Nobel Peace prize: The Suu Kyi aberration

| Updated: October 23, 2017 20:51:52

Photo: AP Photo: AP

Because conflict is so perpetual, peace-making has become its hand-maiden industry. Even when peace looks most promising, it begins to dim even before it glows. No group confronts this challenge more seriously than professors in Political Science or International Relations particularly, but to varying degrees those right across the entire Social Sciences spectrum. Politicians ride the winds, too, oftentimes genuinely, but occasionally expediently. Therefore the gap between the training of a professor, to exemplify the academic background, and the practising politician, can be both as wide as an ocean and as narrow as a strait.

Woodrow Wilson received his 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his ivory-tower work on peace, whose most famous practical application was the ill-struck League of Nations. We must still credit him for sowing one time-bomb of a concept called self-determination that was to lead so many peoples to their statehood long after Wilson's time. Theodore Roosevelt may have been the raw trench-war type of a president, but his 'Big Stick' sobriquet obscure how a Nobel Peace prize can be won, as he did in 1906, by even skipping the ivory tower.

Fast-forwarding to the other end of the 20th Century, we see the Wilson-like peace-consumed Jimmy Carter trailblazing human rights globally. He was not from an ivory-tower background, and all he knew about trenches before entering politics was the peanuts he farmed. His painstaking efforts produced the landmark Camp David, for which he even subordinated his re-election campaign, and blessed two others to win the associated Nobel Peace Prize (Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, one a former terrorist, another a military general). He did not win the Nobel Peace prize for them, but the award could not, as if, escape him. When he received it a generation later (in 2002), it was for the far more sustained and disseminated efforts to promote democracy.

Contrariwise, Henry Kissinger received the same prize (in 1973), along with Le Duc Tho, for forging peace in Vietnam: his dogged diplomacy was no different from Carter's gritty Camp David negotiations, but obviously carried more flair and flavour to win him the prize. His ivory-tower scholarly work on Clemens von Metternich at the 1815 Congress of Vienna paved the way for multipolarising Cold War US tensions with the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Like him and Wilson, Barrack Obama came from an ivory-tower background, and like Wilson and Carter, carried an overpowering slogan ("Change we can believe in"). Interestingly, unlike any of his US Nobel Peace laureates (or any worldwide), he did not have to execute any Nobel Peace prize 'exercise' to win the prize: it fell into his lap, much to his own surprise (as he acknowledged in his ceremonial speech), indicating how poor the peace-making business, even more so, the ambience, had become. Without doing the 'dirty work' of peace-making, the annual prize can disturbingly become rudderless.

A very different kind of a Nobel Peace-prize twist (and 'twist' may turn out to be a mild reprobation), is the one given Aung San Suu Kyi. There is no question behind the reasons to award her when it happened, just as there are no more than minor grievances when the authors of civilian bombings (Kissinger) and terrorist actions (Yassir Arafat and Menachem Begin) were singled out for such a prestigious award carrying such human connotations: full-fledged hopes were invested in awarding Obama, and even the half-baked version with Arafat, Begin, and Kissinger was a cut above despair.

As we know, every one of these laureates lived up to those expectations after receiving the prize: they strove for the prize's purposes, thus adding 'beef' to their success. Peace did not always come, or last long if it did, but the fault was not theirs. They deserved the award they received.

Suu Kyi may be the first to not deserve her prize. The argument is specific and potent, made by so many other laureates and well-known world leaders. Under her watch as an elected country leader, Burma/Myanmar has unleashed an ethnic cleansing campaign from October 2016 that directly and flagrantly violated the very pillars and principles of the Nobel Peace Prize. No stipulation exists as to how an award can be revoked, but given the very fluid 21st Century circumstances, perhaps such a stipulation needs to be inserted.

It is not so much about the Rohingyas running for their lives, since some of them have been running literally into the jaws of death: recently-planted land-mines await them even as they escape their Rakhine villages; then, as they cross turbulent Bay of Bengal or Naf River waters in a very wicked Monsoon season, 'drowning', of all fatalities, joins the long list of pitfalls. It is also not so much an armed Rohingya uprising plan to roll back the accumulated onslaught being perpetrated upon them, but a host of other horrors that greet illegal migrants worldwide: international crimes being perpetrated, such as monetary confiscation, raping, and prostitution.

If Myanmar's 2014 election was democratic (and Suu Kyi's ascension was, in all fairness, the result of as fair an election as was possible in a traditionally military-run country at the time), there should never have prevailed the exclusionary, ethnic-cleansing mindset, even at the societal level (led no less by agitated Buddhist groups), that the state could not have ironed out (given the invisible power of the military). Therefore, it is also not so much a voice of loud protest from only Burma's neighbouring country, Bangladesh, where the Rohingyas are headed (not, it must be added, with a welcoming carpet, but a growing reluctance to absorb any more now that capacities are being filled almost everywhere: camps, hospitals, food, homes, shelter from the rains, and so forth): such a voice is being increasingly heard the world over about shifting from the consequences of this particular ethnic-cleansing campaign, to its causes.

A democratic mandate to cleanse the country of its Bangalee natives abuses two hallowed goals of our era: democracy and the Nobel Peace prize instrument of peace. That it was deliberate makes it unforgivable; that is was indiscriminate qualifies it for genocidal claims; and that by letting Suu Kyi get away with this, sets up an ignoble precedent to the worst possible outcome, thus rattling the spirit of Alfred Nobel in his grave. He was rattled badly enough by seeing the consequences of the dynamite he invented; but if he were to live through the consequences of his genuine effort to banish 'weapons of mass destruction' as the dynamite surely must have been the pioneer of. Since the term was not even invented in Nobel's time, it would be a disgraceful ending to the highest human aspiration. For once, the answer can no longer blow with the wind. The Nobel Peace prize-ascertaining body must stand up, since it is time to collectively say: Aung San Suu Kyi, you have become a nightmare worse than what prompted Alfred Nobel to create the prize.

Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.

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