This blog does not claim to be always right. The blogger has no pretensions about being morally, politically, or ideologically correct. This blog contains random thoughts, rants, raves, hysterical protestations and sporadic thinking aloud by a person who is not out to please anyone or pander to anyone's idea of what is acceptable or ideal. Feel free to disagree, it is a free country.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The power of hope
This was my column yesterday. Late post.
Like everyone else, I reacted with genuine surprise at the selection of United States President Barack Obama as this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I have great admiration for Obama both as a person and as a leader. I think he epitomizes that one admirable quality that other leaders can only aspire for but which he is able to do effortlessly by just being himself, and that is to be an inspiration to others.
As can be expected, the reactions varied from genuine elation to utter contempt. The Internet buzzed all over the weekend with all kinds of commentary. The whole gamut of reactions can be summed up in three points.
First, that the award is premature since the President has not really had the time to produce results yet. Some issues about technicalities (mainly about deadlines and time frames) led many to suspect that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee adjusted the rules to accommodate Obama. The deadline for nominations was February and Obama was barely two weeks as President at that time. What data was included in the nomination papers then? The Committee deliberated and chose the winner last June, barely four months into Obama’s presidency and yet many of the justifications being offered today were recent events.
Second, assumptions about what the Nobel Peace Prize should be rewarding. There are those who insist that the award should go to people who have labored all their lives for the sake of bringing peace to the world. Is the Nobel Peace Prize an award for lifetime achievement or is it recognition for achievements made over a specific period —say, one year?
Third, questions related to Obama’s actual achievements as a leader fully committed to the quest for peace. The general drift of the discussions is that Obama’s achievements have so far been in rhetoric rather than actual actions. In short, what he has done so far is make a few feel-good speeches and symbolic affirmations of his commitment to a nuclear-free world. The reality is that he is the incumbent president of a country that is still at war in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
Of course there are also all sorts of commentaries from rabid ideologues but I think these comments can be ignored for the moment. I personally think that we can do away with the comments from the Taliban, from extreme rightists, and those from the hosts of the Fox Network.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee said Obama was chosen for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples.” The committee cited Obama’s efforts to strengthen international bodies and promote nuclear disarmament. The case being made by many out there is that this citation is theoretically applicable to many leaders. Obama is not exactly the lone voice in the wild calling for nuclear disarmament; and so far, he has not been able to match his mellifluous rhetoric with hardcore action.
The Nobel Peace Prize, which is named after Alfred Nobel, the Swedish arms manufacturer and inventor of dynamite who bequeathed his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes, was established to recognize “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
There were those who, like Irish peace campaigner and 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan who came out with strongly-worded statement saying that Obama’s selection has not met the conditions of Alfred Nobel’s will which stipulates that the prize is to be awarded to those who work for an end to militarism and war and for disarmament. As everyone knows, Obama has continued USA’s policy of militarism and occupation in Afghanistan.
All the discussion about dates and timelines seems like an exercise in nitpicking. I think, though, that they are relevant and not necessarily because of the technicalities involved. The general assumption that people have about the Nobel Prize is that it is a reward for past achievements—in many cases, for a body of works or a lifetime of commitment.
This assumption has been nurtured through the years because of the selection of winners who have established reputations for having been indefatigable advocates of peace all their lives and whose advocacies become institutionalized the world over. Think Nelson Mandela, or the Dalai Lama, or Lech Walesa, or Doctors Without Borders, or the International Campaign to Bank Landmines.
Actually, the prize is not for lifelong achievement. It is meant to recognize an individual who “has done extraordinarily well in creating an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation over a specific period,” in this case, for the preceding year. However, it is reflective of the level of passion many people have about the quest for peace that they project their own expectations and standards into the Nobel Peace Prize.
Reports indicate that there were a record 205 nominations for this year’s prize and that Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister and a Chinese dissident were among the front runners. Without meaning to reduce the achievements of the other nominees, I don’t think there can be any doubt that Obama was indeed the man who stood tall as the world’s leading symbol of peace last year and not just because of the color of his skin. “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the Norwegian committee said when it announced the selection. “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”
All these lead us to what seems to be the main issue around Obama’s selection. I think that most people associate rewards with hard, measurable achievements that happened in the past and the concept of rewarding potentials, or looking at it as investment in future performance is something that is still alien to many. It is as if heroism and good work emerge from a vacuum rather than something induced and nurtured. As a consequence, there has been this relentless focus on quantifying standards; many get caught up in the numbers game and lose sight of issues and factors that are deemed soft or ephemeral such as ideals; or aspirations such as hope and promise. The general belief is that good intentions are good, but never good enough because the world is supposedly created by actions, not good intentions.
In recognizing Obama, the Nobel Committee is sending a strong message to the world. There has never been another world leader since Obama who has inspired and therefore drastically changed the way many people look at themselves or at the world. Put another way, the award is in recognition of the power of hope, the immense might of potential as against action. It is potential that makes great changes happen. It is in our capacity to hold a vision and to champion that vision that the impossible becomes possible.
In a world increasingly growing cynical, one thing remains clear: The world cares about peace. The question is: Do we see peace as a destination that we arrive at or as a journey that we all embark on together?