It can be hard sometimes to believe in optimism in a political world where our government can barely get its act together.
That’s why I am an absolute believer in Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani blogger-turned-education activist who is recovering from a gunshot to the head and now charming hearts all over the world.
Truly, Yousafzai is one of the more inspiring people on this planet. If you haven’t yet, watch interviews of her where she disavowed using violence against Taliban when they came after her and her family.
Her high-profile tour of Western media coincided with the announcement of the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, for which she was nominated and widely expected to win. She is an incredible advocate for peace, even bringing up the issue of drone strikes with 2009 winner Barack Obama.
Of course, Yousafzai did not win. Instead, the honor was granted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its ongoing work to remove chemical weapons from Syria after gas attacks killed more than 1,400 in that ongoing civil war.
I was originally disappointed. How could they snub Yousafzai? It was preposterous. Then, I actually considered it and realized that it was the right choice, for a variety of reasons.
First, the OPCW is combatting one of the most egregious affronts to human rights seen in wartime in decades. That alone justifies the award.
Second, as Princeton’s Zeynep Tufekci points out, the world is full of brave people like Yousafzai, and it is no discredit to her efforts to give the award to an influential nongovernmental institution, a much rarer sight in world politics.
Also, the efforts of the OPCW are very much involved in the day-to-day advancement of peace, whereas Yousafzai’s efforts are more long-term ideas in a country with huge intractable problems. Consider the ridiculousness of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to winners like the European Union and Obama to see why it makes no sense to ignore current attacks on peace in favor of rhetorical solutions.
Importantly, Yousafzai isn’t even yet an adult. It appears that she will (rightfully) have a life before her of international fame and advocacy, and may rise to be the next great Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.
I don’t doubt that she will one day win the Nobel Prize, but part of the reason she is so passionate about education is because she is still in school. I have worries about the negative, or worse, imperialistic effects of the bright-lights Western paparazzi on Yousafzai, even if she has been excellent in public life thus far.
Do I think the world is a better place for hearing Yousafzai’s story? Absolutely. But did the Nobel Prize Committee make the right choice, and do a service to remind us all that the fight for peace is often more complex than the ability of an individual? The answer is less clear, but I think yes.
Patrick Quinlan is a sophomore majoring in international studies and political science.