Tamimi, Malala and Rahaf — icons of freedom


(From left to right) Ahed Tamimi, Malala Yousafzai and Rahaf Mohammed. PHOTO/AFP

New forms of resistance to old systems of oppression; three girl-children of near impossible courage have captured the world’s imagination. Ahed Tamimi, Malala Yousafzai and Rahaf Mohammed are iconic symbols from the West Bank to London and from Toronto to Tokyo. None is celebrated in Pakistan although one is our very own. Why? And what does this say about us?

Tamimi, who turned 18 this month, has fought Israel’s occupation of Palestine since she was 11. At 16 and still tiny, a hard slap on a fully-armed Israeli soldier’s face bought her eight months in prison. She spent jail time educating other incarcerated youngsters in legal methods to confront their oppressors. In the Palestinian territories, she is revered. In Israel, she is reviled, the sentence considered too light.

Tamimi knows occupation firsthand. Her father had been beaten into a coma, her brother is still in jail. Her aunt died, pushed down the stairs by a soldier at a military court. Today, large crowds gather to hear her speak against Israel’s theft of land and water. Meanwhile, the authorities hover around, ready to send her back to jail for “incitement”. Unfazed, she hopes to go to college and someday confront Israel in international courts.

In a Jew-hating country like Pakistan that’s heavy in rhetoric against the “Zionist entity”, is Tamimi a heroic figure? Not so! Urdu columnists have barely mentioned her. Just a thin sliver of English-adept liberals recognise her name, as they do Rachel Corrie’s. But they too are ambivalent. A student recently wrote to me that Tamimi’s strain of activism was “self-serving and superficial”.

Good girls are supposed to be obedient and passive, so this doesn’t surprise. Female activism—even for the right cause—is deplored by entrenched patriarchies. Who knows when some tiny wisp of a girl might turn upon you? Tamimi’s father recounts with amusement that when Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan told her he stood with the Palestinians, she duly thanked him and then asked why she had to have a visa for Turkey when Israelis don’t. Erdogan’s face went red.

I sometimes wonder if our coldness to the photogenic Tamimi comes from her blue eyes, light skin and flowing golden curls. Does the Pakistani identification mechanism get upset if a Muslim girl is blonde? Does blondness put her on the side of the West? Or is our reticence because she flatly refuses to wear a headscarf, although her mother does?

The Daily Star for more

Comments are closed.