Over the last two or so weeks my eyes have constantly come across a number of news articles, highlights, and tweet feeds about Malala, a young girl activist in Pakistan, who was shot by the Taliban due to her campaigning on girls’ education. But what really stroke my eyes yesterday is a tweet feed by the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague that ‘ Was in Birmingham with Emirati Foreign Minister HH Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed. With Gov of Pakistan we’ve supported #Malala‘s care together” (https://twitter.com/WilliamJHague, 29/10/2012, 15:12). From this tweet we see a significant diplomatic activity. William Hague, Sheikh Abudllah Bin Zayed, and the Pakistan Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, who also visited Malala gave a joint statement, which stressed the significance of their visit. (http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=News&id=827742682). These three figures represented a coalition of three governments that have worked together to secure Malala’s life. Malala was shot in Pakistan and after initial treatment the UAE offered an ambulance flight to transport her to UK for further treatment. This arrangements were not done by hospitals or well wishers or even Malala’s parents, they were organised by these three governments. I doubt if the 20th century scholars of diplomacy could have imagined this. The whole situation of #Malala and it’s the diplomatic and political response to it highlights the nascent unconventional nature of contemporary International Relations.
Before I explain my reasoning, I should talk a bit about this young hero #Malala…#Malala is an impressive young girl. She is an activist with a noble mission. She is obviously extremely bright and full of confidence. She’s a beacon of hope for many. She used evidence to place her case. She stands up for the right of girls’ education. For years, she has been writing a diary for the BBC. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7889120.stm
It was disgusting that Taliban militant attempted to end her life so as to kill her idea. Unfortunately for them and fortunately for many girls in the world her idea is now on the global sphere. The international community is voicing #Malala’s idea. The UN Education Envoy- Gordon Brown (also the former British PM), Fareed Zakaria, a renowned CNN journalist who hosts one of the most thorough TV programmes on international affairs (GPS), and Angelina Jolie, a move star and international development champion, are example of international figures who have voiced #Malala’s idea in one way or another.
Most interesting for me, however, is the lessons that Malala’s case is teaching us about contemporary International Relations (IR). The political and diplomatic weight given to Malala’s case reflects how values and ideas are key variables in contemporary IR. What has placed Malala in the global stage is her idea and the courage of voicing it. Because an idea can be so dangerous and powerful, the Taliban could not ignore it. They tried to kill it. Others are trying to not only defend it but to live and implement it. The power of ideas can no more ignored in IR.
Although IR was occupied by an ideological tension for about 40 years (the Cold War), international relations scholars sidelines ideas and focused on explaining the balance of power and state capabilities. However, since the end of the Cold War, scholars have been increasingly acknowledging the role of ideas in IR.
Central to the discourse of ideas in IR is religion. Religion through its ideas, most of the time misinterpreted, has been at the centre of contemporary IR. Extremists groups like the Taliban are wrongly using religion to exert negative pressure in international affairs. However, religious ideas can also contribute positively to the international community. Malala, the young girl, asked ‘”I will show them the Koran, what Koran says. Koran didn’t say that girls are not allowed to go to school” (see http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/24/pakistan-on-the-cusp-of-change/). The actions of Islamic countries such as UAE and even Pakistan citizens have proven Malala’s idea to be compatible to the Islamic religion.
Scholars of IR and the international community should focus on the positive side of religious ideas to tackle the negative side. My PhD Thesis, which is an analysis of the relationship between faith groups and the UK government, ends with the following sentence ‘If religion receive attention like other elements in the discipline of IR, scholars and policy makers will be able to tackle its negative side and capitalise on its good side’. This is a call for all of us who appreciate a peaceful world.