Malala must not fall victim to our expectations

As Barack Obama found out, receiving a Nobel Peace Prize can come with a set of unintended and unpleasant consequences

Related Topics

It’s hard to think of a more powerful or uplifting interview subject than Malala Yousafzai. By means of her sheer, bloody-minded goodness and intelligence she has rendered the inhuman savagery of the Taliban’s attempt on her life self-defeating. Because they tried to kill her, more little girls will go to school. “I think they might be repenting why they shot Malala,” she told Mishal Husain on yesterday’s Today programme, a sense of mischief just discernible through the sweet solemnity. “Yes, Malala was only heard in Pakistan. But now she’s heard in every corner of the world.”

Ordinarily, famous people who refer to themselves in the third person by first name alone sound as if they’ve lost their grip on reality. Not Malala. In her, it is an unselfconscious act that seems to be borne out of a deep modesty: an understanding that fate has picked her for a purpose bigger than herself, a purpose too big for any one person to contend with on her own.

Malala is not on her own. She has her family. She has a seasoned and sensible team of advocacy workers around her. And she has the goodwill of millions around the world. Over the next few days, as the anniversary of the attempt on her life is marked by the publication of an autobiography and a raft of interviews, her presence will be inescapable. The sense of public affection is so powerful that it may even carry this 16-year-old to the Nobel Peace Prize later this week. If so, she would be the youngest ever recipient. If anyone is worthy of such an honour, it’s her. But I hope she doesn’t get it. It feels churlish to say so when the prize would form so poetically just a coda to the first part of her story. But the Nobel is not only about justice, as Barack Obama found out a few years ago: it is also a powerful political act. And, as with Obama, this is a decision that would come with a set of unintended consequences.

Yes, it would give her mission additional weight, making still more people aware of the importance of education for girls. But Malala is already viewed with some cynicism by many in Pakistan, even seen in some quarters – quite unfairly – as a mouthpiece for Western ideas that are not her own. It would do her no favours to pollute her message further with an unfortunately tarnished bauble. It would resemble the Obama prize in another way, too, justified less by the achievements she has already made than by the expectation of good works yet to be done. That’s one demand to make of a middle-aged politician, but quite another to make of a girl who never asked to be shot. That she has embraced this chance to do good is remarkable, but she, too, deserves an education. It would be a strange irony if the rigours of Malala’s growing campaign deprived her of exactly the benefit that she is so determined to secure for others.

Against all that is the warm global glow that would come from seeing her accept the honour. But that glow – a glow that is not so much to do with feeling good about Malala as it is about feeling good about ourselves – is exactly what we must guard against. Prizes, in the end, should come with victories. And as Malala herself will never stop reminding us, this is a battle that has barely begun.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album