Commentary Magazine


Topic: Malala Yousafzai

Deserving Nobel Recipients

The Nobel Peace Prize was easy to lampoon even before Barack Obama won the award at the start of his presidency for doing essentially nothing beyond giving a few grandiose speeches.  It has tended to go to people like French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand and Secretary of State Frank Kellogg  (co-authors of the Briand-Kellogg Pact outlawing war as an instrument of policy), author Norman Angell (who wrote The Great Illusion, claiming that war was obsolete right before the outbreak of World War I), the Quakers, and the Pugwash Conferences—those who dreamed of peace but who did not have much luck in implementing their dreams.

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The Nobel Peace Prize was easy to lampoon even before Barack Obama won the award at the start of his presidency for doing essentially nothing beyond giving a few grandiose speeches.  It has tended to go to people like French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand and Secretary of State Frank Kellogg  (co-authors of the Briand-Kellogg Pact outlawing war as an instrument of policy), author Norman Angell (who wrote The Great Illusion, claiming that war was obsolete right before the outbreak of World War I), the Quakers, and the Pugwash Conferences—those who dreamed of peace but who did not have much luck in implementing their dreams.

Some of the recipients have actually been warmongers, most notably North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Le Duc Tho and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. South Korean President Kim Dae Jung won for his failed Sunshine Policy, which included bribing North Korea’s Kim Jong-il into meeting with him.  Few and far in between have been worthy recipients, such as Teddy Roosevelt, George Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin, and Mother Theresa. The U.S. armed forces, the greatest force for good in the world in the past century, have never won the prize.

But occasionally the Nobel committee gets it right—usually once a decade or so. This is one of those times, with the award going to Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India. Yousafzai is the 17-year-old girl who had the temerity to campaign for girls’ education in the Taliban-dominated area of Swat in Pakistan. To silence her, a Taliban gunman shot her in the head but she survived and is now reportedly living in Britain. Satyarthi is a longtime campaigner against child slavery in India and is credited with freeing some 50,000 children from quasi-slavery as indentured laborers.

There are lots of heroes like Yousafazai and Satyarthi around the world who are fighting for freedom. Another worthy recipient would have been Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Nobel Committee should stick to recognizing and elevating their efforts instead of awarding prizes, as they have so often done, to Westerners who are big on grand gestures that cost them nothing.

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Why Was Malala Yousafzai Missing from the Debate?

Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ right to education, has done more to de-legitimize Taliban rule and the radical Islamist ideology for which it stands than any Western diplomat or multimillion dollar de-radicalization program. How disappointing it was, then, that in last night’s debate, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney saw fit to pay tribute and provide a shout-out to this bold little girl.

Obama argued that his administration strategy was predicated on fighting radicalism:

Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn’t just going after bin Laden. We created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. And what we’ve also done is engaged these governments in the kind of reforms that are actually going to make a difference in people’s lives day to day, to make sure that their governments aren’t corrupt, to make sure that they’re treating women with the kind of respect and dignity that every nation that succeeds has shown and to make sure that they’ve got a free market system that works.

The words are empty, however, as the Taliban declares itself on the verge of a great victory, and when the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood threatens to send women back centuries. Even in Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of Obama’s closest friends, has seen the situation of women decline precipitously. To this, Obama appears oblivious.

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Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ right to education, has done more to de-legitimize Taliban rule and the radical Islamist ideology for which it stands than any Western diplomat or multimillion dollar de-radicalization program. How disappointing it was, then, that in last night’s debate, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney saw fit to pay tribute and provide a shout-out to this bold little girl.

Obama argued that his administration strategy was predicated on fighting radicalism:

Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn’t just going after bin Laden. We created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. And what we’ve also done is engaged these governments in the kind of reforms that are actually going to make a difference in people’s lives day to day, to make sure that their governments aren’t corrupt, to make sure that they’re treating women with the kind of respect and dignity that every nation that succeeds has shown and to make sure that they’ve got a free market system that works.

