Is it going to be Malala today?
Wanna bet? It’s not just international sports like cricket and football and the Olympics, or even beauty contests, you can bet on. Nothing is sacred anymore. Literature is an eminent area on which you can wager too: a Japanese author for the 2013 prize was favoured at 3/1 odds; and J.K. Rowling, of ‘Harry Potter’ fame figures somewhere too.
Even if bookies don’t read much, the standing of nominated authors from all over the world can easily be checked out on the internet. They not only set up betting lines for the Nobel literature prize, but also for the most elusive area of all – peace. Some 108 candidates and 50 organizations were reportedly nominated for this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace. Since merit has become a contentious issue, bookies now look more closely at parties pushing peace candidates – such as the corporate media, foreign policy institutions and other think tanks. With the US, the CNN, the BBC, the SkyNews pushing extraordinarily hard – way ahead of the Pakistanis, and carrying far more clout than us – one bookie finds favoured at 2/1 odds, and Bradley Manning at 16/1.
But the Peace Prize has also become controversial because of how little some recipients have done for peace, while others who have done so much have been bypassed. Take Mahatma Gandhi, whose peaceful approach few would dispute, and who was nominated five times between 1937 and 1948. They didn’t give it to him. In 1948, the year he died, they didn’t award it to anyone because “there was no suitable living candidate”, referring to one interpretation of Nobel’s will – that prizes be awarded only to living persons.
But the Nobel committee can be erratic too. In 1961, it posthumously awarded the well-deserved prize to the former UN Secretary General, – a man of peace for which reason some suspect he was ‘removed’. In 2006, the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee belatedly conceded that Gandhi was the greatest omission in their 106-year history. And still the committee did not give him the award posthumously!
To date, no Peace Prize was given on 19 occasions. But then, people have not been very peaceable for much of that time.
While there have been quite a few controversial recipients of the Peace Prize, the most universally odious of all was perhaps Henry Kissinger, long known as chief architect of America’s aggressive foreign policy, a megalomaniac and habitual warmonger. His open statements about killing and indifference to human suffering said it all. Yet he was awarded the Peace Prize in 1973 simply for being part of the Vietnam Peace Accords – at the very time he was supervising the secret bombing of Laos! He was awarded the prize jointly with Vietnamese revolutionary Le Duc Tho, who was so revolted that he refused to accept it. Two Norwegian Nobel Committee members also resigned in protest.
As undeserved was President Obama’s prize in 2008, shocking the world soon after he took office, and who then went on to militarily destroy several countries and make drone-bombing a habit. He even had the gall to justify dealing with ‘rogue nations’. Later in 2010 he avoided a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize winners on nuclear weapons in US-bombed Hiroshima, although he was in the country at a summit of Asian leaders.
To the question everyone asks: why Obama? One researcher pointed out that, “The Nobel Committee doesn’t necessarily award the Peace Prize for achievements – sometimes they award the prize as a motivator to continue efforts toward peace.” This makes the criteria so loose and broad, just about anyone can be nominated as a potential do-gooder. And it also makes it easy for global and vested interests to pressurize for or bankroll candidates, sweeping away the chances of true performers.
There are lists on the internet of those who should have got the Peace Prize – many impossible to dispute – but didn’t. There’s an internet campaign for Obama’s prize to be withdrawn. Unfortunately the prize cannot be revoked under the rules, no matter how controversial. He could gracefully return it, but $1.4 million is a lot to pass up.
Much appreciated was the 2006 prize for Kenyan environmentalist-activist Wangari Maathai, who is credited with planting over 50 million trees through her Green Belt movement. On the other hand, a 1970 recipient elicited by the US propaganda was Norman Borlaug who developed the so-called Green Revolution wheat seeds. Its high-yield claims in South Asia were short-lived, but ushered in a disastrous era of large-scale water-wasteful, chemical agriculture that destroyed soils, environments and rural lives worldwide.
Few Pakistanis would differ over Abdus Sattar Edhi, who was nominated previously. But people seem to be under the mistaken impression that someone nominated once cannot be nominated again. That’s a huge mistake that civil society can still correct.
Najma Sadeque is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.