The Aerogram on Malala Yousafzai and Nabeela Rehman -The Toast

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Friend of The Toast Rohin Guha — who I can personally attest has terrific hair and is profoundly charming on Twitter (he also sends very pleasant emails) — wrote something thoughtful and important about the narratives surrounding media darling Malala Yousafzai and media just-pleasant-acquaintance Nabeela Rehman earlier this week.

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.

By now, of course, everyone is more than familiar with the story of Malala Yousafzai; too many are less familiar with Rehman’s. Her grandmother was killed during a U.S. drone strike, while she and her brother were badly injured.

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.

You ought to be reading the Aerogram anyhow (“The Aerogram is a North American-based online magazine offering a variety of South Asian perspectives. It seeks to engage anyone interested in South Asian culture across the globe with a curated take on art, literature, life and news.” Don’t you want to be engaged?), but if you haven’t yet, this is an excellent place to start.

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