Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nobel Peace Prize

Nobel Laureates Should Cancel South Africa Trip

One of the problems with so many of those who pretend to be the world’s moral conscience is that they are willing to posture but, when push comes to shove, they have no backbone.

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One of the problems with so many of those who pretend to be the world’s moral conscience is that they are willing to posture but, when push comes to shove, they have no backbone.

Hence it is the case with the forthcoming World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates to be held in Cape Town, South Africa next month. The South African government, however, has succumbed to Chinese pressure to deny one Nobel Laureate—the Dalai Lama—a visa to enter South Africa.

Patricia de Lille, the executive mayor of Cape Town, rightly says, “It is indeed a dark day for South Africa when the ideals for which Nelson Mandela and so many others fought are sold to the highest bidder.” She continues:

The Mandela, Luthuli, De Klerk and Tutu foundations will be writing to President (Jacob) Zuma appealing to him to intervene and ensure that a visa is granted to the Dalai Lama so that he can attend the summit. Past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize (including former heads of state) will also write a petition to Zuma. The Nobel Peace Laureates who have already signed the letter of appeal to Zuma include Lech Walesa, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Muhammad Yunus, Jody Williams, Betty Williams, Tawakkul Karman, Leimah Gbowee and Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo.

Petitions are meaningless. If the laureates truly wanted to stand on principle, they would refuse to attend unless assured by the South African government that the Dalai Lama will be among them. And if that is not forthcoming, then the summit should either cancel the October meeting or postpone it, moving it to another country. Perhaps changing the location to Taiwan would be an appropriate way for the Nobel Peace Prize laureates to signal that they will stand in solidarity for their own and not succumb to a dictatorship’s dictates.

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Checking in with Tawakkol Karman

The Middle East is on fire. ISIS is on the rise and Jordan and perhaps Lebanon are in its crosshairs. Foreign jihadis are beheading kidnapped journalists and perhaps aid workers as well, and gleefully capturing UN peacekeepers. A generation of women is being repressed. The Bahraini government has arrested prominent Shi‘ite activist Maryam al-Khawaja and is thumbing its nose at international condemnation. Turks have embraced autocracy, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes no secret of his disdain for the democratic order that empowered him.

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The Middle East is on fire. ISIS is on the rise and Jordan and perhaps Lebanon are in its crosshairs. Foreign jihadis are beheading kidnapped journalists and perhaps aid workers as well, and gleefully capturing UN peacekeepers. A generation of women is being repressed. The Bahraini government has arrested prominent Shi‘ite activist Maryam al-Khawaja and is thumbing its nose at international condemnation. Turks have embraced autocracy, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes no secret of his disdain for the democratic order that empowered him.

Given everything going on, I figured it would be time to check in with Tawakkol Karman, the young Yemeni activist who shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. I have written here before about Tawakkol Karman, especially to criticize her silence in the wake of the Pakistani Taliban’s assassination attempt against then 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

Now, Tawakkol was a Yemeni opposition activist and the daughter of a Yemeni Islamist official who grew to fame for her peaceful protests against the dictatorship of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. She was not picked simply for her work in Yemen, however, but rather to make a political point. At the time, Thorbjoern Jagland, a Labour Party activist who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, explained to the Associated Press:

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.”

In other words, Jagland and his colleagues wanted a symbol: A woman, an Arab, and an Islamist and they searched until they found someone that could put check marks in all the right boxes.

So what has Karman done since her silence on Malala?

She has joined with other female Nobel laureates to condemn Israel’s fight with Hamas in Gaza, but could find no time to even consider Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel or the role of Hamas’s genocidal ideology encapsulated in its charter.

She is much more prolific on Facebook and Twitter. She celebrated Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rise to the presidency in Turkey, never mind his repression of the press or women. There seems to be little if any condemnation of the Islamist beheading of journalists and aid workers or the arrest of non-violent Shi‘ite activists in Bahrain. My Arabic is poor and so I may be missing passing mention she may have given, but Karman certainly declines to make condemnation of Islamist abuses central to her activity, even though she is perhaps more empowered than anyone else to do so.

To Tawakkol Karman, peace and human rights seem to be less of a priority than the promotion of Islamism. She interprets human rights through a sectarian lens. How tragic that the Nobel Committee, so desperate to make a politically correct statement, ended up empowering someone who may embrace non-violent protest, but stands very much for the opposite of peace and universal human rights. And as for Mr. Jagland, he may have believed that the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates were part of the solution, but his experiment seems to confirm that they are much more part of the problem.

