America has a way of rewriting history––perhaps this is true for anyone in power. It is rare to see history rewritten as it occurs, but this is more than evident in the United States’ support for Malala Yousafzai, who recently became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The White House remains mum on her anti-military stances while using her status as reason to support the very actions she publicly condemns. As a lifelong advocate for girls’ education, Yousafzai received international attention when she survived a gunshot wound to the head from the Taliban in 2012. Her willingness to speak out against the Taliban’s efforts to prevent girls from getting an education inspired much of the world—especially the Western world. As Yousafzai continued to gain traction as a public figure, it became clear where the media’s loyalties lie, especially those of the American government.
The 16-year-old Yousafzai confronted President Barack Obama about innocent Pakistani people being murdered by U.S. drone strikes in Oct. 2013. Obama remarked that it was––and is––a necessary strategy against the Taliban. Rather than using military action that increases tensions, Yousafzai believes that the U.S. ought to focus their efforts on education.
While the U.S. continues to support Yousafzai’s opposition to the Taliban’s efforts to restrict girls’ education, they support this in isolation from her more radical views. Their silence surrounding these views—especially those advocating socialism—illuminate the politics implicit in their support of the young woman.
Her opposition to the Taliban makes her an ideal poster-child for the U.S.’ drone strikes, showing that if a young Pakistani girl can display such courage, attacking the Taliban by any means necessary is, of course, a worthy cause.
And indeed it is—Yousafzai, coined “The Bravest Girl in the World,” is an activist for education, but she is much more. No one is obliged to agree with all of the politics of every person they support, but given her opposing views the U.S. cannot in good faith use Yousafzai’s celebrity status as pro-military propaganda.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an advocate for racial equality, but he too was much more. Public schools emphasize his “I Have A Dream” speech, but this speech was a compromise of his more radical views—people often cite him when arguing that we should not focus on race in fighting racial equality.
He was an outspoken advocate for several issues that required discussion for progress. His Poor People’s Campaign emphasized the problems of classism in a particularly Marxist way. In “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” he expounds on non-violence tenant being less about total abstinence from violence than it was about showing why white moderates should call for justice rather than order. Civil rights activists’ use of peaceful methods made clear the violence perpetrated against them by their white oppressors. Those who evoke King for their own ideological ends—especially Republicans—perpetually decontextualize the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist stances he took.
This is what the American government is doing to Yousafzai: warping her ideals for their contrary agenda. Perhaps this is the reason so many Pakistanis resent Yousafzai. Al Jazeera’s Maham Javaid succinctly describes this problem as “the inability of Pakistanis to distinguish between Malala’s brave resolve to fight for what she believes in and the Western accolades she has received … Their base logic is that the enemy’s friend is my enemy.”
The problem is not picking and choosing, but the systematic erasure of what these oft-evoked political figures truly stand for. Yousafzai and King ought to be respected and acknowledged for what they have achieved. Decontextualizing their politics to suit agendas contrary to those they advocated for is dishonest historical erasure.