"Do you ever get that 'did I miss a memo?' feeling? When something happens that seems so bizarre,the only way you can make sense of it is to posit a missing note went round to everyone else but left you off the distribution list, leaving you baffled and uncomprehending? I felt like that when the winner of the Nobel peace prize was announced this month.
It’s not, to be honest, a thing I usually pay much attention to. My mind is too full of important issues, like remembering what time to pick the child up from nursery, ensuring the house has reasonable supplies of food and loo paper and checking I’ve set up a series link for The Daily Show repeats. But this year, you see, Malala Yousafzai – the then-15-year-old (now 16) who was shot in thehead by the Taliban for her public campaigning against the regime’s education ban for girls in her region of Pakistan but survived and has continued her activism uncowed and unbowed – had been nominated and was the favourite to win.
And I, along with many others, thought this would be rather completely wonderful and therefore was keeping an interested eye on proceedings. However, the prize was won by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – the body that makes sure that states signed up to the Chemical Weapons Treaty complywith its rules. It is currently particularly busy in Syria trying to ensure that the capacity of President Bashar al-Assad and the rebel fighters to maimand murder with these indiscriminately brutal weapons is as limited as can be.
It’s important work, of course, which should make us all ashamed that we are not doing something better with our lives (particularly if you are something indefensibly parasitical like a Made In Chelsea star, or a columnist) but… it is, you know, kinda… well, that’s its job. It’s what it was set up to do. It’s what the people within it knew they were signed up to do and for which they are remunerated. Malala – unless she secretly invited the Taliban to shoot her in the head in the world’s riskiest PR stunt – not so much.
It would have been a signal to everyone that peace can be achieved
Perhaps it was asking too much to expect a committee that last year gave the prize to the EU as a whole for its peace-keeping efforts over theyears (ignoring its major role in the then still-burgeoning credit crisis and again, rewarding something for fulfilling the minimal terms of its brief), to Barack Obama in 2009 when his bum had barely had time to warm the White House sofa, and, most famously and risibly, to Henry Kissinger in 1973 whose various decisions during the Vietnam war and the bombing of Cambodia led many to feel he was more a warmonger than peacemaker.
But could they really not have awarded the prize to Malala? It would have been recognition of her achievements in highlighting the issue of girls’ education and the Taliban’s threat to it before they attempted to assassinate her. It would have been recognition of her unceasing and unquantifiable bravery since, given she has kept on with her activism instead of hiding away in fear as I think most of us would have (if we’d even been brave enough to speak out against aviolent occupying force in the first place). It would also have been a statement of hope, an investment in – almost a promise to – the future. If Malala had won it would have been a wordless signal to everyone, in free democratic countries and in those that most definitely are not, that we all should believe that peace can be achieved. That we should still aspire to that state, not simply to the dogged pursuit of disarming some of the threats to it, potent though they are and vital though that pursuit is.
Was it too much of a leap to award it to a young, non-white woman? I’m not, in fact, generally too bothered about the Nobel committee’s propensity to choose old, white male winners – they have to draw from a pool of candidates that social filters have already determined are likely to be so, and for which they are not responsible – but Malala was in every way so rare and perfect a recipient that the question cannot help but cross one’s mind.
Ah, well. malala is 16, amazing and inspirational with or without a Nobel Peace Prize. And, godwilling, she’ll win 50 of the things before she’s done. She remains rather completely wonderful.”
Main image credit: Rex Features