Western awards for the natives

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Western governments love to give awards and grants that bestow honors and legitimacy to selected groups and individuals. In the Middle East, the West prefers the award-giving business in order to pick role models for the natives, not knowing that those who are endorsed by the West are automatically despised by their own people. There is no Arab who has received more Western accolades than Anwar Sadat, yet this person is one of the most despised by Arabs and Muslims. No matter how much American government, media, and institutions try to elevate Sadat to the status of saint, Arabs continue to despise this dictator who was imposed on his people through an elaborate American-constructed military dictatorship by the US, in order to take Egypt out of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Aside from Western awards in the sciences, all Western awards in the field of politics (named peace), humanitarianism, media, and even literature are highly politicized. They are the stuff of what Edward Said called “political knowledge” about the Middle East, but we should call them “political baggage” about the Middle East. The Nobel peace prizes are a good example.

It is no coincidence that the first Arab to win the Nobel peace prize is none other than the dictator Sadat (an unrepentant, anti-Semitic Nazi). The message was loud and clear: make peace with Israel and you shall receive the highest honor the West can ever bestow on you. Remarkably, the second person to receive the same peace prize was none other than Yasser Arafat, a man who had been one of the most vilified men in the same West due to his leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The message was also clear: we can rehabilitate a terrorist – by Israel’s definition – to the status of a “statesman” if you – you guessed it – make peace with Israel. It is all about Israel. There are numerous Arabs who struggled for real peace and real harmony but they remain unknown to the West because they did not define peace as surrender to Israeli occupation.

Even in literature: it was telling that the Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfouz, was the first winner of the Nobel prize in literature. Certainly Mahfouz is not the best writer of Arabic in the 20th century. In fact, the reason why he came to Western attention is because he wrote in simple Arabic: his translation was far easier than the writings of sophisticated writers like Taha Husayn, Tawfiq Al-Hakim, Mahmoud Al-`Aqqad, and Mikha’il Nu`aymah. The ease of translation into the English language is a key reason for selection of literature to be translated into the West. Even today, the work of some Lebanese writers is translated into English because it is easier for Western translators of Arabic.

But Mahfouz was chosen for a political reason as well: he is not what the West would describe as “controversial.” He never railed against Israel or Western intervention, and he wrote about mundane daily life and his plots included mockery of figures who are not dear to the hearts of Western governments. "The translation of his work into Hebrew by an Israeli translator, whom he communicated with."That certainly elevated him to the status of a worthy writer. That a committee of three Swedes can determine what is the “best” in world cultures and literature is quite a funny notion.

Through those awards, Western governments want to send a message to Arabs: they want to tell them to distance themselves from their chosen idols and icons and to instead choose whomever the West picks for them. The West wanted Arabs to pick Sadat over Nasser, Mahfouz over Darwish, King Hussein over Arafat, and Ali Salem (you may legitimately ask: who?) over all other prose writers and journalists.

Ironically, Western governments don’t realize that their tricks backfire: as the West classifies Saudi Arabia and other Gulf potentates as “moderates,” they don’t fool Arabs at all. They know that the criteria of all Western political and even literary designations are politically based, and often linked to whatever is in the interest of Israel and its occupation.

This year, the Nobel committee came up with new choices for the Peace Prize. It is unlikely that anyone in the Middle East will regard those choices as inspirational.

Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil.


Remember during the Yemeni "intifada" when they gave the peace prize to the well spoken Yemeni young lady? That was by far the funniest award. Look for the next one to go to Hamad Bin Jasim

Inspirational to what, really?
this woman makes white men feel good about themselves. they think, oh we let our kids go to school, brown men don't. and for this, a nobel prize?
hell, a nobel prize for the drone-gitmo-bomb-iraq&syria-back-israel-and-shut-up president. so why not?

and mahfouz.. he's okay. but abdel-rahman munif should have won five nobel prizes. but then again, he was not a sissy. he stood his higher ground, and arabs love him. thats best prize.

As usual, the same is right not only regarding Arabs. Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn sure were rewarded by the West not for their genius (if they ever had one) but for their service to the western imperialism. They could be hated in Russia by many, but the Western and western-inspired progressives are still thrilled by the EU prize in honor of a staunch Zionist Sakharov.

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