I’m glad that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.
This is not because I do not applaud her bravery and support her fantastic campaigning work. Rather, I worry about the effect of thrusting the prize onto someone so young.
Previous Nobel Laureates have reported that winning the prize is incredibly disruptive to their career. Peter Higgs, who was awarded the Chemistry prize last week, tried to escape media inquiries. But they tracked him down eventually,
Our media is full of stories of child prodigies pressurised into excellence and unhappiness. Child actors regularly seem to end up in rehab units, and the career trajectory of child pop-stars like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus makes everyone uneasy. We angst over the plight of Royal babies, born into incredible wealth but no privacy.
Furthermore, our culture loves the idea of the youth as a saviour. Its how the Christian story begins, of course, but it persists elsewhere in our culture too. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game has just been adapted for the cinema, and eighteen year old Raheem Sterling is being hailed as the saviour of English football (as were teenagers Theo Walcott and Michael Owen in their time).
Malala inhabits the world of geopolitics, not pop-culture, but she is nevertheless being constructed into a form of celebrity, with all the scrutiny that entails. She is expected to be an infallible sage. Young people have a track record of making, shall we say, free speech mistakes. What happens when she says something that does not align with the idea of Malala that we of a liberal persuasion have constructed around her? A vicious media frenzy, catalysed by a gale-force Twitter storm, that’s what.
Ms Yousafzai has become famous for demanding that young girls are given an education. It would be ridiculously ironic if the excessive limelight hovering around her means she herself is denied a proper education and a proper adolescence… with the freedom to make mistakes, unscrutinised.
She did, however, win the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Human Rights.