Deeply troubled is this country that hunts for darkness in brilliant light. I feel inconsolably sad, not for people like Malala and Dr. Abdus Salam, who are reviled and hated, but for the country and the people that value hate over love, ignorance over knowledge, and conspiracy theories over facts.

‘What has Malala done to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize,’ we ask. The most terrible fact is that it is her own countrymen that ask this question, not Indians or Jews or the CIA, or the list of anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan bogies. She has been received by world leaders, lauded and decorated by world bodies that understand the significance of what she stood for. The only ‘nation’ that failed to appreciate her unusual intellect, courage and maturity, is, catastrophically, Pakistan.

Similarly, Dr. Salam’s genius and achievement were recognized and laureled internationally. Yet in his own country, just the faith he practiced was enough for the people to not own him or his Nobel Prize. The misfortune is staggering. The first Muslim, or the first Pakistani, and the first child, to ever have received a Nobel Prize have not made us proud.

So obscurantist and narrow minded a nation have we become, that we could not find it in our hearts to feel joy and pride at Dr. Abdus Salam’s achievement just even as a Pakistani. He did not practice a faith we approved of, so we killed our pride and our joy. We could not name universities and centers of learning after his name (barring a couple of very recent brave endeavours in the private sector). We could not create endowments named after him. Why? Because the State and People of Pakistan may shower adulation on other non-Muslims like Nelson Mandela, but not on ‘non-Muslims’ that happen to be Pakistani. We have conflated our variant beliefs with Pakistaniat – we have bought into the mullah ideologies and narratives. So, we preferred to indulge in studied indifference based on differences of religious beliefs, not in adoration and pride based on acknowledgment of the brilliance of a son of the soil. I believe Pakistan’s future was sealed in that moment in time it chose to be bigoted; in that moment in time it chose to turn away from the highest symbol of knowledge it had to offer to the universe.

The enormity of dear departed Dr. Salam’s work was brought home once again two years ago with the CERN’s confirmation of the Higgs Boson particle, the theoretical groundwork for which he had helped lay. Imagine, the discovery of this particle is said to provide the last remaining evidence necessary to explain all known forces in the universe except gravity. But, for us, the genius of a man unlocking wonders of the Universe for the entire mankind is so secondary to whether he agrees with us in our blind matters of faith and opinion. The pain of this realization is crushing, heart stopping.

And what did Malala do to deserve the Nobel Prize, we ask. What about all the little girls who died in drone strikes, we ask. Where do I begin? Perhaps with a poignant question: what did we do to deserve her? To be honest, I cannot find a satisfactory answer to that question. Perhaps God does exist, and does love Pakistan after all. But Pakistan does not love itself.

Pakistan cannot tell the difference between the child who has inspired young mothers in her country, married off at thirteen and fourteen and denied an education, to go back to school and the innocent children who died in drone strikes. Pakistan cannot tell the difference between the girl who had the courage and the vision to broadcast to the world the Taliban’s atrocities at the risk to her own life, and the children who were just children and became victims of the hellfires brought upon them because of the very Taliban little Malala defied. Pakistan cannot tell the difference between the stunning courage of a teenager who continued to attend school knowing she could be killed for doing so, and hapless other girls who died needlessly, but for no act of their own bravery.

Malala has inspired the spirit of struggle, the shedding of fear, the wonder of achievement and knowledge in thousands and thousands of young and old women in her very own country alone – a country besieged by extremists whose one main goal in life is to prevent education and enlightenment generally, but specifically in women. Imagine. The Taliban shot her because they thought she was already making a difference; they shot her because she mattered; they shot her because they did not want anyone to follow her example. Taliban knew and acknowledged the difference between her and drone victims, with the bullets they put in her head. Only Pakistan doesn’t. Why did they not shoot any of the drone victims? Innocent and tragic as their lives and deaths were, they were not Malala. They were not a challenge to one of the biggest and vilest scourges on earth. Indeed, tragically the drone victims became fodder for the Taliban’s propaganda war, unlike Malala who became the symbol of resistance to them.

Yet, so in love with our ignorance and hate are we, that we cannot even see these simple things. What we see instead are conspiracies: conspiracies to inspire the children of this country to emulate Malala and stand up for their right to education; conspiracies to inspire the young mothers of Swat to demand to be allowed to complete their education; conspiracies to inspire Pakistan to overcome the terror of the Taliban with sheer courage – for what is their weapon except terror?

I know I am whistling in the wind. ‘We’ will keep hating Malala and continue to be indifferent to Dr. Salam’s wonderous contribution to mankind. Whether they deserved the Nobel may be disputed, what cannot be disputed is that ‘we’ did not deserve them.

 The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.

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@gulbukhari