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Serving the stereotypes

Florian Weigand / sri
December 10, 2014

Oslo's decision to honor a Pakistani and an Indian is symbolic politics. The international community has so far failed to present a viable concept to achieve sustainable peace in South Asia, says DW's Florian Weigand.

Friedensnobelpreis Verleihung Malala und Satyarthi 10.12.2014 Oslo
Image: Reuters/NTB Scanpix/C. Poppe

Around the world, activists are fighting for peace, freedom and equality, often risking their lives to achieve this goal. From thousands of potential candidates, the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo honors one, two or three persons - sometimes even organizations - every year with the Nobel Peace Prize.

For years, the jury has been overtly following the media's light beam to award the prize, be it the man of hope five years ago, Barack Obama, or Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. It also honored the work of institutions such as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which received the prize last year for its work in Syria. The Committee seems to have granted the prize in connection to regions or issues which have captured global media attention.

And the trend hasn't changed this year. Terrorism, Islamism and the persecution of Christians in Pakistan have been regularly covered by international media. Malala Yusufzai is now the world's best known counter-narrative to all the wrong things happening in the country. In order not to annoy neighboring India in view of this hymn of praise to a Pakistani citizen, the prize was also awarded to an Indian.

But let's be clear: The work done by the young Malala and her co-laureate from India, Kailash Satyarthi, deserves the utmost respect. And it must be noted that these two people have done remarkable things amid high personal risk, unlike in the case of Obama. Many hope that their projects in both India and Pakistan will get a sustained push – also in the form of financial assistance - which could facilitate a long-lasting commitment.

Deutsche Welle REGIONEN Asien Paschtu Dari Florian Weigand
Florian Weigand, DW's Urdu serviceImage: DW/P. Henriksen

The bottom line is that the jury seems to have succumbed once again to stereotypes conveyed in the media. Pakistan is presented there as an Islamists stronghold where girls can't go to school. While this may be true for the areas bordering Afghanistan and many villages in the countryside, this is certainly not the case in large cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Quetta or Islamabad. In these places you can even find elite universities for young women. In large cities, gender is not the decisive factor for determining someone's education prospects, but rather personal wealth.

India, on the other hand, is portrayed as an emerging, mostly peaceful, economic power with one major stain: the wealth of the elites is based on the bonded labor of lower classes, and especially on child labor. Hence it fits the picture that Oslo chose Kailash Satyarthi, a crusader against child labor, for the Nobel Peace Prize. But some tend to forget that India is also home to religiously and socially motivated violence, a lack of education opportunities for girls.

After confirming these stereotypes, Western countries may now lay back and think that they at least have done something symbolic for the region. But the truth of the matter is that in terms of real politics, badly needed concepts for the future of the subcontinent are still missing.

India and Pakistan - neighboring countries working without restraints to improve their nuclear capabilities - have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Muslim-majority Kashmir, which they both claim in full, but rule in part. A total of 1.5 billion people live in these two countries still plagued by poverty, terrorism and social injustice.

The US and the EU only have a limited interest in resolving the problems between these two countries, as long as these issues don't lead to war. Pakistan is important, but only in relation to Afghanistan. The same is true for India which is only significant for economic reasons. This is not a regional perspective. Let's hope that the latest Nobel Peace Prize prompts the international community to get involved more closely with the subcontinent and to work towards the reconciliation of these long-time enemies. Only then will this Nobel Peace Prize truly serve peace.

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