Malala Yousafzai, White Saviour Complexes and Local Resistance



Last week, Malala Yousafzai was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Since her exposure to the worldwide spotlight, her spirit, wisdom and strength have touched the hearts of people everywhere.

However, there have been cynics who have argued that the West’s infatuation with her is the result of a constructed ‘White Saviour Complex’ type narrative, orchestrated to justify military intervention in the region. UK journalist Assed Baig wrote “the actions of the West, the bombings, the occupations, the wars all seem justified now, “see, we told you, this is why we intervene to save the natives.”

Yousafzai started advocating for girl’s education long before the world knew her name, knowing full well that it would put her life at risk. Being shot by the Taliban showed the world how hard the local population have to fight for something that we take for granted.

I would agree with Baig when he says that her experience is being used to justify further intervention. It’s fairly easy to come to that conclusion when you realise that the mainstream media seem to pick and choose which of her speeches they want to expose to the public. Few outlets reported on her statement that socialism is the only way to ‘free us from the chains of exploitation and bigotry’. Why? Because that goes against their own agenda and they cant have that.

More profound than that though, is when she questioned President Obama’s drone activity in the Middle East. Expressing her concerns about how these are exacerbating animosity and hate in the region is huge in itself. It shows her understanding that the West’s definition of ‘helping’ is actually having the opposite effect. It’s the White Saviour Complex in action. But the fact that the White House refused to comment on this particular part of the conversation is really telling. I still want to know what his reaction was because the innocent lives taken in these attacks is so unnecessary and unfair that one has to question what the overall aim was in the first place. I refuse to accept that they were done in the name of ‘safety’.

While media outlets, governments and corporations are trying to morph her into what they want her to be, Malala is holding her own and for that I commend her. She has looked 2 oppressors and indoctrinators in the eye – one who held a gun to her head and the other who orders mass civilian deaths from behind closed doors – and still refused to step down. If a woman like that hasn’t let the fear of her life or the worldwide attention and accolades give up her message by now, its never going to happen no matter how hard they try. I would even go so far as to say that this claim that she is being groomed is to disrespect her painful experience.

There are people all over the region who are fighting against extremism and violence, both domestic and foreign. Another Pakistani family from North Waziristan flew to the USA after a drone strike hit their village and killed their family members, to simply ask why? What was the point? Another artist in Khyber Paktunkhwa, Pakistan laid down a giant portrait of a child victim to show them just who they’re killing.

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While I admire her courage, Malala Yousafzai is not a lone ranger. We should stop seeing her as such and start seeing her as a strong symbol of the intense resistance by locals themselves against domestic and foreign oppression that is occurring in the region. She is one of many and her speeches reflect that she humbly believes this about herself.


  1. When Obama sends someone round to shoot her in the face for disagreeing with him, feel free to equate him with the Taliban. Until then, please don’t. It looks ridiculous.

    • Is a Taliban with a gun more dangerous than Obama, the one who orders mass civilian deaths of people who may not even disagree with him? Perhaps not equal after all eh Psyco Milt. Now tell us, what looks ridiculous?

      • See, there’s a big difference between “drone strikes are a bad idea because poor target identification means civilian casualties are inevitable” and “Obama is just like the Taliban because he’s ordering mass civilian deaths.” The first is a rationally-defensible view, the second is indefensible gibberish.

        For an actual example of leaders of western countries ordering mass civilian deaths, there’s the firestorm-bombing of German and Japanese cities by Britain and the USA in WW2. I’m not sure how many civilian deaths Roosevelt was responsible for, but Churchill managed to see off 43,000 in Hamburg in July 1943 alone. That’s the kind of body count a western country causing mass civilian deaths comes up with – Obama just doesn’t meet the description.

        • Obama is intelligent to know “drone strikes are a bad idea because poor target identification means civilian casualties are inevitable”, so please defend this “rationally-defensible view”. That lovely euphemism “collateral damage” comes to mind.
          Just because Churchill ordered the bombing of Dresden, in retaliation for the bombing of Coventry, doesn’t make it OK for Obama to kill innocent civilians.
          Send that straw man to Aunt Sally in Coventry!

          • Here’a an excerpt from George Monbiot’s latest Guardian article…
            “Seeking to justify Barack Obama’s drone war in Pakistan (which has so far killed 2,300 people, only 4% of whom have since been named as members of Al Qaeda(14)), Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”(15) The director of the CIA, John Brennan, claimed that with “surgical precision”, his drones “eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al-Qaida terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it”(16). Those who operate the drones describe their victims as “bug splats”(17).”

  2. There is a real ugliness about this article. It is cut from the same cloth as the rabid hate on many Pakistani new sites, decrying Malala using the same logic above but with much more hatred and violent rhetoric. The relativism used to equate American intervention and the Taliban is so reductive and simplistic that is borders on juvenile. There is a complex and articulate way to critique American foreign policy and the huge amounts of monetary aid they give to Pakistan but the cheap shots and black & white criticism above does the whole debate a disservice.

    • @Grat –

      Your response is 100% negative criticism, which in my view makes it the ugliest contribution in the thread.

      That ‘there is a complex and articulate way to critique American foreign policy’ does not in itself make the critique more valid. By being more complex it is at least as likely to be intended to create confusion.
      Nor do I accept your apparent implication that Latifa’s critique is inarticulate.

      As for ‘the huge amounts of monetary aid they give to Pakistan’, please either link to citations verifying how much, over what period, for what purposes and how much reaches its intended mark, or leave your statement as it seems to me, the most reductive and simplistic on this thread and the cheapest shot.

  3. It shows her understanding that the West’s definition of ‘helping’ is actually having the opposite effect. It’s the White Saviour Complex in action.

    That’s bad enough by itself but it’s actually worse than that. The message underneath the bombing is that the ME and other countries should be what the US wants them to be and if they don’t become that then they will be bombed, killed and their economy destroyed.

    • “The message underneath the bombing is that the ME and other countries should be what the US wants them to be…”

      I’m not certain that really is the message at all. A shot fired by Islamic extremists in Syria is a problem for all of us, none the least the US, the British, the Australians, all of whom are being attacked on their own soil.

  4. The Nobel Peace Prize is a COMPLETE farce: Obama got his before doing anything to deserve it and has shit all over it since (and NOT even had it revoked!). Actually, Arafat also got one – the prize is clearly highly dubious, and certainly not one I now associate with genuine proponents of “peace”. Malala Yousafzai should not have accepted the prize until Obama turns his in – THAT would have made a statement.

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