Tariq Ali's article The ignoble Nobel (December 7), was condescending, tendentious and sensationalist. It was not only ill-tempered, but also ill-informed. Ali writes that Jimmy Carter was about to receive the Nobel Peace Prize "from the unassuming bicycling monarch of Norway".
However, in Oslo, unlike in Stockholm, the laureate traditionally receives the prize from the chairman of the Nobel committee, not the monarch (who is even more unassuming than Ali suspected).
About another US president who received the prize, he asserts that Woodrow Wilson was "the unanimous choice of the committee". On the contrary, his candidacy in 1919 was so decisively rejected by two of the five-member committee that no award was made that year. One member even made this a resignation matter, and did so again the following year - when his place was momentarily taken by a deputy (who also voted against Wilson's candidacy). In 1920, the committee voted three to two for Wilson.
The most serious and damaging of Ali's assertions is that "in 1938, the shortlist was headed by Hitler and Gandhi ... the committee decided that if Hitler was not acceptable, then neither was Gandhi". While I understand that Mr Ali may believe he has good reasons for this assertion, the facts of the matter are very different, however, and can be easily established.
The committee has no control over the nominations which are submitted to it. It is true that Hitler was nominated on a single occasion, for the 1939 prize, by the Swedish MP EGC Brandt. However, he withdrew his nomination in a letter of February 1 1939. Hitler's name never appeared in a shortlist. Ali's misrepresentation of the committee's stance conveys an impression which is precisely the opposite of what transpired.
In 1936, in the face of threats by the Nazi government, the committee courageously awarded the reserved prize for the previous year to Carl von Ossietzky - then wasting away in a concentration camp. His ill-treatment was to lead to his death within two years. By that time he had become the most famous prisoner of the Third Reich and a rallying point in the fight against it. The award to Ossietzky led an outraged Hitler famously to forbid any German henceforth to accept any of the Nobel prizes. Ali wants us to believe that shortly afterwards the same committee could not choose between the Führer and the Mahatma ...