Even as German Prime Minister Angela Merkel hails her as “the identity of Pakistan,” Malala Yousafzai, youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and now a resident of the UK, has become a symbol of malignant Western influence among some factions in Pakistani society. Case in point: on Monday, a group of private schools observed “I Am Not Malala Day,” condemning the seventeen-year-old activist as anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam.
The name of the day of protest, which is being observed by the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, is a riff on the title of Malala’s memoir, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, which was co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb. In the past, Mirza Kashif Ali, the president of the Federation, has been a vocal critic of the book, banning it from the schools affiliated with the group and saying that through it, Yousafzai “became a tool in the hands of the Western powers.” Another Pakistani school group, the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, also banned I Am Malala from its network of 40,000 schools.
The All Pakistan Private Schools group’s criticism of Yousafzai accused her of sympathy for controversial authors Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen; in the book, Yousafzai describes her father as believing Rushdie’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses is offensive to Islam but asserting that Muslims should still be allowed to read it. Nasreen is a Bangladeshi author whose books are widely banned in her home country and she has receieved jail sentences for blasphemy. Nasreen, who has described herself as an atheist, seemed mystified on Twitter that she was being associated with Yousafzai:
“I Am Not Malala Day” will be observed annually by the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation from this year on, according to Ali.