Nobel intentions?

Karachi: As Malala receives her well-deserved award (along with India’s Kailash Satyarthi) on December 10, opposing the global tribute may be some voices nearer home accusing her of being a stooge in Western hands to malign Pakistan and Muslims.

Muslims have actually excelled at Nobel Peace Prize competitions recently. Over the last 12 years, there have been five Muslim winners. This serves as a small but welcome counter-narrative to the louder narrative about Muslims and terrorism. Three Muslim winners were females championing female rights. Ironically, for those viewing females as objectified embodiments of societal honour, this fuels suspicions that the prize is part of a Western conspiracy to destroy Muslim societies by first corrupting Muslim women in the name of emancipation.

The Nobel committee has actually helped confuse its intentions by lacking clear, detailed selection criteria for the peace prize and by making many unworthy award decisions, e.g., American, West Asian and Israeli politicians and even the EU. It is best to eschew politicians from countries having horrendous human rights records, e.g., the US, Pakistan, India, etc.

Also, even though I am reasonably well read, I cannot recognise most of the 103 individual recipients since its inception in 1901. But four recipients tower above others in terms of name recognition and achievements: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Muhammad Yunus. It is such people who truly deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. The common characteristics of these four could serve as worthy criteria for the prize, while recognising that they were/are all once-in-a-generation people. But since Nobel prizes are given annually, most recipients fall short of their standards.

All four worked on significant causes to alleviate a human suffering afflicting millions globally. King and Mandela addressed root causes by peacefully but forcefully challenging unjust systems which produce suffering. The other two (like Edhi) primarily focused on servicing suffering people rather than challenging root causes. Consequently, King and Mandela braved personal risks since they challenged unjust systems. All four not only had a huge personal impact, their examples also inspired people to support just causes.

Where does Malala fit in on this canvas of titanic human accomplishments? There is little doubt about the significance of her cause — girls’ education. Millions of girls globally are deprived of education by terrorists, cultural bias and government apathy. While this greater focus on girl’s education seems like a Western agenda to some, it is actually, since much earlier, an Islamic agenda too. Thus, it has been observed that in recognising that girls face far greater hurdles in gaining education, Islam encourages parents to educate their daughters.

Furthermore, in advocating against the unjust societal structures that create hurdles for girls’ education, Malala addressed the root causes forcefully. Unsurprisingly, in addressing unjust structures she braved threats to her life. Finally, her story has truly inspired the global community, and instigated greater work on girls’ education. I have not seen anyone inspire so many ordinary people so much globally since Barack Obama became America’s first black President.
She clearly still lacks the huge impact of many past winners. However, the level of admiration of people’s achievements is age-specific. Recently, newspapers reported extensively about a five-year-old, IT-certified, Pakistani boy. Clearly, the special attention given to him was not because of the level of his achievements, for millions of adults possess higher IT qualifications. It was about his achievements at his age.

The same is true for Malala, who jointly shares the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 with child labour activist Kailash Satyarthi. Furthermore, since the award aims not only to recognise past work but also inspire future work, awarding someone so young with such age-specifically admirable achievements and a lifetime of work ahead of her makes sense. So, I personally find Malala more deserving than most past winners. In making award decisions, the unconscious worldviews and interests of committee members obviously play some role.

Thus, someone fighting the American government’s imperialism, e.g., Noam Chomsky, is unlikely ever to get the prize although such imperialism is arguably the biggest source of injustice globally. Still, the Nobel Peace Prize helps in challenging many injustices globally.

The anger against Malala and her book actually reflects partially national embarrassment and irritation at the global attention riveted on Pakistani societal injustices and partially fury that weaker elements of society, especially women, are increasingly challenging these injustices in their own ways. In launching the “I am not Malala” campaign, her sorry critics are merely admitting they are not courageous like Malala. For those inspired by her example, the hope is that in time we are all Malala.

The writer is a political economist and senior fellow with UC Berkeley
By arrangement with Dawn

( Source : dc )
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