What has Malala Yousufzai done to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

polity : balaji : What has Malala Yousufzai done to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? [ http://www.quora.com/What-has-Malala-Yousufzai-done-to-deserve-the-Nobel-Peace-Prize ]

Answer by Balaji Viswanathan:

Abstract: When it comes to the Nobel Peace Prize, it is important to pay attention to the cause rather than the individual who is receiving the medal. The prize is ultimately a marketing tool that is used to shine light on some serious issues in the world. The individuals who get the medal are often just actors in a grander scheme of things. In 2014, the cause chosen is "childen at danger" in developing countries. It is a worthy cause & that cause deserves attention. That's it.

The individuals who are representing the cause are often secondary when it comes to the Peace Prize. Malala is most likely not the person who has most contributed to world peace. However, her cause is worth fighting for & through her we get to see the cause.

Let's Understand the Nobel Peace Prize

First, start with the members who are deciding the prize – The Norwegian Nobel Committee. You can quickly find out how non-diverse the whole body is – 4 politicians and a lawyer—all of Norway. It is appointed by the Storting – Norway's parliament. This body doesn't reflect the world, nor understands its diversity. Given the homogeneity, it is very likely to reflect the bias of the committee. More than an absolute scale of achievements, it is the causes that this group wants their Western audience to know about.

Some causes are dearer to them – such as Irish and Israeli issues that have generated nearly a dozen Nobel laureates, while other causes not so much. Some groups such as the top US politicians get a disproportionate share of the awards (close to 15 US politicians have been awarded), as this is the only little lever a tiny nation has got over the world's superpower. The committee is made of normal people and succumb to the same set of trends and fads just like any of us.

About the future & less about the past

The Nobel Peace Prize is a very political award that is given mostly for what the committee wants to see rather than what they saw. Or in other words, it is ostensibly about the future than it is about the past. For instance, when Obama was given the prize as soon as he came to the office, it was not for any achievement he did. It was the Nobel Committee's pressure tactic to steer Obama into a path they think as peaceful. In 1993, they gave it to F. W. de Klerk – last South African President of Apartheid era who gave way to Nelson Mandela the following year.

Although it sometimes honors great individuals, the award can often be silly. In 2001, United Nations was given the award at a time when they were getting more dysfunctional & irrelevant than ever. The EU was given the award in 2012 at a time the organization was risking an implosion following the trouble in Greece & Cyprus. Yasser Arafat & Israeli leaders were given in 1994, just for getting into the same room and talking. It is not about what happened, it is about what they want to happen.

In Malala, the committee probably sees a future for Pakistan. They want to remind Pakistan of its responsibilities and inspire other women there. This is right now relevant there at a time when it is at a deep crisis. In the case of Mr. Satyarthi, it is mostly for his past work, but is also a gentle reminder for India that it has not fully succeeded in liberating all its children out of bondage & forced labor.

Marketing for Peace

The awards often help certain causes get attention.

  1. In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr got the award. This got international attention to him and helped put a little more pressure that resulted in range of new acts starting from Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  2. Aung San Suu Kyi got the award in 1991 throwing spotlight on Burma & the democratic movement.
  3. In 2007, it was given to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore to remind leaders of climatic change.
  4. In 2010, it was given to Liu Xiaobo at a time when China had grown quite big and protests were in over the country related to land.

For reformers like Satyarti this extra attention can help a long way. For Malala, this extra credibility will help her make better deals. It might make it harder for Pakistan's leaders to ignore her or imprison her. The increased pride in Pakistan will help her market her cause better.

Timing, Timing & Timing

Do you think that it is accidental that an Indian & Pakistani is sharing the award? Do you think it is accidental that they are sharing this at a time when the border clashes are getting more severe? If you think that, think again.

  1. In 1993, when Mandela got the award at the last stages of the Apartheid, they also made sure the apartheid regime under F. W. de Klerk also got it. This ostensibly made both sides get comfortable & also shone the world's spotlights to force them to come to a quicker deal.
  2. In 1994, when Yasser Arafat was given the award, they also made sure the Israelis leaders got it. A similar script was played after the 1978 peace talks – between Egypt & Isreal on the same issue. As you might have guessed by now, both leaders got the Nobel.
  3. In  2013, at the height of a major chemical disaster in Syria, the award was given to Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – again to remind the world of something.

In case of Peace prize, they also make sure they balance by providing awards to competing countries & ethnic groups at the same time.

It is about themes & groups

Almost all Nobel prizes and especially the Peace Prizes are given thematically. Each year, they pick up a specific theme & honor the great people who fit into that theme.

This year, the theme was protecting children. That's how Malala got it as she is the most prominent child activist out there. And the Nobel committee, like it always does, made sure that an Indian & Pakistani, Hindu & Muslim, Man & Woman got to share the prize at a time when the tensions in the subcontinent is worsening.

It might be that they wanted to give it to Satyarti and then decided to add Malala or it could be the other way around. But, the point is that you need to be in that theme to be given the award that year.


Summary:

I don't buy the notion that Nobel Prizes are awarded to the person who has contributed the most to peace. I don't believe that Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Barack Obama and countless others who got the medal did bring real peace for humanity. I don't think there is any point in awarding massive world organizations like the UN and Red Cross with these awards. And I don't think that Malala has contributed more to world peace any of the 1000s of other great folks involved in social service & charity organizations. There are folks like Jadav Payeng and Dashrath Manjhi who have done unbelievable wonders & contributed much more tangible.

However, if we stop assuming the false notion that there is an absolute scale to measure a human's contribution to peace and the Nobel Peace Prize is not based on any ranking scale, it is easier to understand the prize. The prize is merely to throw public spotlight on a cause/issue at the right time & bring global pressure to help solve that issue. That's it. Let's get on with it.

Nobel Peace Prizes are not given by accident. They are engineered, timed and to put adequate political pressure on something.

What has Malala Yousufzai done to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

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