A year ago in September 2013, the teenage Pakistani education advocacy activist Malala Yousefzai opened a £188 million library in the British city of Birmingham.
Having spent the previous eleven months recovering from a shot in the head inflicted by Pakistani Taleban terrorists in retaliation for her activism, Malala had become the most commemorated teenage girl since Anne Frank. Honors from three continents were awarded to her, as were numerous media awards and distinctions.
By the time of her 16th birthday, a day the UN commemorated as “Malala Day”, Malala came to symbolize the struggle against Islamic militant extremism.
A struggle which her home country of Pakistan and much of the Islamic world today have clearly lost or are in advanced stages of losing. While Malala’s courage and resolve are without question, the dismal reality is that for all her activism and accolades abroad, her work has done next to nothing to challenge the trajectory and momentum of the Taleban in her home community.
Sadly, Malala epitomizes the dismal state of numerous Muslim activists, too many of whom eventually end up dead or pleading for asylum in the West. Prominent Muslim activists end up continuing their work from within the very societies that have none of the problems or issues those activists are seeking to fix.
Muslim communities themselves, the very places where the efforts of reformers are needed the most, are woefully incapable of providing the protection and space necessary for reformist activism in the face of religious extremism. The personal bravery of isolated individuals counts for little when society in general is too intimidated or cowed to stand up to the extremists.
In the face of the rise of savage extremist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda affiliates, the world has waited on the “moderate Muslim majority” to assert itself. And yet to date, most Muslim societies have proven utterly incapable of rallying around even their own social reformers and activists.
A multi-million pound library in Birmingham? It would have been better had the Pakistani state been strong enough to enable Malala to open a modest thousand pound library in her home town of Mingora.