Monday, 18 October 2010

Taunting China Norwegian style – the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

By awarding the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to a hitherto unknown Chinese human rights activist the Nobel Committee has achieved at least one objective: focusing global attention towards the state of human rights in China. However, inadvertently or not, the Committee has also divided the world into pro and anti-China camps.
I don't blame either side, but place myself squarely in the 'back to basics' Peace Prize camp. Back to basics means honouring the Will of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the award.
The Will reads, "[The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually] to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
The peace prize is not meant as an overtly political statement.
Jean Henri Dunant: Swiss businessman and founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross was the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901

One may stretch the meaning of 'peace congresses' so as to permit granting of the prize to human rights activists such as Shireen Ebadi, Liu Xiaobo or Aung San Suu Kyi. Undoubtedly, all three activists struggle for a noble cause at great personal risk. No one can argue with their passionate idealism for achieving social justice.
However, at another level, awarding prizes to such personalities seem very much an attempt to irritate the domestic regimes of countries 'out of favour' with Western nations; not surprising given that the Nobel Committee's five members are appointed by the Norwegian parliament and broadly represent national parliament's political make up.
The Kingdom of Norway is a founding member of the US-led security alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). While the country is not a formal member of the European Union, it maintains strong European ties through various treaties. Norway is a member of the European Economic Area.
Surely, the Norwegians have played an admirable role in engendering peace in the Middle East (the Oslo Accords) as well as other war ravaged areas. Yet, is it not possible for the Nobel Committee to find less politicized recipients for the Peace Prize? There are several billion people in the world.

Governance and international representative systems are not divorced from a nation's ground realities. For example, pursuing democratic ideals in Somalia, China, Denmark or the United States requires modifications to suit local political cultures. Somalia's parliament meets in Kenya, when it can. In the United States and Denmark, burning the Koran or caricaturizing Islam's final Prophet is a legitimate democratic pursuit.
To an outsider, the fine legal niceties legitimizing water boarding, acts of rendition, assassinations using unmanned drones and Guantanamo are not so different from China's policies designed to ensure social stability within its own borders. Arguably, China pursues vigorous economic development as a way of granting greater freedoms to its people – freedom from hunger versus freedom to protest.
Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to less divisive personalities such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Medicins Sans Frontieres and Mohammad Yunus seems a better way to achieve Alfred Nobel's goal of 'building fraternity between nations.'

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