The words are empty, however, as the Taliban declares itself on the verge of a great victory, and when the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood threatens to send women back centuries. Even in Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of Obama’s closest friends, has seen the situation of women decline precipitously. To this, Obama appears oblivious.

Romney, for his part, affirmed Obama’s political deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan: “Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014, and when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014,” he said. Regarding Pakistan, he added:

We’re going to have to remain helpful in encouraging Pakistan to move towards a more stable government and rebuild the relationship with us. And that means that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met.

Romney also had the perfect opportunity during his discussion of radicalization and the Arab Spring:

A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the — the world reject these — these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this: One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we — we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law.

The fact of the matter is that Malala is not some contrived campaign anecdote which both candidates use to appear more down-to-earth. She is a truly powerful symbol whose very name delegitimizes the extremists. Just as Chechen jihadists saw popular support for their cause collapse when they attacked the school at Beslan, so too the Pakistani Taliban realize what a terrible mistake they have made. That neither Obama nor Romney take advantage of their mistake to embrace this symbol of resistance against Islamist tyranny reflects badly on their vision and on their commitment to win the ideological war, which may very well define the 21st century.

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Why is Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkul Karman Silent?

Last year, I criticized the Nobel Peace Prize award to Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. My objection rested not in Karman’s track record as an opposition activist in Yemen, but rather rested in the tokenism and political agenda of the Nobel Committee. Its chairman made no secret that he hoped the award would legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood. As the Associated Press reported at the time:

Thorbjoern Jagland, who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, told AP that including Karman in the prize is “a signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.” He also said Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”

A year on, has the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to make Karman its youngest Nobel Peace Laureate paid off?

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Last year, I criticized the Nobel Peace Prize award to Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. My objection rested not in Karman’s track record as an opposition activist in Yemen, but rather rested in the tokenism and political agenda of the Nobel Committee. Its chairman made no secret that he hoped the award would legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood. As the Associated Press reported at the time:

Thorbjoern Jagland, who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, told AP that including Karman in the prize is “a signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.” He also said Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”

A year on, has the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to make Karman its youngest Nobel Peace Laureate paid off?

Sadly, the answer is no. Last week, the Pakistani Taliban conducted a horrific attack on 14-year-old school girl Malala Yousafzai whose crime was to advocate for girls’ right to education. With a bully pulpit bestowed by the Nobel Committee and its choice of Karman as a laureate because of her gender, religion, commitment to reform, and boldness, it would be reasonable to expect that Karman would be front and center in her condemnation of the Pakistani Taliban.

The world may have condemned the attack, but sadly, a Google search in English and an Open Source Center search of the Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish press show that Karman was too busy attending to other matters. Whereas prominent Pakistanis visited Malala and her family, Karman (and other Nobel laureates) were not among them. In both English and Arabic, Karman’s website focuses on promoting herself and her latest mentions and speeches. Perhaps she was too busy accepting honorary Turkish citizenship or attending the World Forum for Democracy in Strasburg, France, to speak up or visit Pakistan. Karman is not afraid to speak up on other issues: She has urged Turkish military intervention in Syria, at least to create a buffer zone, in the increasingly sectarian civil war. She has praised pro-revolution forces in the Yemeni army. Perhaps the victim needs to be a Sunni Islamist to be worthy of Karman’s time.

It’s time to ask the Nobel Committee and Karman’s most vocal supporters: Was the investment in Karman worth it? Has outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood privileged moderate factions within the group and marginalized more radical factions? If Karman was the token to give moral ammunition in the feminist fight against radicalism and dictatorship of all types in majority Muslim countries, why the apparent silence in the face of Yousafzai (and others)?

If I’m wrong in my assessment that Karman has disappointed, I will be gladly so. I am traveling right now with limited Internet and may simply have missed an important statement but, as of my writing this on Saturday afternoon Baghdad time, I do not think I have. I have seen ample coverage on Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Al-Hurra, and other channels, but I have not seen Karman speak out. Certainly, I would stand happily corrected, however, and will read any comments on this post carefully for those Karman fans who can demonstrate that she has been a voice of support for Malala Yousafzai and those like her targeted by the Taliban, Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist groups.

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