NED Convention's Malala Story
Back in April 2014, when Silicon Valley NED alumni started to finalize the Tenth Annual NED Alumni Convention program (held October 10-12, in the Silicon Valley, California), organizers thought about inviting a crowd-puller as the keynote speaker. Several names came up: Hamid Mir, Hassan Nisar, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Adib Rizvi, Ayesha Siddiqa…but one name on which all members of the Steering Committee got truly excited was that of Malala Yousafzai. Yes, it should be Malala Yousafzai. A 17-year old girl speaking to the NED alumni in Urdu/Pushto—what a show that would be! Organizers set out to contact Malala. The obvious approach was to contact Malala through either her website/fan club http://www.malala-yousafzai.com, or through her charity, Malala Fund. Email messages were sent to the addresses given on both web sites. No answer came, for more than a month! Malala was quickly losing her credibility. A few organizers knew Shiza Shahid, co-founder of the Malala Fund, from Shiza's Standford days. Shiza was approached through mutual friends. She replied, but organizers quickly learned Malala had gone out of Shiza Shahid's reach. Malala could only be communicated with through Malala's PR firm, Edelman (http://www.edelman.com). Shiza introduced the organizers to Charlotte Paton, Malala's agent at Edelman. An invitation for Malala to speak at the NED Alumni Convention was sent via email to Charlotte on June 22. Four days later, the following response came:
Thank you for your patience and my apologies again for the delay in responding. It is with regret that I must decline your invitation for Malala to be keynote speaker at the NED Alumni Convention in October - her schooling and other commitments mean she is unable to travel to the San Francisco Bay Area at this time.
Please accept my best wishes for a successful event."
Where was that decision made? Was it wise for Malala to shun Desi audience? Organizers wrote back with the following:
"Thanks for writing back, Charlotte.
Organizers of the Convention did consider all the factors related to Malala's attendance: her school engagements, her relative inexperience in life (what can a 17-year old kid possibly say to an audience many times her age?), etc. But the decision was to still seek Malala's attendance for one main reason: To make Malala more effective for girls' education in Pakistan.
Ever since the assassination attempt on her, Malala has been appropriated by the West. In Pakistan where there is growing mistrust of the US and its allies, the roundly Western adoption of this young woman has become counter-productive to Malala's cause. In order to further the cause of girls' education in Pakistan Malala needs to be seen and heard among her own people. NED Alumni Convention will provide such an opportunity, with hopefully other Pakistani/Muslim organizations following suit.
Charlotte, I request you to kindly re-consider your decision for the sake of Malala's actual mission: girls' education in Pakistan and other places threatened by fundamentalism.
Our event is on Saturday, in the evening. We can arrange for Malala's flight after her school on Friday, and fly her back on Sunday.
Looking forward to hear back from you soon."
That was June 26. The following day, a phone call was made to Edelman's office in London; an organizer talked to Charlotte and repeated organizers' message. Charlotte promised she would talk to Malala's family.
On July 9, a phone call to Edelman was followed by this message:
Left you a voice mail message yesterday.
When I talked to you on the phone almost a week ago, you indicated you would talk to Malala's family about Malala's attendance of our October event.
Hope you were able to talk to Malala's family and that there is a positive development.
Kindly write back."
Shortly, a reply was received from Charlotte.
"My apologies – I believe my colleague Daniel recently picked up a call from you.
I did have a chance to speak to the family and the wider team about your invitation and regretfully, it remains the case that Malala will be unable to attend.
Please accept my best wishes for a successful event.
Organizers were truly disappointed—more so because they could see in the media how Malala was running from one place to another to meet Western celebrities and to receive accolades. Organizers were justified in thinking that the girl attacked by the fanatics two years ago was a different Malala; one who found refuge in London was a different person; that Malala—probably through her astute father and her PR firm—had decided to walk the path of Greg Mortenson: You need to spend more time in places where you find media glitz, prestigious awards, and lots of cash—spend time on the charitable cause people are paying you for, only if and when time permits.
Malala in White House photo, courtesy of Wikipedia
Injured Malala's photo, courtesy of ISPR
Read more about the Convention, here:http://pakistanlink.org/Community/2014/Oct14/24/03.HTM