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Brownstone Institute - The Covid Resistance Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

The Covid Resistance Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize


Alfred Nobel’s will (excerpt) (Paris, 27 November 1895) stipulates that the peace prize is to be awarded

to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

The nomination processes start in September each year and nominations must be submitted before 1 February of the year in which the prize is awarded. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for selecting the Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Among those eligible to submit nominations, I have done so several times in the past. From February to October, the committee scrutinises the list of candidates and progressively whittles it down, culminating in the announcement of the prize in early October and the award ceremony in Oslo in early December.

Inexplicably, none of my nominees won the prize. Rumour mills speculated that some came pretty close, but in the end no cigar. Disheartened, I discontinued my submissions. Last year I did consider nominating some of the world’s leading organisations and individuals engaged in fighting the Covid lockdowns, mask, and vaccine mandates over 2020–23.

Because of my 100 percent perfect track record of failure, I decided this could be the kiss of death and in the end abandoned the idea. Nonetheless, I hope some of them have been nominated by others. Let me explain why, in the context of the history of this prize, they would be deserving candidates – but unlikely winners. 

The Peace Prize Has Often Departed from Nobel’s Explicit Criteria

The strict criteria are sometimes put forward as the explanation for why Mahatma Gandhi was not awarded the prize. Be that as it may, after the Second World War, the Norwegian committee’s definition of peace grew increasingly more expansive and flexible, embracing fields as diverse as environmental activism, indigenous rights, food security, and human rights. It gradually acquired the overtones of a political act or message with a messianic element of hope to nudge the world towards striving for the broader conception of peace favoured by the committee.

In relation to the founder’s will, this produced some strange choices. There have been many eyebrow-raising laureates: those who waged war, others tainted with terrorism, and still others whose contributions to peace were tenuous (planting millions of trees), laudable though their campaigns were in their own right.

The 1973 joint recipients were North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for ending the Vietnam War. In 1994 Yasser Arafat got the prize (jointly with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres) for efforts ‘to create peace in the Middle East.’ Yes, truly.

The 1970 laureate was Norman Borlaug for his role in the green revolution. In 2007 Al Gore and the IPCC were selected for their role in spreading awareness about ‘man-made climate change’ (yes, the committee used this gendered language).

It is the many awards in relation to human rights, freedoms, and democracy promotion that are most relevant to why the committee should give careful consideration to the heroes of the Covid resistance.

Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Nargis Mohammadi of Iran ‘for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.’ The three 2022 laureates from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine were recognised for their promotion of ‘the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power.’ In 2021, the joint winners from the Philippines and Russia were lauded ‘for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.’

In 2014, Pakistani Malala Yousafzai and India’s Kailash Satyarthi (even the Nobel committee was hyphenating India and Pakistan!) received commendations ‘for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.’ The 2010 winner was China’s Liu Xiabo ‘for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.’

In 2003, Iran’s Shirin Ebadi got the nod ‘for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children.’ The 1991 laureate was Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi for her ‘struggle for democracy and human rights.’ In 1983, the committee awarded the prize to Lech Walesa for his ‘struggle for free trade unions and human rights in Poland.’

In the 1970s, the recipients included Amnesty International (1977) and Ireland’s Sean MacBride (1974) for promoting and defending human rights around the world.

The 2009 award to newly elected US President Barack Obama ‘for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples’ was one of the strangest selections in the history of the peace prize. Reacting to Obama’s award, I wrote at the time: ‘The Nobel Committee has embarrassed itself, patronized Barack Obama, and demeaned the Peace Prize. In choosing activism, it risks setbacks to pet causes it champions.” (Ottawa Citizen, 14 October 2009). 

With the award to Obama, the prize crossed the line from dubious or questionable to risible. Premature doesn’t even begin to cover it. Remember, Obama was sworn in on 20 January 2009. So the individuals and organisations that nominated him between September 2008 and 31 January 2009 would have justified their choice with reference to his deeds and words almost entirely before he became president. The prize was ‘for awesomeness,’ for yes he can, not yes he did. As Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in the New Yorker (12 October): 

At least at the Olympics the judges wait till after the race to give you the gold medal. They don’t force it on you while you’re still waiting for the bus to take you to the stadium.

