10/23/2014 08:12 EDT | Updated 12/23/2014 05:59 EST

I Can Only Pray There Will Be a Thousand More Malalas

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2013 file photo, Malala Yousafzai poses for photographs in New York. Yousafzai, who survived being shot by the Taliban because she advocated education for girls, has been named the National Constitution Center's Liberty Medal recipient and is scheduled to receive the award at a ceremony on Oct. 21, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

She has survived the bullets; now she must defeat the bigots.

Millions around the world rejoiced when Malala Yousafzai won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize: the youngest person ever to receive this honour. Still, it was not enough to win over many in her homeland, who see Malala as a pawn being used by the West to malign Pakistan's 'good' name.

Those who criticize Malala ignore the fact that Pakistan has failed to protect its children and secure their future. They think her campaign to educate the children is shaming the nation. They are dead wrong.

Today, Canada will embrace Malala by granting her an honourary citizenship to recognize and celebrate her efforts to educate the girls in Pakistan. Today, we must also expose and confront the distorted narratives of those in Pakistan who systematically misconstrue facts and figures to discredit her.

Orya Maqbool Jan, a civil servant and a writer, is leading the charge against Malala Yousafzai. In op-eds and television appearances he questions the motives of those who have nominated and awarded her the Nobel Peace Prize. He wonders why Malala accepted the same peace award that recognized others who have been instrumental in waging wars.

It may be true, at least retrospectively, that not every recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize has been equally deserving. But there are numerous others whose dedication to peace and justice is beyond dispute. I think of Dr. Muhammad Yunus (2006), Nelson Mandela (1993), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1964), and Lester B. Pearson (1957) when I think of the Nobel Peace Prize. And now, I will think of Malala.

Mr. Jan, however, is holding Malala guilty by association, who cannot be faulted for the wrongs of others. She is also not the first South Asian Muslim to accept an honour from the West. Pakistan's founding fathers have done the same. In 1922, King George V knighted Sir Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, the individual behind the very idea of a separate state for Muslims in South Asia. Why is Dr. Iqbal a hero to Orya Maqbool Jan and other Islamists, but they detest Malala?

Orya Maqbool Jan and others like him are peeved at Malala's statement that women suffered tremendously during the dictatorial rule of General Ziaul Haq, who ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988. It was General Zia's regime that discounted women's testimony in the court. It was the dark days of Zia's rule when a teenaged blind girl was convicted of adultery because she could not produce at least four men who could have witnessed her rape.

Mr. Jan, instead of sympathizing with the women in Pakistan, highlights female playwrights who became famous in the early eighties. Perhaps a few soap operas authored by the women are a fair consolation for trampling the rights of women by the Zia regime.

It was General Zia who staffed the supra constitutional agency, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), with radical clerics whose misogyny knows no bounds. It is the same Council that only yesterday declared that Muslim women cannot seek a divorce if their husbands remarry two, three, or four times. In an earlier meeting in May, the same clerics ruled that a girl as young as nine could be married.

In a society where girls could be married off at the slightest signs of puberty and where TV stations telecasting in Pushto (Malala' native tongue) advise women to be subservient to men, the 17-year-old Malala is facing the most hardened radicals who outnumber her supports and sympathizers in Pakistan.

Orya Maqbool Jan is furious with Malala because she has exposed the social ills in her book. Mr. Jan believes that she should have kept a lid on these festering social sores. Do North Americans teach the young of the injustices done to the aboriginals, he questions. The answer, in fact, is yes. Children in the U.S. and Canada are told of the historic injustice done to the natives. At Ryerson University in Toronto, where I teach, university ceremonies and events are blessed with native rituals and customs. The Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, recognizes in her speeches the aboriginal tribes who have lived, and continue to live, in Ontario.

Unlike the radicals in Pakistan, we do not lie to our children in Canada.

In October 2012, it was in fact a Canadian author, Tarek Fatah, who launched the online campaign to nominate Malala for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and leaders of the other parties in the Canadian Parliament, jointly endorsed her nomination.

While Malala was not the recipient in 2013, the seeds for her 2014 Peace Prize were indeed sown in Toronto where today she will receive the honourary citizenship, making her only the sixth person ever to be awarded this distinction. She joins the ranks of Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Prince Karim Agha Khan.

The day after she was shot in 2012, I wrote a blog for a Pakistani newspaper in which I tried to answer the question posed by the Taliban who attacked her. Who is Malala Yousafzai, the attacker asked the driver in Pushto. Two years later, Orya Maqbool Jan and the radical clerics in Pakistan make me realize that Pakistanis need a reminder on Malala. "Let me answer this question for anyone who wants to know. Malala is what Taliban will never be. She is fearless, enlightened, articulate, and a young Muslim woman who is the face of Pakistan and the hope for a faltering nation that can no longer protect its daughters."

I can only pray: Let a thousand Malalas bloom.


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