Monday, October 11, 2010

Two cheers for Nobel laureates

Every year, six Nobel prizes are awarded for outstanding contributions in the field of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics and peace. Except for a few controversies, for the most part, Nobel committees have done an excellent job in awarding deserving candidates. The decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the current United States President Barack Obama, and past US president and vice-president Jimmy Carter and Al Gore respectively drew some flak and prompted accusations of a left-wing bias. But when it comes to controversy, the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho for negotiating a ceasefire between North Vietnam and the United States in January 1973 is so far the most controversial one.

The Norwegian Nobel Committees deserve criticism to a certain degree for overlooking the contributions of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi of India, Václav Havel of Czech Republic, Ken Saro-Wiwa of Nigeria, Corazon Aquino of Philipinnes, Jose Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica, Feng Shan Ho of China, Steve Biko of South Africa while jointly selecting Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 for their so-called efforts in making peace between Israel and Palestine. Peace between Palestine and Israel? It is as elusive as it can get.

Except for the prizes in economics, peace, and literature, often, common people cannot relate with things that recipients are awarded the prize for. Contributions in chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine are often hard for people without sufficient background in these subjects to comprehend. But this year, it is different. There have been pleasant surprises for many armchair Nobel enthusiasts, like myself. The committees, this year, have taken some bold selection decisions, which is sure to enhance the reputation of the Nobel Prize. By deciding to award the Literature Prize to Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru, the Swedish Academy that grants the Nobel Prize in Literature has shown that it is ready to shed its eurocentric image. The Swedish Academy that grants the Nobel Prize in Literature is often accused of eurocentrism.

The list cannot get any better. Among the 2010 Nobel Prize winners, if I were to pick the two most deserving winners, it would be Robert G Edwards for medicine and Liu Xiaobo for peace. It is not to suggest that other winners’ contribution is less important by any means. But the works of Edwards and Xiaobo have greater significance and far-reaching consequences. By spearheading Invitro Fertilization (IVF) creation, Professor Edwards have given a ray of hope to millions of infertile and sub-fertile couples that hope to have biological children of their own. Professor Edwards is the technological father of 4 million people that have been born through IVF procedure so far. They would not be here if it was not for Edwards’ breakthroughs.

In traditional patriarchal society like ours, where women’s status within the household and society is to a large extent attached to her ability to give birth to a child, Edwards’ work is even more relevant. It is not always a woman’s fault if she cannot give birth to a child. Male infertility, which is a reason for almost 50 percent cases of infertility, does not cross peoples’ mind when they see or meet childless couples. Women are the silent victims of male infertility and the state has done very little to address this problem. Professor Edwards’ work has and will help millions of women secure their status within the household and society. With the help of assisted reproductive technology, infertile and sub-fertile couples now have biological child of their own. His work has been crucial for human embryonic stem cell research, as the cells are obtained from embryos left over at infertility clinics. Millions of people suffering from dreadful diseases like Parkinson´s, Alzheimer´s and Lou Gehrig´s are pinning their hope on success of embryonic stem cell research.

Some ethicists from the Catholic Church have questioned the correctness of awarding Nobel Prize to Professor Edwards, whom they think essentially started “playing god.” But in their lopsided moral interpretations of Professor Edwards’ achievement, what they conveniently dodge is the joy and happiness that Edwards’ work brings to the life of sick and poor, toward whom they claim to have moral responsibility. The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet, which awards the candidates for Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, by selecting Professor Edwards, has sent a strong message that the religious righteousness of some cannot hold scientific progress hostage. Professor Edwards’ selection is the victory against those that protect degenerate priests who prey on the sexual innocence of children but hound upon individual’s right to bear children.

If the award to Professor Edwards’ is a slap on the wrist of the so-called religious purists, jailed Chinese human rights and democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo’s selection is an answer to the existential question of what good human rights and democracy campaigners’ sacrifice have done? Xiaobo’s selection has recognized the sacrifice of human rights and democracy campaigners across the globe. Unlike our own radicals that pursued murderous path to what they claim was for establishing civilian supremacy, Xiaobo’s struggle is for peaceful political change and an era of expanded freedom and rights. Recognition of Xiaobo’s peaceful democratic struggle is a real tribute to the unsung heroes muzzled during the 1989 pro-democracy demonstration at Tiananmen Square and beyond.

There is also a subtle message for our own radicals that seek financial favors from their Chinese counterparts to get to power and use Chinese model to curtail our democratic rights. It might take time but the overthrow of an autocratic ideology or regime is imminent

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