The Bigger Picture
Published on October 15th 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Now that the Republican Party’s field of presidential candidates finally looks complete, I guess it’s about time for me to begin analyzing these presidential hopefuls’ chances of winning the Republican nomination and then discuss how I think they would fare against President Obama in the November 2012 general election if they were the Republican nominee.
But before I begin discussing the next American Presidential election, I want to use today’s column to discuss the most recent Nobel Peace Prize recipients. So fresh on the heels of my previous columns about the un-liberal democracies that I am worried might emerge in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, I want to acknowledge the Nobel Peace Prizes that were just awarded to Ms. Tawakul Karman, a democracy and human rights activist who has been at the forefront of the Arab Spring protests in Yemen, as well as to Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist who organized women to help bring an end to war in Liberia, and the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first democratically elected woman President of an African nation.
Given the fact that prior to this year 85 men but only 12 women had ever been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I thought it was more than appropriate that 3 more women were finally recognized for their courageous work on behalf of peace, democracy and women’s rights by the Nobel Peace Prize committee. While I do not dispute the worthiness of any of the 85 men previously awarded this honour, I also firmly believe that women should have won a lot more than 15% of the Nobel Peace Prizes awarded since 1901.
Although I am somewhat familiar with Ms. Gbowee’s work organizing women from different ethnic and religious backgrounds to bring an end to Liberia’s civil war and Ms. Sirleaf’s contributions to democratic governance in Liberia, as a fellow journalist I must confess that I am much more familiar with Tawakul Karman’s work. As a young mother of 3 children, Ms. Karman first began advocating for women’s rights and journalistic freedom back in 2003. Ms. Karman then founded Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005 as a part of her effort to obtain greater freedom of expression in Yemen and other countries on the Arabian peninsula.
In fact I actually had the privilege of meeting with Ms. Karman several years ago, in her capacity as the head of Women Journalists Without Chains, and discussing the aims of her organization with her. I must say that I was also extremely impressed by Ms. Karman’s willingness to risk her life in her ongoing efforts to obtain press freedom and greater civil rights for women in Yemen. Please note that long before this year’s Arab Spring uprisings began, Ms. Karman was organizing and leading demonstrations by journalists against censorship as well as protests on behalf of women’s rights and freedoms at the Girl’s College of Sana’a University.
In my previous columns I expressed my concerns about the true intentions of many Islamic political parties and my fear that if they gain power they will impose a ‘tyranny of the majority’ on minority ethnic and religious groups. A hopeful counterpoint to my concerns about these Islamic political parties is the fact that while Ms. Karman is also a member of Yemen’s Islamic Islah Party, she has never hesitated to criticize Islamic religious extremists.
Furthermore, even though Ms. Karman is a socially conservative Muslim woman, she removed her veil at a human rights conference in 2004 and no longer wears one because it was getting in the way of what she wanted to accomplish. Still, Ms. Karman does not advocate that other Muslim women should also remove their veils, only that they should do so if they want to.
So based on what I know about this Nobel Peace Prize recipient, if Islamic political parties decide to embrace the values of women like Tawakul Karman, then maybe my fears about a ‘tyranny of the majority’ taking hold in Arab democracies will prove to be unfounded.