Gasps of incredulity intermingled with snorts of derision, including among Obama admirers and supporters beginning to fret over his compromises on core promises and values. It devalued the work of most previous laureates and mocked the efforts of all who put in time, thought, and care in nominating over 200 individuals and institutions, many no doubt deserving of the prize.

It turned the prize itself into a joke, provided handy ammunition to Obama’s domestic opponents while embarrassing many supporters, and risked making progress on several of his worthwhile initiatives more difficult. It also risked the perverse consequence of forcing Obama to brandish his public hawk credentials instead of releasing his inner dove. Ironically, Obama was awarded the prize at the very time that, kowtowing to the rising power that must not be offended, he became the first US president in almost two decades to refuse to meet the Dalai Lama (so he was willing to meet with the enemies but not the advocates of freedom?), a worthy previous laureate (1989).

The Covid Resistance is Worthy of Serious Consideration

Many previous laureates have thus been chosen for their advocacy and struggles for human, women’s, and children’s rights, including education.

Few readers of this site will disagree with the claim that lockdowns, mask edicts, and vaccine mandates amounted to the most egregious assaults on human rights, children’s rights, civil liberties, personal and business freedoms, and democratic practices, affecting the biggest number of human beings in history.

The boundary between liberal democracy and draconian dictatorship quickly disappeared. The right to peaceful protest, a hallmark of democracy, was criminalised. In the Cambridge Freshfields Law Lecture on 27 October 2020, Lord Jonathan Sumption, the recently retired UK Supreme Court Justice, said: 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the British state has exercised coercive powers over its citizens on a scale never previously attempted…It has been the most significant interference with personal freedom in the history of our country. We have never sought to do such a thing before, even in wartime and even when faced with health crises far more serious than this one.

People were told when they could shop, the hours during which they could shop, what they could purchase, how close they could get to others, and which direction they could move in by following arrows on the floor. We experienced the wholesale house arrest of healthy populations; violations of bodily integrity, ‘my body my choice,’ and informed consent principles; the spread of the surveillance, administrative, and biosecurity state; the treatment of people as germ-ridden disease carriers and biohazards; the sheer dehumanisation of people who just asked to be left alone; the cruelty of denying final goodbyes to dying parents and grandparents and the emotional closure of full service funerals; joyful celebrations of weddings and birthdays; state diktats of whom we could meet (and sleep) with, how many, where and for how long; what we could buy, during which hours and from where; and the theft of children’s education and economic security by loading them with debt decades into the future.

All institutional checks on overreach and abuse of executive power, from legislatures to the judiciary, human rights machinery, professional associations, trade unions, the Church, and the media, turned out to be not fit for purpose and folded just when they were most needed.

In January 2022, Unicef reported on the devastating setbacks to children’s education. Robert Jenkins, Unicef Chief of Education, said ‘we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling.’ There was a two-decade reversal in children’s educational progress in the US. Japan experienced a jump in suicides by more than 8,000 between March 2020 and June 2022 compared to pre-pandemic numbers, mostly among women in their teens and 20s.

By February 2021, lockdowns had forced an estimated 500 million children around the world out of school, more than half of them in India. Dr Sunita Narain, Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment, said that similarly, more than half the world’s additional 115 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty living in South Asia. India, she said, was all set to usher in a 375-million strong pandemic generation of children who were at risk of suffering long-lasting impacts like increased child mortality, being underweight and stunted, and educational and work-productivity reversals.

In October 2020, Sweden decided to lift all remaining ‘recommended’ restrictions on over-70s. Health Minister Lena Hallengren explained that months of social isolation had meant loneliness and misery and a ‘decline in mental health likely to worsen the longer the recommendations remain in place.’ Part of the emotional stress load on the elderly caused by lockdowns resulted from the destruction of family life, the fundamental unit of human society. The forced separation of loved ones took an enormous toll on mental well-being, with measurable consequences for physical health. From the UK we had stories of elderly people refusing to go into rest homes. They’d rather die in pain surrounded by family at home, than face a lonely death cut off completely from family after leaving home.

