08 October 2010

The Nobel Peace Prize and Global Accountability

The Chinese government is predictably upset over the awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned advocate of multiparty democracy. The Communist dictatorship threatens diplomatic reprisals against the Nobel's homeland of Norway and complains that the Peace Prize should only go to people who promote international peace and disarmament. It could be taken for granted that the People's Republic would see the award as a form of interference in its internal affairs, but I wonder whether Mao Zedong felt the same way or expressed similar sentiments when the Nobel was given to an American dissident, Martin Luther King, in 1964. He probably didn't give a damn one way or another, though if the record shows that his government did comment, it probably would have been to praise King in his struggle against American "capitalist" racism. As for Americans, I did a quick check of the Google News Archive to see whether people in 1964 objected to King getting the Peace Prize. I know on an anecdotal level that some people disliked the idea; with my own ears I've heard people say about King, "He talked about peace, but everywhere he went there were riots." I'm sure some people felt he was a Communist agitator and thus unworthy of the honor -- and in fact the nearest thing to an official rebuke of the 1964 Prize came from King's biggest enemy in the government, J. Edgar Hoover, who used the occasion to call King the biggest liar in America. Hoover was defended in print by William F. Buckley, who (presumably not knowing how much Hoover was persecuting King) claimed that King was wrong to blame the FBI for failing to prevent violence against civil rights workers in the South, while the award was also denounced by novelist John O'Hara in a column that apparently isn't available to read online. President Johnson, whose opinion is the only one that counts in a comparison to the present Chinese government, did not denounce King or his award, and was more likely to do the opposite at that optimistic moment for progressive liberalism and the civil rights movement.

In the present Information Age, the Nobel committee and the Chinese government take starkly opposed positions on the role and rights of global opinion. The Nobel committee states quite plainly that the more China plays an important global role, the more its internal practices are rightfully subject to international scrutiny and public criticism. Exactly because information media are global in scope, China has probably become more insistent than ever that the country's government is no one's business outside China -- that foreigners aren't even entitled to an opinion to the extent that any opinion "interferes" with Communist sovereignty. While foreigners have no right to conspire materially to overthrow the Chinese government, they have every right granted them by their respective governments, on top of the prerogatives of conscience, to pass judgment on China, the United States, or any other nation, as well as Islam, Christianity or any other religion. There is such a thing as tyranny in the world, though you'd be excused for wanting to deny that after hearing Americans complain so much about their own country, and the Nobel committee has a right to take Chinese people's word for it. Even if a majority of Chinese are complacent and acquiescent, as are majorities everywhere, the persecution of individual non-violent dissidents should subject China to international shame. If we believe in democracy, and if democracy must eventually become global in scope for the sake of the species, then everyone on Earth is accountable to everyone else. At a time when other nations supposedly look to China as a model of rational development under a purportedly meritocratic oligarchy in the guise of the people's representatives, Chinese repression of dissent is a proper subject for global discussion.

1 comment:

Ma said...

This year's prize should have went to... "Bill Fry the Googly-Eyed Guy"