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.