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

polity : 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 ] -1

Answer by Michael Moszczynski:

Giving Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize is like giving the Nobel Prize for Literature to the winner of the National Spelling Bee.

This is nothing to take away from her; she is a tremendously courageous person and, in my opinion, a force for good in the world. She is an inspiration, and everyone in the world should see her as such. It is completely possible – and perhaps even likely, based on her activism so far – that in the decades to come she will have an impact on the world that is worthy of the Nobel Prize. It is also possible she will retire to obscurity, or simply devote her life to projects that turn out to be unsuccessful. We simply don't know; but as courageous a person as she is, she hasn't done much to further the lot of children in the world yet. She was thrust into the international spotlight by a brutal attack, and has impressed us all with her perseverance, intelligence and principles, but she hasn't yet had the time to accomplish much. Winning the Spelling Bee is a tremendous accomplishment, something only a truly exceptional person could achieve – but it's not the same as writing a great work of literature, nor should one of its contestants be judged by that standard.

This is a problem that has dogged the Nobel Peace Prize in recent years – the awarding of speculative prizes in the hope that the recipient will eventually do something to deserve them, the most obvious example being that of Barack Obama when he was elected. In every other field, the prize is awarded to those who have spent a lifetime excelling in their fields, and it is often given only many years after the work it rewards, after the effects of that work have been seen – it takes years for a paper to have a major impact on the world of physics, and it takes years for a person or an organisation to do something that truly makes the world a better place.

In every news story I've seen, Yousafzai gets top billing while Satyarthi is relegated to a subheadline, sometimes not even getting a picture. Yet his organisation has helped, if the reporting is correct, tens of thousands of children in a very tangible way. This is an achievement worthy of the prize; Yousafzai, meanwhile, has done very little on the ground, having mostly completed books and speeches for a Western audience. No knock against her – no one could have accomplished much in such a short time at such an age! – but the fact is the prize is supposed to be a reward for accomplishments, not a statement of support for someone who might have them in the future. The standards of the Peace Prize aren't really appropriate for someone like her who is only just starting out her humanitarian activist career ­– none of us know if that career will be worthy of such an award, though of course we hope it is.

There's a larger point, however, that has nothing to do with Yousafzai or Satyarthi, and that's the obsession with 'awareness' that has gripped so much of the West – there seems to be a belief that making Westerners aware of the injustices of the world is more important than helping the victims of those injustices. Many recent recipients of the prize have been these kinds of symbolic nods to Western public opinion, as though the committee was using the prize as a million-dollar upvote, wanting to indicate that they like Obama's speeches, they like speaking out against the PRC, they like inspirational schoolgirls. And those were all good things! But ultimately, people are being judged by the media impact they have in the West, not by what they accomplish for the people they're trying to help. Satyarthi has organised to help children in India escape child labour, and lobbied his government to change its laws. Yousafzai may be an inspiration, but her impact on Western public opinion has been far, far greater than her impact on schooling in Pakistan, but it seems that nowadays, the former is far more important than the latter.

Malala Yousafzai may one day deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, but she certainly doesn't today.

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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s