According to an article in the NY Times, Malala Yousafzai “became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize — grouped in the same pantheon as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa.” The article went on, however to question whether this 17-year-old teenager who still goes to high school has the ability to effective with her campaign to increase girls’ education worldwide when, in fact, security concerns prevent her from even visiting her home country of Pakistan.
My initial reaction to the story was to wonder why the pantheon of previous Peace Prize winners didn’t include President Obama in 2009 (international diplomacy) and former VP Al Gore in 2007 (climate change). Could it be that even the Times recognizes that those two winners diminish the award?
My second reaction was that, President Obama notwithstanding, the Peace Prize traditionally has been awarded on the basis of past performance, not the prospects for future performance. Thus, Malala should have been awarded the Prize based on what she has done, not on what she will do. Wikipedia partially confirms that view of the Prize:
- “… to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Obviously, the strike zone for the Peace Prize has expanded over time, not unlike the Rhodes Scholarship, which was initially awarded to scholar athletes with “energy to use one’s talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports,” but now routinely is given to nonathletes. Cecil Rhodes probably turned over in his grave as that change evolved.
The Times article reports on the discrepancy between Malala’s experience and that of other winners, but fails to expound on it:
- “Albert Schweitzer won the Nobel Peace Prize after a lifetime of medical and humanitarian work, and Aung Sang Suu Kyi won it after decades of human rights protest in Myanmar, but Ms. Yousafzai is so young that her future path still seems unclear. She often says that she wants to become a leader in Pakistan like another of her heroes, Benazir Bhutto, the first female prime minister of Pakistan, assassinated in 2007.”
Although Malala’s chosen cause – increased girls’ education – is not directly related to the Prize’s criteria, she is not averse to venturing into other arenas, as when she recently challenged President Obama on America’s use of drones:
- Asked how he responded, she gave a knowing look. “He’s a politician,” she said.
Personally, I don’t think a 17-year-old girl has the experience or perspective to match wits with our President on the use of drones. And I don’t think her accomplishments deserve this sort of award. Rather, as with the award to President Obama, the selection committee seems to be using its recipients to advance the committee’s agenda, and Alfred Nobel would not turn over in his grave over that.