Malala, Hailed Around The World, Controversial At Home Malala Yousafzai is widely viewed as a heroine in the West, for her brave stand against the Taliban's violent repression of girls' right to education. But the 16-year-old is the subject of fierce debate at home in Pakistan, and some worry that she is being exploited for ideological purposes.
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Malala, Hailed Around The World, Controversial At Home

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Malala, Hailed Around The World, Controversial At Home

Malala, Hailed Around The World, Controversial At Home

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We've also been following a ceremony planned in New York today to bestow an honor on Malala Yousafzai. The 16-year-old Pakistani, an advocate for girls' education who was shot by the Taliban, is among the five winners of the 2013 United Nations Human Rights Prize.


But Pakistanis are deeply divided over Malala, as NPR's Philip Reeves discovered.


PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: This is the city where Malala was shot by the Taliban. Afterwards, she went for treatment to England and stayed because it's too dangerous to return. That was in October last year. Since then, attitudes towards Malala here in Swat have changed, says Shazad Alam.

SHAZAD ALAM: (Through Translator) People here in Swat used to have a lot of love and affection for her. But after she moved to England, they started hating her.

REEVES: For years, Alam has been a local newsman in Swat Valley, close to Pakistan's tribal belt. This city, Mingora, is his beat. He says resentment towards Malala boiled over when the authorities tried to rename a girls' college after her.

ALAM: (Through Translator) For the first time ever here, girls protested. They took to the street. They broke the big sign which had Malala's name on it and threw mud at her picture.


REEVES: Many of these children, playing in their schoolyard, are too young to clearly remember when Swat Valley was under Taliban rule six years ago. Their principal, Ahmed Shah, is a close friend of Malala's family. Shah says Malala's opponents in Swat are a small minority.

AHMED SHAH: But they are very powerful, extremist elements. They supported Taliban. They're inspired by those people and they are very much against Malala.

REEVES: A few months back, Malala's autobiography, "I Am Malala," was published in English. It's a best-seller in the West. But here, it's been criticized by the religious right. Shah says few people in Swat have actually read the book, as local bookshops won't stock it.

SHAH: Because of fear - they are scared. They can't bring their books to the market. The extremist element of the Taliban threatened that the bookseller, they will be targeted.


REEVES: That fear is evident on the streets when you ask people what they think of Malala.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: Malala's fame is the subject of much debate among Pakistanis. Some are uneasy about the spotlight she's shining on Pakistan's failure to educate many of its children, especially girls. Conspiracy theories abound, portraying Malala as a puppet of the West - a CIA agent, even.

Malala's cousin Maqsood ul Hasan finds these criticisms hard to handle

MAQSOOD UL HASAN: (Through Translator) I find it painful to see such negative attitudes. Whenever anyone says anything negative about Malala in front of us, we tell them it's not really like that.

REEVES: Hasan says resentment of Malala is about basic human nature.

HASAN: (Through Translator) It's in the heart of human beings. People 'round here are envious of the fame and respect that Malala received. There's no other word for it except jealousy.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child.


REEVES: When Malala addressed the U.N. earlier this year, she spelt out her message very clearly. Even some Pakistanis who strongly support that message question the position in which Malala how finds herself.

MAHVISH AHMAD: I think the major question for me is what does Malala actually think? What does she actually believe?

REEVES: That's rights activist and journalist Mahvish Ahmad.

AHMAD: She's a 16-year-old girl. And if a lot of us remember when we were 14, 15, 16 years old, we were still developing our own political opinions, trying to figure out what it is we actually believe in.

REEVES: Some Pakistanis believe by championing Malala, the West is focusing on the Taliban's crimes and diverting the spotlight away from its own abuses, including drone attacks.

FARZANA BARI: West is trying to take attention away, particularly from what Americans are doing in our part of the world - policies which are completely violating human rights in our part of the world.

REEVES: Civil rights activist Farzana Bari knows Malala.

BARI: We don't know. She's a young woman. She's growing up. You know, she's 16-year-old, you know. She's still a child.

REEVES: Bari says people should guard against projecting their values on Malala before Malala has had a chance to figure out her own.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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