The Wednesday Weigh In: Nobel peace prize edition

assange holding peace prize

WikiLeaks’ Australian founder Julian Assange, pictured above holding an Australian peace award he received in May of this year.

The Nobel Peace Prize nominees for 2011 were recently announced, and there were a few surprises in the bunch. 

241 candidates, have been nominated for this year’s award, which, in addition to Arab Spring superstars such as Wael Ghonim, Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, and Egyptian Israa Abdel Fattah, includes Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks. You’ll also remember him as having been extradited to Sweden for sexual assault allegations.

Recent winners of the award include President Barack Obama and Chinese literary critic, writer, professor, and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.

Which brings me to this week’s Wednesday Weigh-In:

What do you think about Assange being nominated for the peace prize? Is it a slap in the face to opponents of rape and assault? Or a well-deserved nod to his role in helping to spur the Arab Spring, among other things, through information sharing?

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • Sam Lindsay-Levine

    I think solely being nominated means next to nothing since there is a very wide range of people who are allowed nomination privileges (including almost every national elected official and any academic professor of several fields).

    Assange looks pretty good next to Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, who have all also been nominated.

  • Andy

    I don’t know enough about the Assange allegations to be able to comment in great detail, but assuming (never a good idea, but I feel like I have to anyway) that they are indeed currently unproven (if not unsubstantiated–again, I’m not familiar with the details), is that something that should be at least considered?

    I’m certainly not trying to say that accusations of rape or assault are worthless without a guilty verdict, nor should the sins of a person be overlooked because of their unrelated possible contributions to the world (i.e. Chinatown may be a great movie, but that doesn’t make Roman Polanski not a rapist or absolve him of his monstrous crime). I’m also not someone who thinks that false accusations of rape are all that common (for every Duke lacrosse, there are countless real, actual assaults, reported and otherwise), and they should be taken incredibly, deadly seriously.

    And I know I’m speaking from the privileged position of a heterosexual white male, but a part of me bristles at the phrasing of one of the questions above; it would certainly be a “slap in the face to opponents of rape and assault,” if not much something much more heinous than a slap, if Assange is indeed guilty of the allegations. But it’s difficult for me to necessarily agree that this is a bad thing while the charges are still, at this moment, unproven.

    Again, I feel a bit outclassed commenting at all, since I have an only cursory knowledge of the charges against him, but it seems at least a little ambiguous at this time. However, if he was given a prize or recognition and the allegations were subsequently proven, I would hope that the Committee would retract that prize and immediately condemn such atrocities.

    I’m also willing to be completely schooled on this by those of you who know more than I do about it (not a difficult bar to clear, either).

    Sorry this was long. Cough.

  • Brian

    There’s nothing contradictory at all about Assange being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. He did work possibly deserving a Peace Prize and he also possibly raped two women. Doing one doesn’t mean he didn’t do the other; people are more complex than that.

    Roman Polanski was a really good director (and won awards for it) and also raped a girl. Mike Tyson was a really good boxer (and won awards for it) and also raped a woman. Julian Assange did some really good humanitarian work (that he may win an award for) whether or not he raped two women. None of that is any kind of insult to their victims because none of that has anything to do with their victims.

    • Sarah

      You seem to have unerringly hit the nail on the head. For any other crime these men would have been vilified and punished by society. But when these men rape women, it’s not considered a terrible enough crime that they should receive any negative consequences whatsoever. And it’s not seen as a mark against his work towards world peace if he violates a woman’s body (a weapon of war in many countries). They may never go to prison (Polanski), they may even *boast about having raped a child, but everyone will still adore him, because why should his career suffer? Why should these men suffer, it’s only women they’ve hurt after all?

  • Heavylid

    Do you think Assange would still be nominated if he’d been accused of committing any other crime? Like say robbing someone at gun point? Or abducting a child?

    • Andy

      @Heavylid, that’s an important point, and I think definitely bears considering. I think that the distinction might come from a great deal of people not thinking that rape is a “violent” crime in the literal way that the other two are. It is, obviously–I’ve been mugged before, and I wouldn’t imagine it’s even a fraction of horrible rape may be–and such a “distinction” sounds like a manifestation of latent, possibly even subconscious misogyny.

