Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nobel Peace Prize

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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