TCS Daily

The Nobel Freedom Prize

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - October 15, 2003 12:00 AM

Given the many times I have written in favor of reform and liberalization in the sociopolitical environment of Iran -- both in articles for TCS, and on my own blog -- you can imagine my delight when I found out that Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. Ebadi's award serves to dramatize the ongoing struggle to bring about positive fundamental change in Iranian politics and society, and she joins an illustrious group of Nobel Peace Prize winners like Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa and Aung San Suu Kyi with her recognition by the Nobel committee.


But at the risk of being the skunk at the garden party, I must raise a slight quibble: However happy I am about Ebadi's award, as well as those of the other aforementioned Nobel laureates, the fact is that not a single one of these venerable individuals should have been recognized for making a contribution to "peace." Strictly speaking, the cause for which these laureates are so well known is not peace, but a more important one: Freedom.


Don't get me wrong. After all, who could without hesitation say he is opposed to "peace"? Peace allows us to focus on productive enterprises for ourselves and for our fellow citizens. Peace allows us to devote more resources to meet various domestic policy concerns. Most importantly, peace allows more people the chance to live to a ripe old age, instead of potentially being cut down in the prime of life in either a conventional war, or in an asymmetrical one.


The problem, however, is that too many people conflate "peace" with "freedom," when it is perfectly obvious that one can be at "peace" without being free at the same time. After all, "peace" came about between Germany and Austria after the former absorbed the latter through the Nazi-driven Anschluss of 1938. It was "peace" that reigned between the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact "allies" during the Cold War. In the immediate aftermath of Kuwait's 1990 annexation by Iraq, there was "peace" between the two Persian Gulf nations.


Of course, the danger that Hitler, Stalin and Saddam could be viewed as "peacemakers" by the verdict of history is slight at best (although given the surprising lack of outrage in some quarters regarding Saddam's brutality, one can never be too sure). What concerns me is the belief common among many that "peace" is or should be our ultimate goal. Certainly, peace is preferable to war, but only when it is a just or honorable peace. A peace that is defined not merely by the absence of war, but rather by a fundamental respect for the right of people to live free of oppression.


We naturally abhor and despise war. We are human beings who desire on a conscious and subconscious level the continuing survival and propagation of the human race. But this doesn't change the fact -- as political theorists like Machiavelli and Clausewitz have pointed out -- that sometimes war is a fundamentally necessary exercise of statecraft that is, however tragically, oftentimes a nation-state's only means to achieve its security interests.


Similarly, peace in and of itself, is not desirable. Certainly, if a just peace reigns, any war that seeks to disrupt that peace is likely unjust and immoral. However, if the peace sought is unjust in nature, war -- according to theorists both ancient and modern -- can be morally justified. The fetishization of peace can obscure the lamentable but indisputable truth that sometimes, war is necessary and just.


Unfortunately, the award of a "Peace Prize" to people like Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi and Shirin Ebadi serves to disguise the fact that the fight each of these historic and great individuals devoted their lives to was anything but "peaceful." The Nobel laureates were not interested in "peace." They were -- and are -- interested in bringing about fundamental change that results in an increase in human liberty. Sakharov and Walesa faced the continuing threat that their movements would be crushed by Communist totalitarianism. Aung San Suu Kyi continues to contend with the dreaded possibility that her supporters could find themselves imprisoned or killed. Shirin Ebadi has already gone to prison for her beliefs, as have many of her fellow reformers. Many others have been killed for their opposition to the totalitarian Islamic regime.


Perhaps the Nobel committee should begin awarding deserving individuals with the "Nobel Freedom Prize." Such individuals may have engaged in acts that were not "peaceful," but did lay the groundwork for an increase in human liberty. In his famous literary work La Vita Nuova, the poet Dante Alighieri tells us nomina sunt consequentia rerum ("names are the consequence of things"). Naming and awarding a Nobel Freedom Prize would demonstrate that however important peace is, it is far better to live free in conflict, than to suffer an unjust peace. However onerous conflict may be, it is preferable to any "peace" that only serves to shackle and crush fundamental human aspirations. After all, a "peace" that disregards issues of human freedom and liberty is only a peace of the grave.


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