Zeytinoglu: Malala’s peace prize is premature


Ekin Zeytinoglu, Columnist

Recent news has caused an array of feelings that can be roughly described as worrying, traumatic and disheartening all at the same time: ISIS is increasing pressure in Kobani, Syria. Protests are escalating close to the Syrian-Turkish border. The threat of Ebola remains.

However, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi’s accomplishments, singled out among others, promoted one feeling and one feeling only: hope. Hope both in the form of a possible solution for the once again intensifying Indo-Pakistani conflict in Kashmir and in the form of an international recognition of the inequality of children’s education in some of the world’s poorest and most dangerous regions.

Malala is a 17-year-old Pakistani human rights advocate for education and women and a Taliban terrorism survivor. Satyarthi, founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement, is a pioneer in freeing more than 83,000 children in 144 countries from child labor. The pair were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an award with both indisputable and controversial laureates, for their work for children’s rights. With recipients such as Nelson Mandela, the 14th Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr.  and Amnesty International, the Nobel Peace Prize has undoubtedly found noble and worthy owners, who by Alfred Nobel’s definition have done “the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.” But at times the Nobel committee loses track: 1973 winner Henry Kissinger was involved in the Cambodian bombings and supported one of the 20th century’s most tyrannical leaders.

Unquestionably, if the efforts of either Malala or Satyarthi are going to fall into one of Nobel’s categories, it is going to be in the former. Their efforts should be admired and supported in every possible way. Without any doubt, child education, human rights advocacy and campaigning to end child labor promote a peaceful future. It is impossible to assign an absolute scale to measure a person’s contribution to peace. Therefore, the Nobel Peace Prize should not be based on any similar system.

If we simply try evaluating their works in a global context, Malala, despite being a prominent figure and an excellent orator, has hardly done anything more outstanding than any of her less commercialized and perhaps even more threatened peers suffering under Boko Haram or the Lord’s Resistance Army. Even in Turkey, there are various organizations and at least hundreds of individuals working for children’s rights with no less success despite the minimal media coverage and international recognition. Meanwhile, Satyarthi has dedicated more than four decades to a cause at the end of which he managed to make a great difference in thousands of lives. Although we can name lots of institutions and individuals with similar concerns, none of them managed to make the same universal change Satyarthi has successfully demonstrated.

Besides the marginal contrasts in the two laureates’ accomplishments, the different areas of children’s rights they focused on and the separate struggles they pursued does make the prize look like an engineered product at a time when gender relations and Hindu-Muslim and Indian-Pakistani tensions are rising in the world. This does not only damage the Nobel Peace Prize’s reputation and intent, but also overshadows the importance of both winners’ causes by shifting the focus.

Children’s rights to education and child labor are undeniably among the most important challenges of humankind, as they lead to all sorts of inequalities and hostile environments in existence today. Therefore, all efforts in diminishing those inequalities should be admired, supported and respected in every probable aspect. However, the Nobel Peace Prize, despite all the discrepancies, should go to someone who has made a difference in a global context. Although Satyarthi’s award is the evidence of a long-lasting and distinguished struggle, it is only fair to say Malala’s achievement is premature, if not unfounded.

Ekin Zeytinoglu is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].