US foreign policy – the ignored cause of hindrance to girls education – Rehan Naqvi

nobel malala

Malala Yousufzai is co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 for her efforts for girls education. Girls being deprived of the right to education by Muslim extremists is an effect of many causes.Therefore, in addition to establishing schools and condemning the extremists, Malala needs to also address a major cause of hindrance to girls education – the US support for Muslim extremists. 
The mainstream media tend to focus more on the effects and not the causes when addressing a problem such as terrorism and hindrance to girls education. And that makes some sense. Focus on the effects provides the comfort of giving the public a sense of self-satisfaction as they are taken into the mode of sympathising with the victims and hating the perpetrators. While this helps raising awareness and mobilising people to come together to work towards a common goal, it serves little when it comes to long-term solutions to the problem itself.
The creation of Taliban as one of the most abhorrent, extremist group and its rise to power in Afghanistan at the end of the cold war can have several causes. The most prominent effects of those causes are terrorism, oppression of women, opposition to girls education and the most grave forms of human rights abuses. This is what is shown in the mainstream Media. What is left out is what are the causes behind emergence of the Taliban as a coherent, structured group of individuals rallying around the flag of an “Islamic government” in the first place.
In the mainstream media discourse, especially in the West, there is a tendency of blurring causes and effects. For example Taliban, the extremist Muslim group who shot Malala Yousufzai because she was an activist for girls education, are seen as a product of solely Muslim extremism. While indeed Muslim extremism has a large share in the distasteful product known as Taliban, extremism is not its only ingredient. Today the whole world seems to be occupied with the theme of girls education, but hardly anyone is questioning: what are the main causes that bring into power the groups that hinder girls education?
The first and the most fundamental cause is the extremist ideology itself that motivated thousands of individuals to become Taliban. Muslim extremists have existed throughout the history of Islam. The literalists – who adhere to the apparent and literal meanings of Islamic laws and are avert to philosophical and logical interpretations – first appeared during the time of the fourth caliph of Islam and the first Imam of Shia Muslims, Ali ibn Abu Talib. They were then known as Kharijites. In today’s terms they are “Takfiris” i.e. those who consider every Muslim who does not agree with their interpretation of Islam as an apostate. Ali ibn Abu Talib waged wars against them and virtually eradicated the Kharijite group from within Islam. However, he was aware of the fact that an ideology never dies out completely. Therefore Ali predicted that the people with similar Kharijite ideology would keep on emerging throughout the history, in different places and different times. This turned out to be true. In the second half of the last century they emerged from Afghanistan, in the form of Taliban. But no ideology alone can shape its followers into a potent and structured group by itself without the involvement of any external elements.
The external element that shaped the Kharijite ideology of Taliban into a group of Jihadist fighters
was the capitalisation of the extremist ideology by the USA. The USA needed a proxy of war in Afghanistan that would fight Soviet Union. Many analysts agree that the first Afghan war is the mother of the Muslim extremism that exists today. With the help of its allies Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan – erstwhile ruled by a US-backed military dictator Zia-ul-Haq – USA helped create Taliban against the Soviet Union. The war was termed as “holy war” in alliance with people of the book (Christians, referring to the Americans) against the enemies of religion, communist Soviet Union. This is how the war was “sold” inside Pakistan and that is how the American leaders “sold” it to the Muslims. The rest of the story is known. US abandoned Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet Union, only to let it undergo a civil war finally resulting int he rule of Taliban on Afghanistan.
This led to such severe consequences that Hillary Clinton had to express frustration with the US foreign policy mistakes regarding Afghanistan by saying the following:
Let’s remember here… the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union.”
Watch Hillary Clinton say the above and more in this Youtube video.
After 9/11, the Taliban fell eventually, but by then they had gained significant influence in the neighbouring Pakistan. It was years later that the same Taliban shot Malala Yousufzai because she was a girls education activist. Today the whole world is honouring Malala for her courage and her efforts for girls education. She really deserves to be a role model for many girls around the world. Malala never succumbed to Taliban. She stood up against them and eventually was shot by them. Everybody who knows Malala is aware of this fact. And everybody is aware of the fact that Taliban are brutal, Muslim extremists who are against girls education. But hardly anyone ponders over how come Taliban came into existence and became so powerful first in Afghanistan and later in pakistan – the countries that used to be largely secular and peaceful before the 1980s. No one ponders over it because no one is fed with this kind of information by the mainstream media. It is much more convenient to focus on effects and efforts to counter those effects instead of the root cause of a problem. It sells more to present a brave, young Muslim girl who stood up against extremists. It does not sell to hold those accountable who also are equally guilty in what happened to Malala – those who helped create Taliban in the first place – the USA and its allies.
The USA and its allies have repeated the same mistake in Syria. In a bid to depose President Assad,
they supported the extremist rebel groups in Syria. Weapons and money started to flow freely, uncontrolled into Syria reaching the hands of Muslim extremists brought into Syria from around the world, pretty much in a replica to the first Afghan war. The result: creation of ISIS/ISISL/IS/Daesh. There is no need to go into the details of what ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh has been up to so far. But one thing is clear: it is not women friendly. It is going to have long-term and grave consequences for girls education. Now the USA and its allies are fighting ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh but at the same time they vow to keep supporting other “moderate” rebel groups. In a June 2014 article for Independent, with the title: “Syrian”moderates” aren’t that moderate in Iraq”, Robert Fisk argued there are no moderate rebels in Syria.  The so-called “moderate” rebels have pretty much the same ideology as that of ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh.  So even if ISIL/ISIS/IS/Daesh ceases to exist, with the continued suppor of the USA and its allies to those rebel groups, there is no guarantee that another extremist group will not emerge later on, with equally bad or worse consequences for girls education.
Those believing in conspiracy theories would call it a Western conspiracy. But I believe it is shortsightedness of the Western governments and a foreign policy with disjointed incrementalism. Regardless, a ban on girls education, child slavery and exploitation of children as soldiers are all effects, not the causes. The causes are extremist ideology and external support by world’s powers to the followers of those ideologies in wars against their adversaries. The USA and its allies would have to make a major shift in their foreign policy and become resolute not to support any Muslim extremist group in the future against their adversaries. At the same time they would have to work with the Muslim countries to find a long-term solution to the propagation of extremist ideologies, contain them and keep them to the minimal, non-futile level.
challenged the Norwegian Nobel Committee when they announced that Malala was co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2014. I then believed it was too soon and she has yet to achieve a lot more. But now it does not matter whether Malala deserves the prize or not. What matters the most is what she can do now to make this world a better place for children, especially for girls. After all, President Obama got the prize in 2009 for merely his rhetoric on nuclear disarmament. Had he done something tangible during his time in the office, he would have proven himself worthy of the prize even if he had not accomplished anything at the time of the awarding of the prize. Malala has her whole life ahead to work for the cause she believes in. However, a long-lasting solution ensuring education for all girls cannot be realised unless the world starts addressing all causes of hindrance to girls education. Malala has been addressing one cause that is the wrong and extremist interpretation of Islam by groups such as Taliban. She has also built schools and inspired people around the world. But she has not been vocal about the other major cause that has horrendous consequences for girls education: the exploitation and capitalisation of Muslim extremist ideologies by world’s powers for their political gains. Meanwhile girls keep suffering in places like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq at the hands of Muslim extremists who are sometimes supported, and at others also trained, by the USA. If Malala wants to see a world where no girl shall go through what she had to go through, she would have to speak up against this practice of the US and its allies, even if it involves pointing fingers to those who have been backing her up in her campaign for girls education, so far!