Then came the vaccine mandates, for injections rushed to market under emergency use authorisation with limited trial safety and efficacy data. The efficacy rapidly waned, the risk-benefits equation for other than the elderly and the comorbid was always highly suspect, and their contributions to persistent all-cause excess deaths remains unexamined. Yet, people were manipulated and coerced into being jabbed on pain of dismissal from many jobs and excluded from public spaces.

In Australia, there was pervasive police surveillance of social media and public spaces, state control of economic activities, suspension of parliament to rule by executive diktat, instant heavy fines on police officers’ whims, and martial law masquerading as medical law. Thousands of Australians remain stranded abroad, unable to come home because of government limits on daily arrivals. Returnees Sarah and Moe Haidar were not allowed to see or touch their 9-week premature baby in a Brisbane hospital, instead relying on FaceTime, until quarantine period was over.

A fully vaccinated Sydney grandmother was denied a permit to go to Melbourne to help care for her grandchildren while her daughter battled advanced breast cancer. In a country town, a pregnant woman posting on Facebook to support a peaceful protest against Victoria’s lockdown was handcuffed and arrested in her house in the early morning, still in her pyjamas, in the presence of her family. A mother from across the border in New South Wales lost her baby after being denied treatment in Brisbane because Queensland hospitals were only for Queenslanders.

As I said, previous recipients of the peace prize have typically paid a heavy personal price for their defence of human, women’s, and children’s rights. Most of them demonstrated exceptional courage of conviction in their struggles. I was in the fortunate position of not having to pay any personal price for my opposition to Covid edicts but I know many people who suffered but courageously kept to their principled opposition to the biggest state-sponsored campaign against well-established rights and freedoms.

Some set up alternative news and commentary sites that created and grew new communities to share findings and thoughts and overcome the sense of isolation. Others spoke out despite threats, often carried out, of severe repercussions to jobs and lives. New organisations sprang up to counter the all-pervasive propaganda and censorship through the collusion of the state, the pharmaceutical industry, legacy and social media, and tech platforms. Canadian truckers organised a freedom convoy to Ottawa that captured world attention but petrified Justin Trudeau into harsh authoritarian countermeasures.

There should be no shortage of potential candidates for the peace prize to recognise their brave efforts to keep the flame of freedom flying through these dark times.

Why This is Probably a False Hope

In the context of the history of the Nobel Peace Prize since the 1970s, then, individuals and groups that have resisted the assault on people’s rights are worthy of the prize this year. But the same history also shows that to the committee, dissidents against regimes and governments disliked by the West receive the recognition: China, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia. Not so Western dissidents resisting their own governments.

Call me cynical, but if Julian Assange or Edward Snowden had exposed the same wrongdoings on the part of China, Russia, or Iran instead of the US, their chances of a Nobel Peace Prize would have been as steeply higher as the chance of an elderly person is of dying from Covid compared to that of a health teenager.

Writing in the Daily Mail in 2022, Andrew Neil , former editor of the Sunday Times (1983–94) and current chairman of the Spectator magazine, commented that Assange’s Wikileaks had revealed:

War crimes covered up. Torture. Brutality. The rendition and incarceration of suspects without due process. The corruption of inquiries trying to hold it to account. The bribery of foreign officials to look the other way when America did bad things.

All this by the self-styled greatest democracy in the world.

Assange went to considerable trouble to redact material that could endanger any individual and no credible evidence has ever been produced to show that any individual was in fact harmed. Yet that remains the most commonly levelled charge against him, that he recklessly and knowingly put the lives of US personnel in danger. His prosecution by US authorities is clearly political, not criminal, meaning that it amounts to persecution.

It’s hard to see the Norwegian Nobel Committee defying the suffocating Covid narrative that took over the Western world, with a very few honourable exceptions. Of course if they were to do so, that would really stir things up and help to dismantle the narrative. One can but hope for the best while expecting otherwise.

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  • Ramesh Thakur

    Ramesh Thakur, a Brownstone Institute Senior Scholar, is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, and emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

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