Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, October 13, 2006

Nobel Committee Gets It Right

"Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty," said the Nobel Committee on awarding the much-tarnished Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded.

Yunus' idea, realized through Grameen, is that for the desperately poor, a micro-loan -- enough to buy a cow or a sewing machine -- could lift a family out of poverty. AP recounts the story:

Yunus's told The Associated Press in a 2004 interview that his "eureka moment" came while chatting to a shy woman weaving bamboo stools with calloused fingers.

Sufia Begum was a 21-year-old villager and a mother of three when the economics professor met her in 1974 and asked her how much she earned. She replied that she borrowed about five taka (nine cents) from a middleman for the bamboo for each stool.

All but two cents of that went back to the lender.

"I thought to myself, my God, for five takas she has become a slave," Yunus said in the interview.

"I couldn't understand how she could be so poor when she was making such beautiful things," he said.

The following day, he and his students did a survey in the woman's village, Jobra, and discovered that 43 of the villagers owed a total of 856 taka (about $27).

"I couldn't take it anymore. I put the $27 out there and told them they could liberate themselves," he said, and pay him back whenever they could. The idea was to buy their own materials and cut out the middleman.

They all paid him back, day by day, over a year, and his spur-of-the-moment generosity grew into a full-fledged business concept that came to fruition with the founding of Grameen Bank in 1983.

Is the Nobel Committee finally getting smart? Instead of giving the prize to a diplomat who brokered a deal soon to be broken, or warriors who, for the moment, have stopped warring, the Committee recognized a man going after one of the root causes of war: Poverty.

Grinding poverty and worldy hopelessness is one cyclinder of the jihad engine; take it away, and there's more of a chance of peace in our world. While the Nobel Committee didn't get any despotic Islamists rulers out of power, nor did they stuff rags into the mouths of hate-spewing Mullahs, in Yunus they honor a man who invented a simple concept that has grown until now, when some 17 million people have benefitted from micro-loans. That may not stop wars, but it has given 17 million people peace of mind -- and that's worthy of a Peace Prize.

The Nobel for literature was also a much better choice this year than in the previous two. Last year's selection of playwrite and raving anti-Busher Harold Pinter was a slap at the president's war on terror, and the previous year's highly questionable winner, Austrian Elfriede Jelinek, largely unknown for her Communist/feminist writing.

But this year's selection of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, whose work I'd never heard of until last week, appears right-on, too, as Pamuk is a voice for freedom and reason between the warring ideologies of Islamism and nationalism in Turkey.

He ticked off the nationalists when he said what everyone else in the world knows about Turkey's slaughter of Armenians, and his Westernized perspective honks the Mullahs. In other words, the Nobel Committee was telling Turkey, if you want in the EU, be more like Pamuk. Not a bad message.

I just hope his new, higher profile doesn't get him killed by one of Turkey's crazier elements.

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