Malala Yousafzai seems tailor-made for instant popularity. She’s soft-spoken yet articulate, non-threateningly youthful yet spellbindingly wise. Many have accused her of being a “western puppet” and a “global brand,” and her criticism of the Taliban’s violently oppressive sexism plays into every negative stereotype that Americans harbor about the Middle East. A recent Daily Show that gained instant popularity on social media only fueled America’s newfound Malala mania.
“I will tell him how important education is,” Yousafzai told Jon Stewart, explaining what she would do if she were confronted by a Talib. “And that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’”
Her remarks left Stewart speechless, and he later politely requested to adopt her (despite her loving parents backstage). America seemed to agree with him.
But it’d be a mistake to write Yousafzai off as nothing more than a trend.
A recent visit with President Obama proved that the recent Nobel Prize nominee is nothing short of a force of nature. Her damning criticism of Obama’s aerial drone policy, which she accused of “fueling terrorism” and “lead[ing] to resentment among the Pakistani people,” showed just how devoted she is to her home country (she now resides in the UK), even if this devotion could incite criticism and tarnish her cuddly image.
Though some have criticized the undue amount of recognition Yousafzai has received—a male activist from her hometown told Reuters “no one is honouring me”—it’s undeniable that she is nothing short of remarkable. Yousafzai has gracefully and courageously navigated her role as an activist, even when it meant crossing the most powerful man in the United States for the sake of advocacy. Yousafzai has certainly become popular in the West, but she has made it abundantly clear that she doesn’t exist to serve us and reinforce our savior complex.