Malala Fever and the Challenge of Sustaining Belief by Junaid Sulahry

When 14-year-old Malala Yousufsai was tragically shot in the head earlier this month by the Taliban, it seemed that the entire world came down with “Malala fever.” The wounded Pakistani girl was instantly thrust onto the international stage and one writer even declared her an American hero.

Even Pakistani institutions that are often critiqued for their substandard leadership on women’s issues unexpectedly came out united in a furious condemnation of the Taliban perpetrators. The Pakistan Interior Minister himself declared, “Malala is our pride. She became an icon for the country.” Some Pakistanis hoped that the event could “set off a sea change in their society.”

But the hope placed in the transformational potential of Yousufsai’s shooting and her subsequent recovery quickly dissipated. The passionate condemnations faded away and the parliament of Pakistan ultimately struck down a motion to take military action against the Taliban. Only ten days after the initial burst of outrage that was incited by Yousufsai”s shooting, The New York Times suggested that Pakistan’s “Malala moment,” and the possibilities it raised, had passed. The world had apparently become cured of “Malala fever.”

How is it that an event that was to potentially transform a society became moot after only 10 days? We don’t know the answer. But the whole experience must cause people of faith to pause and reflect upon a contemporary challenge: How do we sustain long-term belief in an age that produces a constant barrage of tragic news events on a nearly daily basis?

“…When they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.” Mark 4:16-17.

When Jesus explains the general rationale behind his parables, and in particular the aforementioned parable of the sower, he explains the danger of planting a seed into a ground with poor soil. Although the seed is initially received with a temporary burst of excitement, the lack of a foundation ultimately causes it to prematurely wither away and disappear, long before the fruit is ever realized.

We must be mindful of the great danger that arises when we allow ourselves to be acutely moved by the daily barrage of tragic current events. When we become consumed in a particular news event, we recklessly deplete the soil, the gas tank goes empty, and we find ourselves completely drained before anyone is able to reap the benefits. When we allow ourselves to get carried away with bold, hollow declarations, we produce a short-lived emotional high, a temporary satisfaction that dries up our resources and prevents the event from seeping into our lives so that it may yield some meaningful impact.

“Prepare your heart for knowledge like you prepare land for cultivation.” – Al-Nawawi, 13th century Muslim thinker

The premature exhaustion of our soil not only does injustice to the tragedy at hand, but also diminishes our ability to tend to the tragedies of other people. The journalist Nicholas Kristof, for instance, reminded us that a 14-year-old girl had been detained and raped for a week by sex traffickers in Indonesia, only a day before Yousufsai’s shooting. The acute focus on a single news event unintentionally diverts our attention from other tragedies that should not be neglected due to a fixation on some other event.

“Moderation, moderation! For only with moderation will you succeed.” – The Prophet Muhammad, 7th century

We should never suppress the deep emotions that result from news of tragic events such as the tragedies of these two 14-year-old women. We must endeavor as thinking humans beings to remain abreast of current events and resist the temptation to create a fake reality by insulating ourselves from the realities of the world, as ugly as they may be sometimes. The pain that we feel from hearing about the suffering of others is a sign and indeed a reminder of our humanity, and of our connection with humanity.

However we must at the same time be mindful of our limited capacities as human beings, because the seed that is planted in rich soil produces the greatest abundance for ourselves and for those around us. Emotional declarations hold a short shelf life and often deceive us into thinking that something has actually been accomplished, when in reality nothing has been produced beyond personal complacency.

Let us instead approach the daily barrage of tragic news events with a degree of moderation and foresight that will yield greater results. Let us not effect a greater injustice by allowing the lessons of Yousufsai and other suffering women to become temporary icons of pride that soon wither away. Let us allow these tragedies take root in our subconsciouses so that they persist in our hearts for longer than just a passing moment.

Photo by the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, via Flickr Creative Commons.

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