In a concert a couple of days ago, the American singer Madonna briefly talked to her audience about the Pashtun heroine Malala Yusufzai. She has the name MALALA tattooed on her lower back. But she gave a strip tease to a cheering crowd before her speech. She says:
In Pakistan, a 14-year-old girl was shot in the neck for writing a blog about the importance of being educated as a female. She was shot on her school bus because she wrote a blog about how passionate she was about going to school. She is in a hospital right now. Let's all pray she's gonna make it. [pause] Her name is Malala. And this is for all the girls around the world who deserve to have a voice.
And so here's a response to Madonna.
Your song tour seems to be going well. You're a good singer, and it seems like you're also a good, caring person. I wish you well! BUT! But you did a strip tease in Malala's name! Girl, what were you thinking?! It also seems like you're another of the many Americans with a complete lack of understanding of other people's cultures and religions. Your song dedicated to Malala is nice and all, and I think it's great that you're bringing attention to Malala's cause, but you're doing it in a way that I as a Pashtun and Muslim woman (Malala is Pashtun, remember?) can confidently tell you Malala will not be happy with. You want to support her and her cause? Then give some respect to her by, without accepting her culture and religion as your own, respecting her culture and religion. You performed a strip tease in her name and you've tattooed her name on your lower back! To the point that you had to lower down your trousers so that people could see the name more clearly. Couple these issues with your body movement and associate it all with Malala, and we've got trouble. (No, no, nothing violent, worry not.)
If Malala ever sees this--and I think she unfortunately might, considering how everyone's talking about it--she's going to be embarrassed because we Pashtuns just don't delightfully watch half-naked people on screen, especially when they associate themselves with us or when they're trying to promote or support our cause. Malala's father, who's probably her main supporter, is also going to be un-impressed and very much feel embarrassed. That's just how our culture works, you see. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you did this out of ignorance, which unfortunately tells me that you, like most other Americans and other westerners, have no decent understanding of other people's cultures. Fine, I don't expect you to learn about all other cultures in this diverse and sometimes-beautiful world of ours, but I don't think I'm asking for too much when I say that I expect you'd at least try to understand who Malala is (she's not just another girl who wants to go to school and isn't being allowed; she's everything her culture and religion and society and this world is, remember? We're all more than just our names and our sexual/gendered identities), and if you'd done a little bit of research before your strip tease [2:05 to 3:28!] and this whole song in honor of Malala, you'd know well that wouldn't be a good move if you're going to mention Malala in your concert at all.
Does any of this mean that I think you've no right to dress however you like? Absolutely not. You and I and all other people have the right to believe and think and dress and do as we wish. And it's not your dressing style in general that I'm criticizing here. That's none of my business. But it's the fact that you talked about Malala in your talk and then you had her name tattooed on your *lower back* (a part of the body considered unacceptable for public exposure in the culture and religion that Malala proudly identifies with) and then you did what people are calling a little "strip tease" to have her name revealed to show how much you care about her. I think that's where you went wrong.
If you'd done your research, just a tiny bit, you'd also know that Malala has been constantly accused of being a CIA agent--and your research would also answer the question of what's wrong with being a CIA agent, just as it'd explain why your move is problematic in that sense as well. I'm going to assume here that you didn't think about your act long and hard enough before doing it, and so I'm going say: I wish you'd thought about it before and considered what this could mean both to and for Malala.
You know what else is wrong with your way of showing support to Malala? This: Malala is hardly 14 years old, and you're stripping for and to her. In U.S. standards, that classifies as pedophilia, as a friend of mine just pointed out. No?
Then again, you're a liberated woman, and poor young Malala, all covered up in all of her photos. She needs to be liberated, too, no? Of course she does; every woman does. And this is how to liberate them or encourage them to liberate themselves.
Do you see the other issues here? The link between "liberation" and "covering of skin"--and Malala's age and your stripping for her? Look, it's okay for you to understand liberation however you want, and I'm not here to contest that. But it's the connection of your stripping to Malala that I'm troubled by.
Of course, knowing you and having read some academic work on you and your contribution to the feminist movement and women's rights in general in the West, I understand that your move can be interpreted differently as well: you believe that it's actually her culture, and maybe also even her religion, that are trying to silence her. And you're defying these two things, Malala's culture and religion, even if knowing how important they are to Malala. So I understand. But the counter response to that would be a clear and emphatic: "it's really not her culture or her religion that are trying to come in Malala's way. In fact, Muslims of all cultures all around the world are standing with Malala, supporting her and condemning the vicious attacks against her. The fact that women and men and children of her own culture (and religion) are standing with her shows that it's really not her culture. It's a group of evil people who are ultimately afraid of women's power and what women are capable of doing who are in her way. These cowards realize that if a woman is this young and can achieve such great things, how much more can she do, how much more is she capable of achieving when she's just a little older?" So she's a threat to not her religion or her culture but to a group of men who are just trying to figure out what their masculinity means in the 21st century."
So please understand that, no, it's not your little strip tease that I'm concerned about here. (lol? That'd be so lame to write a blog post on, I swear!) But it's your association with Malala, your apparent concern and love and appreciation and respect for Malala *while* you have your name tattooed on a part of your body that Malala would really be embarrassed ("shy" isn't the correct word here, I promise) to look at and appreciate. Her parents, especially her father, too, would be embarrassed for the same reason. It's just not what we Pashtuns do. We don't go around appreciating and thanking people for pulling cloths on their bodies down a bit so that they can reveal more skin, even if it's for a good cause.
k, I think that should be all for now. I'll see you the next time you talk about Malala without giving any respect to her religious and cultural beliefs.
Good luck on the rest of your tour!
~ Orbala, another Pashtun girl from Swat, hardly a few miles away from where Malala lives