THOSE of us who might be tempted to feel sad that Malala
Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize last week should not be
too disappointed. The Peace Prize is a political dog's breakfast.
It was an afterthought of Alfred Nobel, and is thought by some to
represent a gesture of penitence for his part in the development of
weapons of violence.
Nobel not only invented dynamite, but also helped to transform
the Swedish iron and steel company Bofors into one that
manufactured armaments. Today, nominations for the prize come from
national governments, eminent judges, academics, and perhaps far
too many former recipients and members of the Nobel Committee.
The criteria for making the peace award are different from those
that apply to other categories. Take the prize for physics, awarded
this year to Peter Higgs for anticipating the discovery of the
Higgs boson. This is a landmark, and will be important for decades.
But the peace prize is always topical, and often awards aspiration
rather than actual achievement.
When the winners are announced, one often has a sense that the
committee is delivering a heavy nudge to the recipients to continue
on a political path that the committee itself approves of. Think of
the recent award to the European Union (presumably to reward the
fact that the member nations have not gone to war with one another
since its foundation); or the award to Barack Obama, before he had
actually done anything to justify it; or to Yasser Arafat, Yizhak
Rabin, and Menachem Begin - whose main contribution to peace was to
serve their own political agendas.
The most notorious award of all was to Henry Kissinger and Le
Duc Tho in 1973, during peace negotiations at the end of the
Vietnam War. Le Duc Tho honourably refused to accept, on the
grounds that peace had not yet come.
The awarding of the prize to those monitoring the destruction of
chemical weapons in Syria is a typical Nobel Committee decision,
designed to express disapproval of belligerence and to flatter
Vladimir Putin for his initiative in finding a way through the
crisis. There is nothing wrong with that, except that it would be
nice if the money and the status went to people who personally
strove for a peace that did more than to defend their own
Malala is not the only potential candidate to be ignored by the
committee. Gandhi was never awarded the prize. I don't think Jesus
would have stood much chance, either.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the
diocese of Oxford.