Richard Taylor discusses the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai and responds to the questions of whether Malala is “less deserving” than other Nobel laureates.

Malala Yousafzai. Photo courtesy of David Levy

There has been some strange reaction to the recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to 17 year old Malala Yousafzai (along with 60 year old, Indian children’s rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi). Whilst most westerners seem to have welcomed the decision to award Malala this distinction, including many world leaders, there has been vocal opposition from some corners. Some here have questioned the award on the grounds of her age (the most common age bracket for recipients is 60-64), and she is by some 15 years the youngest ever recipient. But age should be a tiny factor, if it is indeed a factor at all. The impact she has had in her short life, and the light that she has shone on the issues of youth rights, women’s rights and education have been massive.

Her genuine fight for peace may well be considered more important than that of many other Nobel laureates. For example, Barack Obama won the award in 2009 yet he presides over the controversial US drone programme, a cause of much anger and resentment in some parts of the world. Is Malala less deserving?

In truth, much of the most vociferous opposition to Malala’s award has come from more religious and conservative parts of the world, including her native Pakistan. This includes the following, baffling claim from a journalist based in Mingora (Malala’s home town): “The Americans and Malala’s father conspired to get her shot so she can become a hero.” This is as shocking as it is idiotic, since a conspiracy to get her shot would more likely have killed her than created a hero. Others claim she is simply lucky, and that her shooting could have happened to anyone.

But this misses the point entirely. Malala Yousafzai is not special because she got shot, but because of what she did after she got shot. An ordinary teenager may well have thanked her lucky stars that she survived, and retreated into obscurity. Malala did not. Her voice became louder, her star became brighter and she was able to expose the unfair treatment of young people, especially girls, around the world. When she speaks, people listen, and she has been instrumental in drawing attention to other abuses around the world, perhaps most notably in Nigeria since the abduction of over 200 girls from their school by Islamic militants.

When the Nobel prize is awarded, there is invariably opposition from some corner of another. This has been true even of some of the most revered figures, including Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama, but especially of controversial personalities such as Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and David Trimble. But this should not stop the Nobel committee from making such decisions.

This year’s prize, shared as it was between an elder Indian Hindu, and a young Muslim Pakistani was symbolic as it showed that religious, national and age barriers can be transcended by the pursuit of peace, rights and equalty.

But, of course, only by those with the strength and the guts to do so.