You may not be aware that in the public voting for Time’s Person of the Year award for 2010, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange led the voting. The second-place finisher was Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not exactly a household name but currently the prime minister of Turkey, and third place went to Lady Gaga. Time’s editors overrode the voters’ choice and instead chose Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It strikes me that Assange’s votes from readers say less about his overall popularity and more about the political leanings of Time magazine’s readers and the activism of those voting. Along those lines, there doesn’t seem to be any limit on the number of times readers could vote. (And what’s with the prime minister of Turkey getting second place?)
Most mainstream Americans know that Assange is accused of rape, has hacked into nuclear weapons facilities in the past, and is now threatening our banking system. I suspect many Americans consider Assange a dangerous figure at best and a diabolical genius at worst. I also think it’s safe to say that lives have probably been lost due to WikiLeaks because intelligence sources were identified; Assange has certainly made life much more difficult for diplomats everywhere. But, as the voting at Time shows, there is a vocal minority in our society who is rooting for him and thinks what he is doing is great. [Take the U.S. News poll: Should WikiLeaks be shut down?]
This week, Assange was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a 26-year-old musician who is also a member of the Norwegian parliament. According to the Financial Times, Snorre Valen, who nominated Assange, wrote this on his blog after making the nomination:
It is always easier to support freedom of speech when the one who speaks agree with you politically. This is one of the ‘tests’ on liberal and democratic values that governments tend to fail … And many countries respond to WikiLeaks‘ obvious right to publish material that is of public interest, by seeking to ‘shoot the messenger’… It is not, and should never be, the privilege of politicians to regulate which crimes the public should never be told about, and through which media those crimes become known.
Let’s remember that this is the Nobel Peace Prize. According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the prize was to go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” [See a roundup of political cartoons on Wikileaks.]
Nowhere in there does Mr. Nobel say anything about promoting freedom of speech or publishing. There are plenty of other prizes for that, including the Pulitzer, and, for that matter, the Nobel Prize for Literature. I wouldn’t call what Assange does “literature,” but if the criteria for this prize is bringing about peace—and “fraternity between nations”—I’d say Julian Assange flunks the test on this one.
Assange’s Nobel nomination, like his winning the votes at Time, has everything to do with the political leanings of a vocal minority. After naming Barack Obama within a year of his inauguration in 2009, and after awarding Al Gore’s global warming efforts in 2007, the Nobel committee can’t afford to keep making politically-motivated choices. If Assange wins, we’ll know that the Nobel Peace Prize really has nothing to do with peace at all anymore.