A peace-loving decapitation fan

The op-ed debate about the merits or otherwise of Indian author Arundhati Roy being awarded this year’s Sydney Peace Prize is apparently being conducted in an alternative fantasy universe. I can’t think of any other explanation for Sydney Peace Foundation Director Stuart Rees’ observations about Roy’s attitude to the Iraqi insurgency:

To advocate peace with justice you have to be partisan on social and political issues. This week, Gerard Henderson suggested on this page that her support for the Iraqi resistance should disqualify her from being awarded the prize. What this fails to recognise, however, is that resistance is seldom violent.

I wonder whether the family of Kenneth Bigley will be comforted by discovering that the resistance is “seldom violent”? Or the families of the 43 unarmed Iraqi soldiers executed in cold blood while on their way home on leave earlier this week?

Of course, Arundhati Roy hasn’t explicitly supported violence by the Iraqi “resistance” (plucky little freedom-fighting beheaders that they are), but she hasn’t condemned it either as far as I know. Is it even possible to disentagle the seemingly ubiquitous violence in Iraq from the non-violent aspects of the “resistance” (assuming any of the latter actually exist)? I doubt it. Does that disqualify Roy from being awarded a “peace” prize? Possibly not. After all, the same gong went to the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi last year. And the Nobel Peace Prize has at various times been awarded to notable peace-lovers including Henry Kissinger, FW De Klerk, Yasser Arafat and Kim Dae Jung.

Maybe the whole idea of a peace prize is fatally flawed. Any actor on the international stage can only be effective by taking a somewhat “realpolitik” approach, and that will inevitably involve actions and statements that don’t sit easily with a principled commitment to peace. We should take peace prizes just about as seriously as the Gold Logie for Oz TV stars.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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2022 years ago

What a bloody stupid thing to say. “You can be peace-loving and still support violence, because that violence is violent.” Oh, brilliant.

Whatever the merits of supporting the resistance (most of whom do not, it should be mentioned, run around beheading people), it’s hardly conducive to peace.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Roy sounds like a complete airhead. Haven’t read any of her books but this doesn’t incline me to.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Did the Nobel Peace Prize for this year go to the Wangari Maathai who empowered women and stood up for the environment, or to the Wangari Maathai who says in public that AIDS was created by “evil minded scientists” “for the purpose of mass extermination”?

Peace Prizes are a dumb idea. Having said that, taking sides and speaking out implies that you have unpleasant bedfellows, and shut up about the weaknesses of your comrades. That is one reason why activism can be corrosive to the soul. And why you won’t find a public figure who can’t be smeared by some version of Hendo’s usual guilt by association.

Who would Hendo give the prize to? Menzie’s ghost? Sorry, failed to resist Japanese imperialism in 1937 when he clearly had the opportunity to deny them pig iron. Therefore obviously a fascist..

I don’t find support for the resistance in Iraq to be incompatible with “the philosophy and principles of non-violence”. Most of the people of Iraq are probably agin the American occupation and comply only when necessary. Huge numbers of these same people are disgusted by suicide bombers and fundamentalists.

The Sydney Peace Prize does not imply a purist approach to pacifism – there were plenty of people opposed to WW1, for instance, who suffered severely as pacifists, who supported WW2, who would fit the criteria.

Arundhati Roy has done a lot of peaceful protest. She is not kissing terrorists or waving weapons. She is speaking for or directly involved in mass struggles like the dam protests in India, or our own movement against the war in Iraq.

But deeds mean little to Hendo, compared to an alleged failure to condemn violence at a time and place which he nominates. Sometimes I think this “crime of failing to denounce” crap was invented by Kafka. Or Joseph Stalin.

And yes – to Jason and Mark who were thinking over exactly the same post as I was at the same time (magic, just magic..) – Roy does have some dumb moments, but a lot of good ones too. And as a white beneficiary of the British Empire, I don’t have any problem with naming the horrors of “civilising” imperialism. It might help us to understand what is going on in Iraq,

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

What David said. The Sydney Peace Prize does seem to have a very tortuous history – largely because of Hendo’s politicisation of it, I suspect. I haven’t read Roy’s remarks on Iraq so I won’t comment on those. I find her writing on politics much sharper and with the issues in much better focus when she writes about India than on the US and imperialism. She has displayed a lot of courage, in my view, in standing up against both “communal” violence in India and the dispossession of people through unnecessary dam projects tied in with a lot of political corruption and multinational profiteering. She has also been a strong critic – at personal cost – of the slapdash approach of the Indian judicial system to civil liberties.

Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Hi Ken don’t know your email, unrelated point but there’s a spelling mistake on the public law website you maintain =)

PS are you gonna do a post on the collapse of Timor oil talks so I can shamelessly plug the post I’ve done on it elsewhere?

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

David has a point in respect of Wangari Maathi: Person who plants trees and empowers women turns out to be an AIDS Conspiracy theorist flake. And to answer his question, she definitely got the Nobel for the chicks and trees stuff. And she almost certainly wouldn’t have got it if the Committee had been aware that she was a nutjob on AIDS prior to the event.

Arundhati Roy hasn’t actually said that she thinks that beheading people is a good idea and I doubt that she will be. I understand that she got the SPP because she led a successful conservation protest in India – with Gandhian integrity – and has been a fervent opponent of her country’s nuclear arms program. I freely concede that she says a bunch of other stuff that sounds alarmingly like Naomi Klein on speed, but I’m not sure that we should be overly troubled about it in this context. Of course, if it turns out that she’s got a dumbass theory about the origins of the AIDS pandemic, I reserve the right to change my view.

I had more problem with the SPP going to the redoubtable Dr Ashrawi because I’m not convinced that it’s peace she wants so much as victory. I think Stuart and his colleagues might well have held off to see whether the future President Ashrawi was prepared to forgo a war crimes trial for Ariel Sharon in favour of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Desmond Tutu received the SPP for just that reason
and I’m relieved to say that he hasn’t much time for AIDS Conspiracy Nutjobs either.

Philip Gomes
2022 years ago

I do agree that Peace Prizes are questionable, but the effectiveness of Rees approach has stirred debate, which I think is more the point rather than celebrating the recipient.

Marks comments on Roy in India are spot on, she has been very effective in many ways.

If Martin Pike is going to plug a post so will I, If anyone wishes to read an interview with Roy on The SPP/India and South Africa, it’s up on my site, dunno if it’ll help.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

It does Philip. Interesting interview.

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

My problem with the Rees view his comment “The choice of a non-controversial candidate for a peace prize would be a safe option but unlikely to prompt debate or to increase understanding”.

In other words, we won’t give the prize to someone everybody agrees deserves it, we will give it to someone who is (more or less) controversial so that there is debate.

This, of course, brings in considerable subjectivity (even more than otherwise would be the case) – are the controversial elements of the prize recipient acceptable or do they diminish the whole idea. For example, I suspect we are not going to see Bush awarded the prize for his ‘protection’ of the Kurds or of women in Afganistan (agreeing wholly that such efforts were not all that successful).

In addition, you have to think the choice of a well known novelist is another attempt for publicity. I can’t believe there aren’t people working away in, say, Rwanda or Afganistan or Kashmir or parts of the former USSR or China that don’t deserve the prize. But I guess they wouldn’t be controversial, or well known.

Clearly the committee can chose the criteria it wishes. However, to call it a ‘peace’ prize stretches the issue a little bit.

Andjam
2022 years ago

Ideally, the peace prize would go to those who prevented wars where there was little to no justification for either belligerent to go to war. Someone who managed to prevent the equivalent of say the Iran-Iraq war.

Sadly, I can’t think of a “peace prize” that has gone to someone deserving of it (apart from some Iranian activist in 2003, but that was more promoting democracy than peace).

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

We should never be surprised by anything that the “Peace” movement does. In general, it tends to be full of well-intentioned individuals who engage in almost continuous unconscious tokenism. As someone who was asked, in November 1969, to become Secretary of the umbrella Peace organisation in N.S.W., the A.I.C.D., I had a first hand understanding of how they operate. I declined the job in part because I knew they had their hearts in the right place, but the same couldn’t be said for their heads.
Since then I’ve been saddened to see the “Peace” movement undergo many changes, but none of them leading to a more analytical/less emotional stand.
That’s why I’m so rarely surprised by ANY act of foolishness on their part.

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