The Washington Post‘s Anup Kahle caught our attention today when he tweeted:
— Anup Kaphle (@AnupKaphle) October 30, 2013
In case you missed it, nine-year-old Nabeela, along with her brother Zubair and father Rafiq Rehman, testified before U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday about how a drone missile zeroed in on the kids’ grandmother in their village in North Waziristan, Pakistan, threw her 20 feet, and killed her. Nabeela and Zubair, in addition to other children suffered serious injuries and were taken to a nearby hospital. Their father wasn’t at home when the missile attacked. The most haunting words, though, are Nabeela’s: “What did my grandmother do wrong?”
This evokes Malala Yousafzai’s meeting with President Obama from a few weeks ago, where she urged him to put an end to drone attacks. In a statement, she said:
“I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” she said in the statement. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”
Yousafzai’s voice is integral. Her story has enjoyed exposure across all major news networks and outlets. But as our news cycle’s fascination with her temporarily winds down, it’s tough to ignore Rehman’s voice. Unintentionally, she picks up the baton from Yousafzai — but her story isn’t enjoying nearly as much widespread coverage. Which brings me back to Kaphle’s original point about Rehman’s story being virtually ignored by the bulk of mainstream media. Worse than that, Rehman’s story is falling on deaf ears among the very members of Congress who should be paying attention to her. Only five congressmen showed up to hear Rehman and her family testify.
The pick-and-choose nature of the American press and their reluctance to give Rehman’s story exposure is highly problematic. Could that be attributed to the fact that Yousafzai ended up a target of a known American enemy — and nearly dead at their hands? It provides an intriguing puzzle piece to a riveting — and well-documented — media narrative. At the Huffington Post, Assed Baig draws a chilling connection between Yousafzai’s skyrocketing celebrity in the West and the white savior complex. He writes:
This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalized. Journalists and politicians were falling over themselves to report and comment on the case. The story of an innocent brown child that was shot by savages for demanding an education and along comes the knight in shining armor to save her.
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.”
There’s no ignoring the fact that Yousafzai’s story is deeply important. Rehman’s story should resonate with pretty much everyone too. The story of a young girl who loses her grandmother, not to old age, but to horrific weapons of mass destruction — and then suffers serious injuries herself — should be easy fodder for CNN, MSNBC, and the rest of their ilk. But it isn’t. It doesn’t feed into the same white savior complex narrative that Yousafzai’s story does. In fact, it actively detracts from it. That’s what makes it such a risky bet for the networks, too. There’s no redemptive arc in Rehman’s story. Add to that blatant apathy from Congress — and the mainstream media has very little incentive to give Rehman’s story the exposure it deserves.
With both Yousafzai and Rehman’s stories, we gain access into a discussion that has hitherto been absent from all our talk about drones. We’re now beginning to attach names, faces, and voices to people whose lives are directly impacted by drone missiles. What we can’t afford is for a mainstream media culture that prioritizes some survivors above others, all for the sake of deciding who makes for better television.
Ultimately, both of these young girls are being forced to grow up quickly — for them to speak up now means that children after them might actually get a chance at a peaceful childhood. In order for that to happen, the people with the power to broadcast their messages need to do their job, too.