A Tale of Two Pakistani Girls: Malala & 'Shakira'

Probably everyone by now has heard about the horrible story of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was attacked by a Taliban faction and almost killed.


Cowards & Barbarians

In many of the comments following this atrocity, the Taliban has been labelled as crazy, fanatic, cowards and barbaric (and in some case as proof of the barbaric violent nature of Islam and/or Muslims, surely they do not mean Malala?) while Malala, defending her and other girls’ rights to go to school supported and stimulated by her father, is seen as nice, brave, strong and smart. And she is. And just as the Talibian continues to threaten her publicly she will also continue her fight, according to her father.

‘Shakira’ (and many others)

As moved as I am by Malala’s story and dumbfounded by the latest horrible action of a Taliban there is also something troubling me. It is isn’t the first girl in Pakistan that is a victim of the violence and lawlessness in the country. Consider for example ‘Shakira’:


‘Shakira‘ is the victim of a US drone attack or maybe an attack by the Pakistani army. And she is the ‘lucky one’; two other young girls were killed. ‘Shakira’ is not her real name, but one given by her care-takers. ‘Shakira’ is also ‘thankful’. But for what? Receiving medical treatment in the US after the US or its ally the Pakistani army attacked the area where she lives and after that being found? In no report we learn her real name and something about her life in Pakistan; she is completely stripped of her old identity and (how symbolically) transformed into a new person by cosmetic (and other) surgery.

Or consider the attack on a girls’ school in Waziristan.


Violence, justification and moral claims

Of course, one could argue the Taliban intended Malala to be killed while the Pakistani army or the US army did not intend to hit Shakira and the other two girls or the school in Waziristan. But that is a rather strange argument to a certain extent (although of course intentions do matter). Because that would mean that in the Taliban action the perpetrator and the violence more or less are connected while in the latter a wounded girl is only a by-product (collateral damage). And it is complete nonsense. If you target a village where people live you know you are going to hit innocent civilians, including young children. If you still choose to do so, you are fully accountable for those lives. At least according to many victims probably.

Besides the obvious double standard that is generated here in the dominant Western media one might try to go beyond that observation and ask a few questions?


Why do similar acts of violence produce different responses? How are those responses related to our relationship with the Other? (Who is the Other in these cases?) How and why does the story of ‘Shakira’ remain invisible in most of the Western press? Under what conditions are particular forms of violence (made) invisible, legitimate and legal while similar or other acts are widely disseminated and visualized in the media, illegimate and illegal? What kind of moral claims are related to the possible answers of the former question? How does gender fit in all of this?

Life under the mosquitoes

And do are particular acts of violence and threat influence daily life? Will there something like an ‘everday threat’ whereby people incorporate the idea of a possible violent act into their daily lives as they do with something like bad weather? How does that influence how people see themselves and others? Because, yes, Malala’s life will remain under threat. But not only from the Taliban, and not only her life. ‘Shakira’ on the other hand, if she can stay in the US, will probably be safer. The reality of the ongoing War on Terror is that a girl’s life in Pakistan, is by definition under threat. If not by the Taliban, then by the US or the Pakistani army.

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