Malala Syndrome

By Simon Wood (The 99.99998271%)

Malala_Yousafzai“She is an extraordinary case. She is a very courageous young woman. I am proud of the fact that we have been able to treat her in Britain. It shows how serious we are about our supporting education for young people, Malala’s presence in the UK is a demonstration of that.” – David Cameron on Malala Yousafzai

‘Malala’ – the easiest element of her full name for Western ears and tongues – is now a household name around the world. The horrific experience she suffered and subsequent recovery is perhaps what she is most famous for, but she must be praised and admired not only for her remarkable fortitude and poise after such a traumatic event, but also the deep wisdom she has displayed. This is how she responded to Jon Stewart of the Daily Show when he asked her how she felt when she discovered she was a Taliban target:

“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

With these words and despite her few years she transcends the levels of enlightenment reached by most humans in their entire lifetimes, demonstrating her deep (and correct) conviction that violence begets violence – that it is never the right answer – and also that it is pointless to focus on negatives: that one should eschew hatred and blame, focusing instead on positive solutions that include even the welfare of your ‘enemy’.

However, Malala’s grace, positivity and enthusiasm mask the bottomless cynicism of the corporate-owned media, which – with its heavy coverage of her – has very clearly demonstrated its true objectives: ‘Brand Malala’.

By treating a Muslim girl with such reverence, the media can more plausibly deny claims of prejudice against Muslims, while – simultaneously – Western objectives in the phony ‘War on Terror’ can be met with ease simply by painting any target group (read: justification for other attacks that aid the true objectives of the West – resources and control) as similarly evil and barbaric as the Taliban. Western public opinion, unanimously in favor of Malala, will be far easier to sway with such a powerful weapon.

This well-meaning person is being (and will continue to be) mercilessly used as a means of enabling and advancing Western hypocrisy over atrocities and war crimes.

Ask yourself if you have heard the name of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was gang-raped and murdered by US marines after her family (34-year-old mother Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 45-year-old father Qasim Hamza Raheem, and six-year-old sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza) were killed.

[Note: The Washington Post link incorrectly states she was 15 years old when she died. Wikipedia link here.]

How about Safa Younis Salim, a 13-year old girl who amazingly survived the Haditha Massacre, in which 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed including seven children, a 1-year-old girl staying with the family and a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair?

How did she survive?

“I pretended that I was dead when my brother’s body fell on me and he was bleeding like a faucet.”

A six-year US military prosecution ended with none of the eight Marines sentenced to jail, despite one of the men – Sgt. Sanick De La Cruz – testifying (in return for immunity) that he had urinated on the skull of one of the dead Iraqis. This outcome outraged the Iraqi people (as the attack on Malala outraged the West) but the name of Safa Younis Salim remains practically unknown…

…because this young girl (an unlikely survivor like Malala) was a victim of Western (US) crimes, while Malala was attacked by a current official enemy of the West: the Taliban.

Peruse this list of children killed in drone attacks personally authorized by Nobel Peace laureate Barack Obama (or one of his top officials) – recently described by Noam Chomsky as ‘the biggest terrorist campaign in the world’ – and see if you recognize any of them:

Noor Aziz | 8 | male

Abdul Wasit | 17 | male

Noor Syed | 8 | male

Wajid Noor | 9 | male

Syed Wali Shah | 7 | male

Ayeesha | 3 | female

Qari Alamzeb | 14| male

Shoaib | 8 | male

Hayatullah KhaMohammad | 16 | male

Tariq Aziz | 16 | male

Sanaullah Jan | 17 | male

Maezol Khan | 8 | female

Nasir Khan | male

Naeem Khan | male

Naeemullah | male

Mohammad Tahir | 16 | male

Azizul Wahab | 15 | male

Fazal Wahab | 16 | male

Ziauddin | 16 | male

Mohammad Yunus | 16 | male

Fazal Hakim | 19 | male

Ilyas | 13 | male

Sohail | 7 | male

Asadullah | 9 | male

Khalilullah | 9 | male

Noor Mohammad | 8 | male

And many, many more.

The name Tariq Aziz at least is known to me as I have written about him on this blog before, conveying the words of Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the charity Reprieve:

During the day I shook the hand of a 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west. At the Reprieve charity, we have a transparency project: importing cameras to the region to try to export the truth back out. Tariq wanted to take part, but I thought him too young.

Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated “four militants”. In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt’s house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other “militants” – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee.