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Prize Legacies: Sakharov vs. Nobel

Congratulations to Malala Yousefzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl and writer who survived a Taliban assassination attempt, for winning this year’s Sakharov human rights award. Malala’s blogging—in order to defend the rights of girls to basic education against the backdrop of a political movement dedicated to making women chattel only—has both been bold and has shaken the Pakistani Taliban to its core, for otherwise they would not have sought to silence her permanently.

While there was some uncertainty about whether the European Parliament would do the right thing, in the end the European Parliament did not belittle the prize and the legacy of its namesake, and they gave it to someone both bold and deserving, a choice which will last long after the waves of the political trendiness of other candidates pass.

Alas, the same generally cannot be said for the track record of the Nobel Peace Prize’s selection committee.

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Congratulations to Malala Yousefzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl and writer who survived a Taliban assassination attempt, for winning this year’s Sakharov human rights award. Malala’s blogging—in order to defend the rights of girls to basic education against the backdrop of a political movement dedicated to making women chattel only—has both been bold and has shaken the Pakistani Taliban to its core, for otherwise they would not have sought to silence her permanently.

While there was some uncertainty about whether the European Parliament would do the right thing, in the end the European Parliament did not belittle the prize and the legacy of its namesake, and they gave it to someone both bold and deserving, a choice which will last long after the waves of the political trendiness of other candidates pass.

Alas, the same generally cannot be said for the track record of the Nobel Peace Prize’s selection committee.

While most Nobel prizes are based on a lifetime’s work and demonstrated achievements, the committee of politicians which awards the Nobel Peace Prize has, in recent years, based its award more on political considerations, symbolism, and the expectation of future action than on a track record of achievement. This was clear in the Nobel’s selection of Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. The head of the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee at the time told the Associated Press, “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.’”

Karman, however, has had a very selective reading of who deserves human rights. She will speak up for Muslim Brotherhood activists—and was quite vocal in the aftermath of the July 2013 Egyptian coup—but she remains noticeably silent when the perpetrators of violence are political Islamists. Hence, she did not speak up for Malala Yousefzai, even when the then-14-year-old was clinging to life, nor has she condemned the Muslim Brotherhood’s targeting of Coptic Christians. Indeed, Karman’s attitude appears to mirror that of her fellow Muslim Brotherhood acolyte Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has denied that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir could be complicit in genocide, because “A Muslim can never commit genocide.”

Perhaps the Nobel committee can redeem itself this year with its selection, but it has a long way to go to dig itself out of the mockery it has made of human rights and democracy. Certainly, the contrast between the selections of Yousefzai and Karman, their achievements, and the logic behind their awards are a millstone around the neck of the Nobels.

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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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The Nobel Peace Bribe and Bureaucratic Self-Congratulation

In 2009, when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it was pointed out that his nomination for the award almost perfectly coincided with his inauguration as president–that is, he was given the award not for anything he had done, but rather for what the Nobel Committee wanted him to do. Hoping for American surrender in the Middle East and capitulation in the war on terror, the Nobel Committee assumed Obama shared their penchant for appeasement and decided to nudge him along.

Since there are often candidates for the prize that actually deserve it, this did not go over all too well. Yet the Nobel Committee has done exactly this again, awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union for what it hopes the union will–or, more accurately, won’t–do. The commission ostensibly gave the EU the prize for completing European integration and reconciliation after the two world wars, stressing that today war between France and Germany is unthinkable. Of course, as Max noted, the Second World War may have revolved around the violence and depredations in Western Europe, but peace was delivered by Americans and Russians most of all. (Speaking of Russians, this has been a momentous year in the Russian people’s willingness to challenge the thugocracy of Vladimir Putin; was there no Russian thought worthy of the prize by the Nobel Committee?) As the New York Times reports, the committee was open about the real reason for the prize:

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In 2009, when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it was pointed out that his nomination for the award almost perfectly coincided with his inauguration as president–that is, he was given the award not for anything he had done, but rather for what the Nobel Committee wanted him to do. Hoping for American surrender in the Middle East and capitulation in the war on terror, the Nobel Committee assumed Obama shared their penchant for appeasement and decided to nudge him along.

Since there are often candidates for the prize that actually deserve it, this did not go over all too well. Yet the Nobel Committee has done exactly this again, awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union for what it hopes the union will–or, more accurately, won’t–do. The commission ostensibly gave the EU the prize for completing European integration and reconciliation after the two world wars, stressing that today war between France and Germany is unthinkable. Of course, as Max noted, the Second World War may have revolved around the violence and depredations in Western Europe, but peace was delivered by Americans and Russians most of all. (Speaking of Russians, this has been a momentous year in the Russian people’s willingness to challenge the thugocracy of Vladimir Putin; was there no Russian thought worthy of the prize by the Nobel Committee?) As the New York Times reports, the committee was open about the real reason for the prize:

Thorbjorn Jagland, the former Norwegian prime minister who is chairman of the panel awarding the prize, said there had been deep concern about Europe’s destiny as it faces the debt-driven woes that have placed the future of the single currency in jeopardy.

