By Shajahan Madampat, Special to Gulf News
The choice of Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo for this year's Nobel Peace Prize is a pretty tame affair. That it may serve as a thorn in the Sino-western relations is only a minor detail in the complex equations between authoritarian capitalism and liberal democratic capitalism. Larger neo-liberal considerations of economic growth will relegate the issue to the sidelines soon.
More important is the pattern that slowly but steadily emerged from the choice of winners over the years, now constituting a list of 120 individuals and organisations since 1901. While the majority of Nobel laureates in peace turned out to be pro-Western establishmentarians of various hues, the dissidents chosen for the honuor almost invariably came from countries outside the Euro-American consensus.
The elastic way the Nobel committee interpreted the idea of peace is a brilliant chicanery, couched in politically correct language. Environmentalism, micro-credit initiatives for the poor, human rights and democracy activism in the Global South, voluntarism for the poor and the sick, mass killings turned temporary peace, eloquent articulations on peace which never translate into reality, development of high-yield strains of wheat, building hospitals in Africa and a host of other accomplishments qualified the winners for the prize. The choice of Barack Obama stood out as both bizarre and benign as it was conferred in recognition of perceived good intensions!
The most glaring of all Nobel Peace omissions was perhaps Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, although several others inspired by him made it to the list in later years, including Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama.
Gandhi lovers will, however, remain grateful to the Nobel Committee for saving him from the company of Theodore Roosevelt, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Henry Kissinger, all with the blood of innocents on their hands.
The Realist Theory-derived idea of peace the Nobel Committee represents would in any case have been anathema for Gandhi, whose notion of peace and militant non-violence derived from deep-felt moral and ethical convictions. Had the choice fallen on him, he would surely have rejected it for its entire history went against the grain of his life and thought.
The Nobel Prize was established by Alfred Nobel, whose massive wealth came from the invention of dynamite and ballistics and who had played a leading role in Europe's arms race. His products had killed legions of Europeans, bringing him the nickname ‘merchant of death'. The trajectory that the prize took ever since inception has not been any less paradoxical.
On many occasions the awardees resumed their wars — the ceasefire from which earned them the honour — soon after pocketing the prize money! The choice of Kissinger in 1973, Peres and Rabin post-Oslo in 1994 and the South Korean president Kim Dae-jung in 2000 for ‘peace and reconciliation with North Korea' are examples.
A newspaper columnist once joked that Jimmy Carter, Obama and Al Gore won the Prize for simply being a trifle better than George W. Bush! Though Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini were nominated at different points of time, they thankfully did not make it to the final round!
Similarly, there were instances of people winning the award and the very reason for their selection soon proving wrong. The British writer Sir Ralph Norman Angell was conferred the Nobel in 1910 (just before the First World War) for his theory that the integration of European economies made militarism and war obsolete.
Regoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan indigenous rights activist, had won the award in 1992, but a 1999 book by American anthropologist David Stoll revealed that many of the claims that clinched the prize for her were actually fabricated.
One fact that remains incontrovertible, though, is that the Nobel Peace Prize has never been conferred on a person or organisation that even remotely suggested the main hurdle to peace in the modern world came from the hegemonic ambitions and machinations of the dominant Western powers, most notably the US today.
If dissidents championing human rights and democratic values in various countries — such as Liu Xiaobo in China, Shirin Ebadi in Iran and Lech Walesa in Cold-War era Poland — are worthy of the prize, then the most deserving human rights and democracy activist in the world today is Noam Chomsky.
Over the past five decades, Chomsky not only championed the cause of peace across the globe, but also consistently exposed the real threats to peace with impressive scholarly rigour.
But will Chomsky ever win the prize? No way because, as Fredrik Heffermehl, the author of the 2008 book Nobel's Will, said, the Nobel committee members are guided not so much by the testament of Alfred Nobel, but rather, the political situation on the ground!
Shajahan Madampat is a cultural critic and commentator based in Abu Dhabi.
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Figure source: Profiles in Science