By Joe Armenta
Just over a month ago I was sitting at the front desk of a local Congressman’s district office fielding phone calls from angry constituents who felt the need to take part in the democratic process by yelling at an intern about their disapproval of the potential military intervention in Syria. Today, however, some of the same people are frustrated with the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s recent decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—a key player that helped craft a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
On Friday, when the Committee announced its decision, media outlets and everyday individuals immediately lambasted the declaration, feeling that it bypassed a much more deserving individual. Among the nominees for the prize was 16-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived an attempted assassination by a Taliban fighter in October 2012.
Since the attempt on her life, Malala has become an international icon for girls’ education throughout the world. In a speech at the United Nations, Malala said, “today I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on women to be independent to fight for themselves.”
Malala’s fight for education equality is certainly commendable. There are few words to describe how inspirational her quest for change in the region has been; however, her struggle is not worthy of the Peace Prize.
Malala is a social revolutionary—one bent on shattering the walls of the establishment by challenging people in power. While the tactics she uses are peaceful, she is engaging in an entrenched political battle rooted in regional conflict. To us Westerners, the challenge for girls’ education in itself is just and admirable; but we need to recognize that her battle is encouraging further conflict, not peace.
This is not to say that she should stop her battle, but rather to recognize the true notion of peace. Peace is far less sexy than Malala’s fight. It’s decided over long conversations in crowded conference rooms whereby stakeholders hash out negotiations on how to divide their spoils in a way that does not lead to humans massacring one another. The Peace Prize is bestowed to encourage this process and recognize its importance.
Herein lies the OPCW. Just over two months ago the United States was on the verge of military intervention in civil war-plagued Syria. After two years of fighting in the country, President Bashr al-Assad deployed chemical weapons on civilian populations in a Damascus suburb. This crossed the red line previously laid out by President Barack Obama, who quickly asked Congress to craft legislation allowing for airstrikes on Syrian chemical stockpiles.
Many analysts denounced this action, calling it an act of war detrimental to regional stability in the Middle East. The attacks, they said, would lead to further death and instability similar to that experienced in the 2003 Iraq War. While Congress shied away from the issue, by late September, it looked as if the United States was going to attack.
Peace was only achieved through the OPCW, which diligently worked with all sides of the conflict to hash out a deal that prevented an invasion. In it, Syria promised to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1925 treaty and agreed to abandon its chemical weapons stockpile. In return, the United States agreed to forgo military intervention. In doing so, the organization helped prevent international conflict and added Syria to the international norm against the use of chemical weapons.
Is there a war still waging in Syria? Of course. But with the help of the OPCW, a broader conflict was avoided and the Assad regime was forced to comply to international standards of war. This is certainly worthy of the Peace Prize.
Image by United Nations Information Centres