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Moving the goalposts

Is there no candidate from the Indian subcontinent whom one could nominate, keeping in mind the elastic definitions of peace, as deserving of the Nobel Prize? Farrukh Dhondy writes.

columns Updated: Oct 23, 2012 01:57 IST

The European Union (EU) as an institution wins this year's Nobel Peace Prize and the President, one Mr Jose Manuel Barossa, welcomes the award with a grin that would have sent the Cheshire Cat back to the mirror or his PR personal trainer. He trotted out the expected platitudes about the EU forestalling another World War through European instigation.

The news of the prize was intercut on television with scenes in Madrid of police dragging anti-EU demonstrators off the streets in a very non-peaceful fashion and with scenes from Athens where thousands of milling protesters fought pitched battles with sticks and stones against the helmeted and shield-bearing armies of Greek cops.

In Britain the recent annual Tory Conference was full of anti-EU rhetoric, statistics and plots and plans to convince the government to quit the Union. Factions in Spain, Greece, Britain and the rest of the EU countries regard the award as farcical and even see the EU as the heel of at best bureaucratic and at worst German imposition.

Useless to point out to these nay-sayers that it's only a Peace Prize and not a Prosperity, Fairness or Freedom-from-Bureaucracy one. A single hit for a single perceived virtue or achievement.

That should be adequately clear as Henry Kissinger was awarded the Prize in 1973. He was US President Nixon's Security Adviser and the architect of an attempted plan to end the Vietnam War by negotiating a truce with Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnamese representative Le Doc Tho with whom Henry shared the prize. Neither of these gentlemen was given the prize for Good Books or Good Looks. War broke out again before the prize was awarded to Kissinger whom very many in the world, including myself, thought of as a warmonger. It struck us as the award of the Nobel Truth Prize (there isn't one) to Pinocchio. Perhaps the Nobel Committee thought that a few days of peace were better than none.

The lasting anomaly of the Nobel Peace Prize is the award of 1948. The Norwegian Nobel Committee which judges the prize had made it a rule that there could be no posthumous award. It had to go to living people or institutions - 1948 was of course the fateful year when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. The Committee must have been fully aware of the slaughter that accompanied the Partition of the subcontinent and that very many detractors of the Mahatma, including Nathuram Godse and associates, attributed the tragic resolution and division to him.

The story goes that the Mahatma's candidature was debated by the Norwegian Committee and there were those round the table who objected to the award. The public contention was that no posthumous award could be presented, but that proved not to be the case when the prize went in 1961 to Dag Hammarskjold, the UN Secretary General who died in a plane crash on his way to negotiate a ceasefire and settlement in Zambia.

Now if anyone has notes on what went on around that table in the debate about Gandhiji's candidature, please submit them to me (for the usual nominal fee of course) as I think it would make a riveting stage play! Deciding not to award the prize to anyone that year might betoken respect for Gandhi's unparalleled achievement or it may have been a compromise with the objectors.

The Hammarskjold award seemed a legitimate enough exception to make, though giving the prize in 2007 to Al Gore for his public stance on climate change seems strange. There is no prize for services to the environment so the definition of peace must have been once again stretched. The documentary on which Gore's reputation was largely built has been thoroughly questioned, some of its statistics and scare-mongering disproved in a British court and some of its photography, such as pictures of a polar bear cub isolated on a floe of ice, have been shown to be nothing more than staged and doctored advertising shots in the greater cause. The cute polar baby was helped off the floe where they had posed him and fed a good lunch of fish by the camera crew when the photo-shoot was done.

Though it's common sense to deduce that one member of the EU would not militarily attack the other as one could only lose potential markets by bombing or invading the people you export to, it is not conclusive proof that the formation of a union is the only incentive to peace. There are treaties such as Nato and the fact that Europeans have progressed through travel and the exchange of populations to understand each other and reduce their centuries-old xenophobia.

Europe has not been completely at peace either. Nationalist movements in Catalonia and Northern Ireland have resorted to violence, terror and what each movement would see as war against a colonial state. The conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia, though territorially in Eastern Europe occurred before Eastern European countries were members, associate members or candidate members of the EU. Would full membership have averted what were essentially territorial conflicts stimulated by religious divisions?

Those questions aside, one remains!

Mother Teresa was awarded it in 1979. She was cited as a citizen of Albania. Whether she was working for the promotion of peace or to bring the souls of mortals to the Kingdom of Heaven through Jesus Christ remains a question which I think I can answer but won't. She took grants and money for her saintly work from Enver Hoxha of Albania and from Papa Doc of Haiti, both dictators without any reputation whatsoever of peaceful behaviour towards their citizens. Again, the Nobel Committee would probably have been aware of these facts and once again the definition of peace was expanded to include the works of the saintly nun.

So the remaining question: is there no candidate living or dead from the Indian subcontinent whom one could nominate, keeping in mind the elastic definitions of peace I have demonstrated, as deserving of the prize?

Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London

The views expressed by the author are personal