A Pakistani teenage girl received the highest honor that Western countries can award a person who has made an extraordinary contribution to society. Several days ago, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai was summonsed from her classroom in the middle of chemistry class at Edgbaston High School for Girls in Birmingham to be informed that she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “heroic struggle,” under particularly difficult circumstances, for Pakistani girls’ right to an education.
We can guess that Yousafzai is very glad, even if I guess that she was not all that surprised. Her relationship with the West began early, and on the right foot. At 11 years old, she was writing a blog for the BBC describing what life under Taliban rule was like for a smart girl dreaming of becoming a physician. As the loyal daughter of her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, who runs a network of schools, Malala wanted very much to use her right to an education.
Since being saved miraculously from an assassination attempt in 2012, when a Taliban operative shot her at close range, she has become a well-known international symbol of the struggle for women’s education. She has been awarded many prizes in recent years, and recently the United Nations declared her birthday Malala Day in recognition of her work.
Even if Malala is an exceptional and praiseworthy young woman, one cannot ignore the fact that her values match those of the West, and the timing of her receiving the Nobel Peace Prize serves the West’s war on the fanatical and bloodthirsty components of Islam. The Norwegian Nobel Committee honored Yousafzai not only for her struggle, but also because she worked against her own government at the risk of her personal liberty and her life.
Edward Snowden, former contract employee for the United States National Security Agency, is another young person who has worked for the exposure and rectification of his government’s injustices. His professional and financial future were assured, and had he chosen to use his expertise in information technology, he would have fitted comfortably into the private labor market. But Snowden gave the Washington Post and the Guardian, openly, classified information about PRISM, a secret mass electronic surveillance data mining program of the American administration that collected enormous amounts of information about users from nine large Internet companies.
Snowden’s revelations exposed the secret handshake between the American administration and information companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple, together with the practical techniques of the government’s supervision and surveillance of its citizens. The journalists who publicized the documents were awarded the Pulitzer Prize, while Snowden received temporary asylum in Russia.
At the risk of his personal freedom and, some would say, his life, Snowden exposed his government’s paradigm reversal, which took place far from the public’s eye: If surveillance of criminal suspects was once supported by an appropriate court order after having gone through a legal proceeding, in post-9/11 America random data about citizens was being collected to identify suspicious patterns of behavior to stop a crime before it took place.
The essence of the Nobel Peace Prize might be defined as the outline of a path, and not only as a way to perpetuate existing values. Awarding it to Snowden, for example, would have ensured a sharp confrontation between the prize committee and the U.S. government. Yet at the same time it would have signaled to the countries of the West that they were slowly becoming societies that kept populations and individuals under supervision and surveillance, in chilling contradiction of their declared democratic spirit.