The Nobel Prize Committee, which is appointed by the Norwegian Parliament and largely contains ex-politicians, has at times seen fit to award its prize to some figures that are anything but peaceful. Henry Kissinger, Shimon Peres and Barrack Obama are all past recipients.
The European Union does not stand in line with these figures, although it is worrying that the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, last month called for a convergence of European foreign policy that “could eventually involve a European army.” The creation of an army does not constitute a peaceful act, and reveals the EU, which Westerwelle was representing, to be a body interested in the proliferation of its own power. It can be argued that on a geo-political stage inhabited by competing nations and powers, an army is necessary for the maintenance of security and stability. However, it is this very characteristic of international power that the Nobel Peace Prize, however realistically, was established to curtail.
The EU’s role in maintaining military peace in Europe cannot be denied. The emphasis that it has placed on co-operation and economic interdependency between member nations is a far cry from the conflict and destruction of human life seen in European history before the middle of the 20th century. However, to accredit the EU (and its previous incarnations) for this sea change is perhaps a simplification of history. The unifying presence of an antagonistic Soviet Union can be seen as one cause for military peace, as can the indebtedness of much of Europe to the United States for rebuilding and protection after the Second World War.
Most importantly, it is an offence to the people of Greece to bestow praise on an organisation that is creating untold suffering and poverty by doggedly – and undemocratically – demanding the adoption of a draconian austerity programme.
In light of this I would venture three alternative recipients for the Nobel Peace Prize, all of whom have uncompromisingly sought to end warfare and bloodshed around the world:
Kathy Kelly is an American peace activist and author who leads ‘Voices for Creative Nonviolence’ – a group that opposes American military and economic warfare through nonviolent protest. In the process of this Kelly has been arrested 60 times, and spent one year in prison for planting corn on the sight of a nuclear missile silo.
Kelly was instrumental in running aid missions between 1996 and 2003 that violated American economic sanctions against Iraq. The most conservative estimate of infant deaths caused by these sanctions in the 1990’s puts the figure at 100,000.
Kelly has provided aid to civilians during warfare in Gaza, Lebanon, Bosnia, Nicaragua and Iraq – and has visited Iraq and Afghanistan over 30 times in attempt to aid civilians and further the cause of peace.
Brian Haw, who died in 2011 aged 62, spent nearly 10 years camped on the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament, protesting, with a megaphone and placards, against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In all of this time Haw only left his camp chair to attend court hearings and, finally, to be treated for lung cancer. Haw was a constant reminder to politicians in Westminster of the immorality of their conflicts, and permanently represented the million or more anti-war protesters that had marched in 2003 against the invasion of Iraq. A posthumous award would maintain that the moral supremacy of his argument remains unforgotten.
Izzeldin Abuelaish is a symbol for the possibility of peace between Israel and Palestine. Abuelaish campaigns relentlessly for peace, despite the tragic circumstances that define his own life. He was born into horrendous poverty in Jabalia Refugee Camp and his niece and three daughters were killed by Israeli tank fire in 2009. Despite the conditions of Jabalia Camp, where he received all of his childhood education, he went on to study medicine and was the first Palestinian doctor to serve in an Israeli hospital – where he treated patients indiscriminate of whether they were Israeli or Palestinian. After the death of his daughters, when his own home was shelled, Abuelaish founded The Daughters for Life Foundation which seeks to improve the lives of women in Israel and Palestine.
If the Nobel Prize Committee is seeking to use its award to make a political statement in support of an embattled European Union it shouldn’t bother. The statements that these people spend their lives representing are far more worthwhile.