Pakistani satire of Malala conspiracy theories taken as real conspiracy theory

October 12, 2013

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon applauds Malala Yousafzai at the United Nations in July. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

A Pakistani journalist attempting to shame Malala Yousafzai conspiracy theorists -- of which, it turns out, there are quite a few -- may have accidentally fueled their conspiracies when a parody he wrote about Yousafzai’s life was taken as truth.

Nadeem Paracha published the satirical piece, “Malala: The real story (with evidence),” on the Web site of the Karachi-based newspaper Dawn this week. It skewered, in high absurdist fashion, those in Pakistan who believe that Yousafzai is a CIA plant, a money-seeking opportunist or some combination of the two. While the story originally ran without a disclaimer, it becomes pretty obvious that it’s parody after the fourth or fifth paragraph:

Malala was not born in Swat and neither is she a Pushtun. A respected medical doctor in Swat, Imtiaz Ali Khanzai, who runs a private hospital and clinic in Swat told our reporters that he has a DNA report that proves that Malala is not Pushtun.

Showing us the report, he said he extracted Malala’s DNA when as a child she visited his clinic (with her parents) complaining of an earache.

“After she was supposedly shot last year, I remembered I had a bottle where I had kept some of her earwax,” the doctor explained. “Collecting earwax of my patients is a hobby of mine,” he added.

He went on to claim that according to the DNA, Malala is a Caucasian, most probably from Poland.

There’s more: Christian missionaries, an Italian hit man and a Twitter exchange between fratty operatives named “Lib Fish” and “Oil Gul.”

Those eyebrow-raising anecdotes did not, however, prevent individuals numbering at least in the hundreds and a few media outlets from repeating the story as truth. The Lahore Times and Press TV, an Iranian television network, both reported (and later deleted) the story under the headline “Fraud unearthed!” Meanwhile, the piece has gone viral on Facebook and Twitter, racking up well over 30,000 shares and stirring debate even after 24 hours online.

The interesting takeaway from this, though, isn’t the parody or the media mix-ups. That’s almost a sideshow to the real issue that Nadeem Paracha tried to go after -- namely, that Yousafzai remains a divisive, at times even unpopular, figure in her native country, despite the celebrity she’s achieved elsewhere.

That's a demonstration of exactly how far both Malala and her issues still have to go in Pakistan. And it goes to a point that Max Fisher made about Malala and the Nobel Prize, noting that the problems in Pakistan are far messier and more entrenched than many Western observers seem to want to believe.

Fortunately, Paracha doesn't appear too cut up about the misinterpretation of his work. He kept up a steady stream of (pretty hilarious) anti-conspiracy tweets on Friday.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Max Fisher · October 11, 2013