dare again to rise for their universally accepted civilized rights and the society in particular remains slave to the age old backwardness and injustice. Perhaps, if Dr. Salam had been accepted and embraced in his own country, science would have enjoyed a completely different status in Pakistan. Surely, Pakistani people would have travelled far on the road of scientific progress. But alas, they did not. Pakistan as a nation does not know how to honour its Nobel Laureates. Hatred, jealousy, bigotry and believing in conspiracy theories are norm of life in that country. Victim mentality and blaming others is prevalent in their society. But if it has to progress in a civilized world order, it needs to come out of being the custodians of religion and let everyone live their lives within their beliefs and help each other as members of the society.
There is a quote from German music composer Johannes Brahms that sums up the mentality of those in Pakistan, who rejected Dr. Salam and are now making efforts to belittle Malala’s struggle- "those who enjoy their own emotionally bad health and who habitually fill their own minds with the rank poisons of suspicion, jealousy and hatred, as a rule take umbrage at those who refuse to do likewise and they find a perverted relief in trying to denigrate them". However, it is never too late. If Pope John Paul II could apologise on behalf of the Catholic Church for the mistreatment of Galileo in the 17th century, why can’t Pakistanis apologise to Dr. Salam and Malala? But they won’t. I don't think Nobel achievement should be the wakeup call, wakeup call should be the support from the so called educated class of Pakistan for the barbarians who would not even allow girls to go to school. So let's accept the reality. Peace and civilized life can't prevail in the ‘Islamic Terrorist Republic of Pakistan”.