“There is a great danger,” he said in an interview in Oslo. “We see already now an increase of extremism and nationalistic attitudes. There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating. Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization.”

Asked if the euro currency would survive, he replied: “That I don’t know. What I know is that if the euro fails, then the danger is that many other things will disintegrate as well, like the internal market and free borders. Then you will get nationalistic policies again. So it may set in motion a process which most Europeans would dislike.”

When Jagland warns of the dangers of disintegration and the reemergence of borders and “nationalism,” he is concerned first and foremost with preventing the revival of democracy and sovereignty–two things he neither cares for nor truly understands. The lessons some Eurocrats have learned from the Continent’s battle with fascism and communism is to give a centralized government more power over its citizens.

Jagland also explains that the Continent may be dealing with an economic crisis, but that economic crisis was caused by the United States in his expert opinion, so no one need bother with Greek debt or French socialism. Speaking of Greece, how do they feel about this year’s award winner? Not great:

“I think it’s unfair,” said Stavros Polychronopoulos, 60, a retired lawyer, as he stood on Friday in central Syntagma Square in Athens, where residue from tear gas fired by the police during demonstrations on Tuesday to protest a visit by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, still clung to the sidewalks.

“The leader of the E.U. is Germany, which is in an economic war with southern Europe,” Mr. Polychronopoulos said. “I consider this war equal to a real war. They don’t help peace.”

So some Greeks think they’re currently at war with Germany, in part due to the very lack of sovereignty and self-determination that Jagland credits for its contribution to European peace.

And then there’s another problem: who will accept the award on behalf of “Europe”? The Times notes that the European Commission, European Council, and European Parliament are fighting over the honor. This is, in a way, perfect, since it shows that not even the mostly unaccountable bureaucrats running the EU can keep the peace among themselves.

There’s also the minor point of America’s role both in propping up NATO and in keeping much of the world free from the anarchy that likely would prevail if the U.S. took the same attitude toward security and defense as does the EU. In other words, though Europe is at peace currently, we have yet to arrive at a time at which Europe is responsible for that peace.

Although the Times story reads like the Onion, it is neither satirical nor particularly funny. Europe’s turn away from democracy, sovereignty, and identity undermines the West’s dedication to freedom around the world. Additionally, the EU’s dismissive approach to self-defense means either the world becomes less secure or the United States shoulders even more of the burden. A collection of welfare states becomes a welfare continent, though since most Eurocrats couldn’t lose their jobs if they tried, the attendant skyrocketing unemployment will be a curious statistic to them, and nothing more.

This future is also unlikely to be particularly peaceful. But the EU knows full well that if needed, the U.S. will help set things right so that nameless, faceless bureaucrats can once again take credit for someone else’s success.

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Nobel Nonsense

Congratulations to the U.S. armed forces for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. They really deserve it for preventing a Third World War and winning the Cold War. They kept the peace (most of the time) in Europe and East Asia, thereby making possible the transformation of these regions into powerhouses of the global economy after centuries of costly strife. I am sure Gen. Martin Dempsey is looking forward to traveling to Oslo to receive….

Oops. Sorry about that. Seems I got it wrong. Silly me. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee didn’t actually award the U.S. military its annual tribute; instead it chose the European Union. Which would not exist had not the U.S. armed forces not ended the long hostility between France and Germany, created a new, democratic Germany, and enforced the peace for more than sixty years. But of course the U.S. military is more likely to be reviled than credited by advanced thinkers in Europe.

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Congratulations to the U.S. armed forces for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. They really deserve it for preventing a Third World War and winning the Cold War. They kept the peace (most of the time) in Europe and East Asia, thereby making possible the transformation of these regions into powerhouses of the global economy after centuries of costly strife. I am sure Gen. Martin Dempsey is looking forward to traveling to Oslo to receive….

Oops. Sorry about that. Seems I got it wrong. Silly me. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee didn’t actually award the U.S. military its annual tribute; instead it chose the European Union. Which would not exist had not the U.S. armed forces not ended the long hostility between France and Germany, created a new, democratic Germany, and enforced the peace for more than sixty years. But of course the U.S. military is more likely to be reviled than credited by advanced thinkers in Europe.

So we have the spectacle of the most laughable of awards going to the EU just at the moment when it appears to be in the middle of an economic meltdown and the future of the Eurozone is up for grabs. Well, it could have been worse. At least the EU didn’t get the Nobel Economics Prize.

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