      Which is, of course, no excuse, and may even be indicative of the overarching societal sickness still affecting the entire world, even “civilized” nations.

    • davenj

      The difference is that those crimes are more easily proven or disproven. Had Assange been accused of those crimes we would probably have a much firmer grasp of his innocence or guilt, which would alter the perception of him significantly. In the case of rape, and in his case acquaintance rape (which is what he stands accused of), the case is decidedly murkier.

      Had Assange violently raped someone by jumping out of the bushes I doubt he gets nominated, but that’s not the majority of rape cases.

  • billy williams

    FIRST,he hasn’t been convicted of anything so even anti sexual assault activists shouldn’t have a problem with it,second,even IF he did it,that doesn’t cancel out the fact that he did do something great-i agree with Brian,Polanski won an oscar 4 his work not his private life-same thing here:Why would it matter 2 people who he victimized if he is winning a prize for other stuff he’s done-is he winning the award 4 raping people?-let’s let justice take it’s course & if found guilty someone should get a punishment but the rape thing it is irrelevant in a matter deciding a prize 4 something else–Why should his personal life matter?

    • Sarah

      You really are [redacted].

      First off, Assange has yet to stand trial, so he may yet be convicted.

      Second off, a Nobel Peace prize is a bit different to a film prize. Polanski shouldn’t be awarded jack shit anyway, seeing as he has *boasted* about being a child rapist and not having gone to prison for it. He has faced no negative repercussions for his actions whatsoever. But a Nobel Peace Prize being given to a (possible) rapist? As long as he’s making the lives of men better, women can go whistle amirite? In the *grand scheme of things* the fact that a man (may) rape two women is just small fry, and y’know, he’s still a good guy, amirite? What do women matter anyway? As long as man-peace is top of the agenda, raped women are a small price to pay.

      Also, even if he had been found innocent that doesn’t mean he isn’t a rapist- NYPD cops, anybody?!

      Also, RAPE is not part of your personal life. It’s a fucking hideous, damaging, brutal CRIME. If he’d abducted a child would you be saying “Why should his family life matter?”. Of course not.

      The point is powerful men who rape receive no punishment for their actions. They don’t go to prison, and they keep winning prizes, people still work with them, they keep getting richer and more powerful. Society doesn’t punish those who hurt women, and if you don’t find that abhorrent then maybe you ought to take a long look at what you’re even doing on this site.

      • Andy

        Of course it’s connected, and a person who has committed rape is clearly not dedicated to peace, despite their other actions. And while accusation preclude confirmation, it doesn’t necessarily indicate it, does it? At this point, Assange is as possible a rapist as anyone; there’s no confirmation, and I think it’s more than fair to point out that possibly being something isn’t necessarily the same as actually being something, and I don’t think that saying so demeans the actual, real horrors of rape.

        Your final point is dead-on, however, and regarding someone like Polanski, the worldwide cultural overlooking of his admitted(!) monstrosity is shameful and inexcusable, regardless of artistic output/political change/etfc. No amount of good is a “one free rape” card.

  • andrea

    Even assuming that Assange is guilty of the crimes he’s been accused of, it doesn’t negate the good work he’s done. If the Nobel Powers that Be are convinced that Assange is deserving of a nomination (and thus possible awarding) of the peace prize, then by all rights he should have it. It doesn’t mean that he didn’t commit any crimes, or that he’s a perfect and flawless human being. It means that he’s done good works deserving of the peace prize. One doesn’t cancel out the other. There is no ‘slap in the face to opponents of sexual violence.’ To suggest so is minimizing the complexity of the issues in question.

  • boxoatoc

    I think that what people are rankled by is that this is a “peace” prize, and one that ostensibly recognizes people not for one singular act but in a life-long struggle for peace and equality throughout the world.

    As noted by Lori, Barack Obama has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. The irony of giving a PEACE prize to the Commander in Chief of the world’s largest ever military apparatus, which at the time was engaged in 2-4 wars, based on your definition of war (not to mention unprecedented numbers of people in detention centers around the world and in the U.S.), wasn’t lost on everyone. I think that the Nobel Prizes have lost most of their credibility, although the political motivations of the prizes have been discussed at length since the prizes were established.