On Oct. 23, the Wellesley News published a staff editorial detailing the accomplishments of Malala Yousafzai and how she deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize this year. Yet starting with Al Jazeera writer Murtaza Hussain, people have been drawing a parallel between Malala and Nabila Rehman, who came to Washington D.C. on Oct. 29 to testify about how U.S. drones have disrupted her and her family’s life. The numbers are staggering: at age nine, Nabila traveled 7,000 miles, yet only five members of Congress came to hear her.
Both Malala and Nabila are young female activists from Pakistan, yet they’ve received vastly different amounts of attention from the media. Malala is a great example for girls everywhere, but there are thousands of young, brave, female activists around the world who remain in the shadows. Ignoring this allows us to incorrectly believe that because Malala is here, the lives of all young Pakistanis are adequately understood.
In his article “Malala and Nabila: Worlds Apart,” Hussain states that “Nabila is a victim of western policy.” Malala’s cause, access to education for girls in Pakistan, is easy for us to rally around. However, Nabila’s testimony addresses how, a year ago, she watched her grandmother be killed by a U.S. drone while the two were picking vegetables with her brother and other children. Though U.S. intelligence may have had reason to target the grandmother, Nabila’s story is about how she has personally suffered the consequences of the machines that U.S. policymakers have long defended. Civilian casualties from drone strikes are easy to be dismissed when making decisions in Congress thousands of miles from Pakistan. When it came to facing Nabila and her family, who embody the repercussions of these decisions, only five people showed up. Perhaps so few congressmen attended the hearing because the truth is too hard for them to face.
But the testimonies of the Rehman family reveal the exact truths that we need to face. Regardless of differing opinions on drone warfare, such testimonies question the ethics and unintended consequences of drone strikes. This diverges from the traditionally utilitarian analysis of drones; the decision to initiate remote pilot vehicles is made by human policy makers.
The Rehman family came to the United States with the hope of reminding members of Congress that the casualties that result from drone attacks should not be disregarded as negligible. Despite Nabila’s small audience, her father left the United States hoping that their message was heard: “I hope I can tell my community that Americans listened.” It is regrettable that members of Congress and the American public need people like the Rehman family to travel halfway across the world to remind them that the innocent lives lost to drone strikes should not simply be classified as necessary casualties.
Sixty-one percent of Americans support drone attacks, according to the Pew Research Center, but only five members of Congress showed up to listen to the story of a family that is currently suffering the consequences of this method of warfare. Turning away from the consequences of policy decisions will not make them less controversial, but will only impede progress. Messages like that which Nabila came to deliver to the United States need to receive more attention from politicians and the media.
Nabila’s life, like the lives of many other civilians that have been affected by U.S. drone strikes, has been filled with fear since her grandmother’s death. She traveled to the United States to deliver a message, and her message should not be ignored merely because it is more difficult to accept than Malala’s message. Malala should not be the only Pakistani female activist who comes to mind, and the progress she’s making for female education should not blind us to the urgent causes of thousands of other activists, including Nabila.
Nabila Rehman’s testimony against U.S. drone strikes deserves as much attention as Malala’s advocacy