Flanked on one side
by an American statesman who find drone strikes hilarious,
and on the other side by a professional apologist for ethnic cleansing,
surely Malala occasionally questions the club her Nobel Prize puts her in.
One considers the political record of Aung San Suu Kyi, and one wonders how many deaths can come to be associated with one’s name before one’s Nobel Peace Prize gets to retain some value.
This is what we are inclined to wonder as we listen to survivor accounts, like those from 41-year old Abdul Rahman. He describes in unbearable detail the decimation of his village – Chut-Pyin – by Burmese soldiers; the rounding up of men in a bamboo hut which is then set ablaze; the beheading of two of his nephews, six and nine years old.
One zooms out from the ashes of Chut-Pyin to understand the full magnitude of destruction, and in doing so, risks zooming out so far that the thousands of dead or dying Rohingya people begin to appear microscopic and insignificant. Endless screams from Rakhine coalesce into a background hum that the global citizenry mistakes for a chronic case of tinnitus.
Rohingya, who are predominantly Muslim, have been termed “the world’s most persecuted minority” according to the UN. It’s easy to see why.
The International State Crime Initiative published a report on the persecution of Rohingya people. It used the framework provided by a renowned genocide expert – Daniel Feierstein’s – to conclude that the Rohingya people face the ‘final stages of genocide’. That was back in 2015.
It is worth considering the difficulty Aung San Suu Kyi faces as a civilian leader in a country that’s long wrestled with military dominion. Both domestically and internationally, questions are frequently raised regarding the power actually held by civilian authorities over the might of an almost-autonomous military.
However, watching a Nobel Peace Prize winner resort to a Trump-style condemnation of ‘both sides’ makes it easy for us to discard any sympathy previously held for Aung San Suu Kyi. She does not get the benefit of the doubt. We don’t need to pretend that the million-strong Rohingya people are being thrown to the wolves only because Suu Kyi is playing an important game of political chess on a board that’s bigger than Rakhine. On the list of political priorities, stopping ongoing ethnic cleansing should be second to none.
Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has done more than just deny the scale of the devastation. Her government recently refused visas to a UN team investigating the atrocities against Rohingya Muslims carried out by Myanmar. She continually blames the Rohingya people for their own suffering, and cites ‘security’ – the go-to excuse of every oppressive regime that has ever existed – to validate its army’s wanton aggression against unarmed people.
The Nobel Committee has never revoked a Peace Prize. According to a former deputy member, the Committee’s principle is that their responsibility ends once the honour has been bestowed. The lazy assumption is that the Nobel Peace Prize is a temporal badge of honour that self-destructs after the laureate leaves the stage. The pretence here is that this is not a title that a man or woman wears with pride for the rest of his or her life; but a momentary accolade based on a momentary achievement that would mean nothing to future generations.
This is where Malala can step in to change the world once again.
Contrary to what her opponents have been led to believe, Malala has always resisted the neo-colonial, white-saviour agenda. She supports the Palestinian struggle. She has expressed solidarity with the people of Kashmir. She told Obama what many Pakistanis have said for years: drone strikes are ‘fuelling terrorism’.
It is worth digressing for a moment to highlight a fascinating bit of irony. The Obama Presidency has overseen more drone strikes than any of his predecessors, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties including hundreds of children. The same President then casually joked at the White House Correspondents Dinner, about sending predator drones after Jonas brothers should they try and make a move on his daughters. Yes, Barrack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner as well.
Flanked on one side by an American statesman who finds drone strikes hilarious, and on the other side by a professional apologist for ethnic cleansing, surely Malala occasionally questions the club her Nobel Prize puts her in. The Nobel Committee, after all, is an archaic, over-trumpeted, Eurocentric, and a mortifyingly short-sighted institution that has handed out Peace Prizes to many who have ultimately made this world a worse place. And I don’t think Malala is one of them.
Malala has criticized Aung San Suu Kyi for her embarrassing silence on the Rohingya genocide, but I believe she can do more. I’ve always asserted that Malala Yousafzai is larger than the glass showcase the Western media attempts to confine her into. This person is bigger than her brand. This a girl with a demonstrable courage to defy all boundaries set for her not just by the Taliban, but the powerful institutions of the world attempting to exploit her.
By casting away her Nobel Prize, Malala would do more than just repudiate Nobel Imperialism and the charlatans this club carelessly inducts. It would be a resounding statement that Malala refuses to be institutionalized, and tossed in the same shelf as Aung San Suu Kyi.
She is not a stage-managed icon that satisfies her stakeholders by broadcasting messages of peace that are heart-warming, but ultimately toothless.
Malala has changed the world before. I believe she can change the world again.