Mahatma Gandhi, who was shot dead on this day 61 years ago, never received the Nobel Prize for Peace, an omission that tainted the award forever. The Nobel committee made things worse in succeeding decades by nominating warmongers as soon as they signed any peace agreement. That's how the likes of Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat won the award.
In Davos yesterday, Shimon Peres -- President of Israel, father of that nation's atomic weapons programme, and co-winner of the 1994 Peace Prize alongside Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin -- got into a slanging match with the Turkish premier Recip Erdogan . Erdogan walked out, complaining he wasn't given adequate time to rebut Peres' defence of the Israeli assault on Gaza, which killed over 1300 Palestinians.
The moderator accused of favouring Peres, David Ignatius, is a Jewish-American columnist at the Washington Post who has published several novels. Trying to decide if he was biased, I looked up his Wikipedia entry and then one about his spy novel Body of Lies (adapted by Ridley Scott into a well-made, if slightly cookie-cutter, movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe).
I was pleasantly surprised to find a footnote citing a review of Body of Lies written by an old acquaintance of mine, Adrian McKinty. Adrian and I were college-mates in England in the 1990s, but lost touch later. I learned recently through a common friend that he has settled in the United States and written several thriller novels.
In his review in the Washington Post, Adrian writes: "Ignatius seems to have swallowed whole the Edward Said pill and made a conscious decision that he will not resort to cliche or condescension in his descriptions of the Middle East. As a result, he bends over backward to portray his Arab characters as wise, honorable and decent. We find few instances of anti-Semitism in any of the Arab countries Ferris visits, and even in the misery of a Palestinian refugee camp, we see only fading Yasser Arafat posters rather than venomous anti-Jewish slogans or Hamas hate graffiti. At times, Ignatius seems almost embarrassed that his villain is an actual Arab terrorist (albeit one with a high IQ and a warped sense of morality)..."
This makes David Ignatius an unlikely target for accusations of bias. Perhaps he felt Peres deserved extra time as the lone voice for Israel on the panel, fighting the pro-Palestinian tag team of Erdogan and Arab League head Amr Moussa.
The widely differing opinions on the Gaza crisis remind me of how divisive the IRA issue was in Britain not so long ago. It was a subject Adrian McKinty, a Protestant from Belfast, researched for his Master's in Politics, and it led to an amusing and frustrating episode that involved me. I was the graduate library rep of Lady Margaret Hall College in my first year at Oxford, and passed on Adrian's request for two books published by Sinn Fein, the political party which many considered a front for the terrorist IRA. The librarian, to my astonishment, refused to buy the volumes on moral grounds, and didn't budge despite many protestations that the university was a site of free enquiry.
While this presented an obstacle to Adrian's research, we both figured it only meant he'd have to walk across to the main library, the Bodleian, to access the books. The Bodleian is one of six 'legal deposit' libraries in the British Isles. At that time, publishers of every book copyrighted in the country were required to send a copy to each of these libraries. The law's been modified a bit since then.
So off Adrian went to scan the Bod's old catalogues and rudimentary computerised search system. He discovered that, since Sinn Fein disputed Northern Ireland's place in the UK, it did not recognise legal deposit laws and had not sent any material to the Bodleian.
Adrian saw his thesis prospects being ground to dust between the LMH librarian's distaste for Sinn Fein and Sinn Fein's rejection of UK statutes. One of the most amusing guys I've known, he played up the absurdity of his situation, but it must have caused him some genuine worry.
The librarian who allowed her political prejudice to influence her work was incompetent in other ways too. Though ultimately sacked, she was allowed to stay for too long, probably because she was handicapped and the LMH authorities feared an anti-discrimination lawsuit. I happened to be present when the college treasurer explained to a colleague why the librarian had been fired. "We found she did not flourish in the job", the treasurer said. I resolved right there that, should I ever be in the position of sacking somebody, those would be the words I'd use: "I regret that you haven't flourished in this job".