Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex
by Assed Baig
An edit of this article was first published on the Huffington Post website
When Malala Yusufzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen simply because she wanted to gain an education it sent shockwaves around the world.
The Western media took up the issue, Western politicians and the public spoke out and soon she found herself in the UK. The way in which the West reacted made me question the reasons and motives behind why Malala’s case was taken up and not so many others.
There is no justifying the brutal actions of the Taliban or the denial of the universal right to education, however there is a deeper more historic narrative that is taking place here.
This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalised. Journalists and politicians were falling over themselves to report and comment on the case. The story of an innocent brown child that was shot by savages for demanding an education and along comes the knight in shining armour to save her.
The actions of the West, the bombings, the occupations the wars all seem justified now, “see, we told you, this is why we intervene to save the natives.”
The truth is that there are hundreds and thousands of other Malalas. They come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places in the world. Many are victims of the West, but we conveniently forget about those as Western journalists and politicians fall over themselves to appease their white-middle class guilt also known as the white man’s burden.
Gordon Brown stood at the UN and spoke words in support for Malala, yet he is the very same Gordon Brown that voted for the war in Iraq that not only robbed people of their education but of their lives. The same journalists that failed to question or report on the Western wars in an intelligible manner now sing the praises of the West as they back Malala and her campaign without putting it in context of the war in Afghanistan and the destabalisation of the region thanks in large part to the Western occupation of Afghanistan.
Malala’s message is true, it is profound, it is something the world needs to take note of; education is a right of every child, but Malala has been used as a tool by the West. It allows countries like Britain to hide their sins in Afghanistan and Iraq. It allows journalists to report a feel good story whilst they neglect so many others, like the American drone strikes that terrorise men, women and children in Pakistan’s border regions. US drones ‘causing mental trauma’ in Pakistan (Aljazeera)
The current narrative continues the demonization of the non-white Muslim man. Painting him as a savage, someone beyond negotiating with, beyond engaging with, the only way to deal with this kind of savage is to wage war, occupy and use drones against them. NATO is bombing to save girls like Malala is the message here.
You have to understand the Arab mind,” Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. “The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face.
New York Times, December 7, 2003.
This racist, dehumanizing and imperialist understanding of the Eastern world is more than rampant in the West and its armed forces: It’s ingrained. This type of thinking has been applied to Central and South Asia as well. ~ Mehreen Kasana
Historically the West has always used women to justify the actions of war mongering men. It is in the imagery, it is in art, in education, it is even prevalent in Western human rights organisations, Amnesty International’s poster campaign coinciding with the NATO summit in New York encouraged NATO to ‘keep the progress going!’ in Afghanistan.
Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz were also shot along with Malala, the media and politicians seem to have forgotten about them. Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi - how many of the Western politicians and journalists know about this name? She was the 14-year-old girl gang raped by five US soldiers, then her and her family, including her six-year-old sister were murdered. There are no days named after her, no mentions of her at the UN, and we don’t see Gordon Brown pledging his name to her cause.
Family members describe Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi as tall for her age, skinny, but not eye-catchingly beautiful. As one of her uncles put it, “She was an ordinary girl.” So perhaps it was sheer proximity that made the 15-year-old so tantalizing. Her house was less than 1,000 ft. from a U.S. military checkpoint just outside the Iraqi town of Mahmudiyah, and soldiers manning the gate started stopping by just to look at her. A Soldier’s Shame
I support Malala, I support the right to education for all, I just cannot stand the hypocrisy of Western politicians and media as they pick and choose, congratulating themselves for something that they have caused. Malala is the good native, she does not criticise the West, she does not talk about the drone strikes, she is the perfect candidate for the white man to relieve his burden and save the native.
The Western savior complex has hijacked Malala’s message. The West has killed more girls than the Taliban have. The West has denied more girls an education via their missiles than the Taliban has by their bullets. The West has done more against education around the world than extremists could ever dream of. So, please, spare us the self-righteous and self-congratulatory message that is nothing more than propaganda that tells us that the West drops bombs to save girls like Malala.
Assed Baig is a print and broadcast journalist based in London. He has reported from around the world, including Somalia, Libya, Myanmar and Pakistan. He is currently working as a freelancer and directing documentaries. He has previously worked for the BBC in the Midlands as a reporter and is well acquainted with stories relating to the Muslim community. Assed has lived and studied in Syria and Mauritania. He contributes to the New Statesman, Vice, Huffington Post as well as other outlets.
He specialises in international current affairs as well as UK domestic politics. His expertise lies in the relationship between the West and Islam, radicalisation and conflict. His recent exclusive uncovered Burmese military rape camps. Tweet him @AssedBaigThe Mahmudiyah killings was the gang-rape and killing of 14-year-old Iraqi girl Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi by United States Army soldiers on March 12, 2006, and the murder of her family, in a house to the southwest of Yusufiyah, a village to the west of the town of Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq. Charged with the crimes were five U.S. Army soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment consisting of (I) SGT Paul E. Cortez, (II) SPC James P. Barker, (III) PFC Jesse V. Spielman, (IV) PFC Brian L. Howard, and (V) PFC Steven D. Green, whom the U.S. Army discharged before the crime’s discovery.
Hamza al-Janabi was raped and murdered after her family consisting of her 34-year-old mother Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 45-year-old father Qasim Hamza Raheem, and six-year-old sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza were killed. Spielman and Green have been convicted and three others have pleaded guilty. A Reply to: Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex ‘Silencing Malala Yousafzai and “the Brown Man’s Honor Complex”
- A Soldier’s Shame
- The Symbolic Use of Women (mediadiversityuk.com)
- Statement of Islamic Emirate regarding the NATO summit in Chicago
- Living Under Drones
- West should have negotiated with Taliban a decade ago, says British general
- Focus: The UN spy scandal
- The White-Savior Industrial Complex – Teju Cole – The Atlantic
- BBC News – Malala Yousafzai: In Pakistan terrorists are afraid of education
- Malala wants to join politics to change face of Pakistan (dnaindia.com)
- Malala Yousafzai: ‘It’s hard to kill. Maybe that’s why his hand was shaking’ (theguardian.com)
- Don’t take school for granted, says Malala Yousafzai (theguardian.com)
- Malala Yousafzai: British schoolchildren take education for granted (telegraph.co.uk)
- Pakistan Taliban issues fresh threat to kill Malala Yousafzai (telegraph.co.uk)