Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager deservedly named the 2014 recipient of the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center, should be an inspiration for girls and women worldwide, having survived a 2012 attack by a Taliban gunman to continue her advocacy for girls’ education rights.
Even as Malala accumulates accolades in the West, however, her endeavors remain controversial in Pakistan. Ironically, many of her own people have criticized her and called her an American agent.
Her popular book, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban,” published last year, has been banned in Pakistan’s private schools on the grounds that it’s disrespectful of Islam. Malala’s achievements at such a tender age — she won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize in 2011 and the U.N. Human Rights Prize in 2013 — have also raised eyebrows in her homeland, where some question whether she deserves such honors. Because Malala is not the only victim of injustice toward women, some believe she has enjoyed disproportionate recognition for a little girl from the Swat valley, a frontier region beset by terrorism.
Terrorism thrives in Pakistan partly because of widespread hostility toward independent women. Malala was shot by the Taliban, but many of her harshest critics are regular Pakistanis.