When a current official enemy of the West commits an atrocity, it is relentlessly covered by our media, but Western atrocities with far more victims and scope are ignored. This is nothing new: in an obvious example, the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia – a Western ally – in 1975 was ignored while at exactly the same time, atrocities on a comparable scale carried out by the communist Khmer Rouge – an official enemy of the West – in Cambodia received massive attention throughout all media.

Every time Malala’s name comes up, the message to Western readers is clear: she was shot by the Taliban, who are therefore very bad boys indeed, and she was nursed back to health in the UK, meaning the West is very good. Her recovery in the UK is an enormous bonus because it adds to the already powerful impression of readers that because the Taliban is bad, and because the West is an enemy of the Taliban, the West must therefore be good.

No one is arguing that the Taliban is not bad – they are obviously an extremely nasty, murderous and evil group of men, brainwashed as they are by vicious religious dogma (familiar?), and clearly using this dogma (in part) as an excuse to control women – as men have done everywhere since time immemorial. The problem is that Western crimes go practically unreported – and even when they are, use of the terms ‘militants’ or ‘insurgents’ mitigates the pressure for honest moral appraisal, thereby soothing the practically nonexistent scraps of guilty conscience remaining in the average Western news consumer.

And there is another, more insidious, strategy in play: the media has long known that focusing heavily on extremely unlikely outcomes is far more engaging for the average news consumer than reporting humdrum reality. The Malala story is an example of this: relentless coverage of a girl who amazingly survived a gunshot wound while the thousands of gunshot victims who are not so lucky are mentioned almost as an afterthought (unless, of course, there is a racial issue involved).

This phenomenon is common because not only does it provide readers already inured to massive violence and death with a new and interesting angle on well-worn topics, it drives sales and clicks – and therefore advertising – for the ‘WTF’ value and also gives the media an opportunity to focus on the ‘human side’ of the story, with interviews, close-ups, high emotion and the obligatory tears.

Watch ABC News demonstrate this with its coverage of the Copiapó mining accident in Chile in 2010, when 33 men were trapped underground in a 121-year-old copper mine for 69 days. All other major Cable news channels and newspapers were equally guilty. Meanwhile, ignored against this incredible tale of human endurance and rescue was the reality of life for Chile’s mines and miners, as pointed out by John Pilger:

The accident that trapped the miners is not unusual in Chile, but the inevitable consequence of a ruthless economic system that has barely changed since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Copper is Chile’s gold, and the frequency of mining disasters keeps pace with prices and profits. There are, on average, 39 fatal accidents every year in Chile’s privatised mines. The San José mine, where the men work, became so unsafe in 2007 that it had to be closed – but not for long. On 30 July last, a labour department report warned again of “serious safety deficiencies”, but no action was taken. Six days later, the men were entombed.

For all the media circus at the rescue site, contemporary Chile is a country of the unspoken. At Villa Grimaldi, in the suburbs of the capital, Santiago, a sign says: “The forgotten past is full of memory.” This was the torture centre where hundreds of people were murdered and disappeared for opposing the fascism that Pinochet and his business allies brought to Chile. Its ghostly presence is overseen by the beautiful Andes, and the man who unlocks the gate used to live nearby and remembers the screams.

Remember ‘miracle baby’ Azra, who survived for two days under rubble after a 2010 earthquake in Turkey? While it was obviously fantastic news that she survived, the massive focus on her rescue served to play down the reality that almost everyone else under there – including other babies – was killed.

This focus on amazing escapes and extremely unlikely stories paints a false picture of reality, creating a fantasy world where such positive things happen with regularity, when in fact the outcome is almost always random and negative. This perspective, reflected widely also in Hollywood movies – where maverick, rule-breaking heroes defy incredible odds to win the day – presents a skewed reality that is far more dramatic and marketable.

Judge for yourself: which story will garner the most attention? The dramatic rescue of a baby who survives alone for two days after an earthquake and reunion with the obviously emotional mother, or the simple, neutral reporting of the number of deaths and injuries?

Until the profit motive is removed – until the news is no longer treated as a glossily-packaged product – this ‘Malala Syndrome’, along with the myriad other ills in our media that arise from the same poisoned spring, will continue to confuse and mislead viewers/readers, making it more likely that they will come to false conclusions about the world, thereby greatly harming democracy, which depends on a well-informed populace for its survival.


Simon Wood (Twitter: @simonwood11) is the author of ‘The 99.99998271%: Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy‘ and the founder of The Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to peace, justice and democracy, and the People First Party, a political party formed to bring about the aims of The Movement.

You can also follow Simon Wood on Facebook and at his blog.

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