By Arwa Mahdawi
It’s that time of year again! The days are growing shorter and the smell of Nordic niceties is in the air. Yes, Monday marks the start of Nobel season, the world’s most prestigious prize-giving ceremony and our annual reminder that Norway exists. Over the course of the week, Nobel prizes will be awarded in six categories – but the only ones most people pay attention to are literature (particularly if the prize goes to a rock star) and peace.
There’s been quite a kerfuffle about the prestigious peace prize recently, what with that whole Aung San Suu Kyi being complicit in a genocide thing. Last month, Aung San Suu Kyi – who was awarded the 1991 Nobel peace prize “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” – spent weeks struggling to mention anything about the human rights abuses being committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. When she finally broke her silence in late September, it was to give a Trumpesque “both sides” sort of speech, which Amnesty International denounced as a “mix of untruths and victim-blaming”.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s behaviour has led many to believe she no longer deserves to be a peace laureate and as of last week almost half a million people had signed a petition urging the Nobel committee to revoke her award. Now, I understand why so many people feel disappointed in Aung San Suu Kyi, I really do. But arguing she’s not worthy of her Nobel is nonsense. Sorry, but Aung San Suu Kyi absolutely deserves her peace prize. Asking the Nobel committee to revoke it is to misunderstand what the prize stands for. Which, to put it bluntly, is absolutely nothing.
Let’s face it, the Nobel peace prize is a farce; it has been for a long time. Really, it’s time we stopped pretending otherwise and put an end to the pomp and pretence altogether. Indeed, it’s amazing anyone can still say the words “Nobel peace prize” with a straight face considering its recipients constitute a who’s who of hawks, hypocrites and war criminals. I know, I know, #NotAll Nobel peace laureates! There have certainly been recipients, such as Desmond Tutu, who have greatly deserved to be recognised for their work in advancing peace. However, I’m afraid there have also been enough prize embarrassments to have rendered the award meaningless.
Chief among these is 1973 recipient Henry Kissinger, recognised for his efforts in negotiating a ceasefire in the Vietnam war. While negotiating that ceasefire, Kissinger was secretly carpet-bombing Cambodia. The worst of his bombing started in February 1973, a month after Washington, Hanoi and Saigon signed the Paris Peace accords. It’s little wonder that Le Duc Tho, the Vietnamese communist leader who was awarded the prize alongside Kissinger, rejected it in disgust.
Then you’ve got Shimon Peres, who was jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1994 with Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat. In the decades before getting the prize Peres systematically helped amp up Israel’s nuclear capabilities – which is completely at odds with the committee’s stipulation that the award should go to those who help demilitarise their country. What’s more, two years after the prize, Peres was responsible for a massacre that killed 106 people sheltering in a UN compound in the Lebanese town of Qana.
While Kissinger and Peres are two of the more egregious examples, there are numerous other peace laureates who have been extremely dubious choices, including Barack Obama, Colombian leader Juan Manuel Santos and the EU – to name just a few.
Indeed, the Nobel peace prize has become so tainted that some peace activists refuse to be associated with it. Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician who spent 18 years in prison for leaking details of Israel’s nuclear programme, has repeatedly asked be removed from a list of Nobel peace prize nominees. In a 2009 letter to the Nobel committee, he said he didn’t want “to belong to a list of laureates that also includes Shimon Peres, the man behind Israeli atomic policy”.
Perhaps it’s only to be expected that the Nobel peace prize has descended into farce. It was, after all, born out of a mistake. As the story goes, in 1888 a French newspaper erroneously wrote that Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, had died. The paper marked the event of Alfred’s non-death with a bit of quality French snark: “Dr Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” Nobel was mortified that he was going to be remembered as a “merchant of death” and so set up the Nobel prize. It was a calculated rebranding effort; an exercise in PR.
You might think that the peace prize has got to a place where it is beyond parody – indeed, Tom Lehrer memorably quipped that “political satire became obsolete when Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize”. However, the Noble prize has actually spawned a rather notable parody. Every autumn since 1991, the Ig Nobel prizes recognise a number of unusual achievements “that first make people laugh, and then make them think”. Fittingly, last year’s Ig Nobel peace award went to the authors of a study called On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit. The introduction to the paper begins by stating that: “In On Bullshit, the philosopher Frankfurt (2005) defines bullshit as something that is designed to impress but that was constructed absent direct concern for the truth.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty apt definition of the real Nobel peace prize to me.
Culled from Guardian
The Nobel peace prize is a who’s who of hawks, hypocrites and war criminals
By Arwa Mahdawi