A Nobel for fighting Islamophobia
Not entirely unanticipated but a surprise nonetheless. The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for President Obama has been received with churlish criticism and variously interpreted as a Nobel for political stardom and stirring speeches. It has also been called “a premature Nobel”.
The Republicans have officially reacted with skepticism. “The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?’” mocked Michael Steele, the chair of the Republican National Committee. See here.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has not jumped the gun. This is clearly not a Nobel for achievement but for approach. For noble intentions. For peace. And for fighting Islamophobia, if you like.
One only has to read between the Nobel Committee’s citation lines: “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”.
Why am I calling it a Nobel for fighting Islamophobia? Because the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s vote for Obama is clearly a vote against and encouragement to his efforts to steer away from his predecessor George Bush’s sledge-hammer unilateralism. Here is a freshman’s Nobel for changing the mood in a world where Muslim nations are mired in intractable conflicts, and therefore, singularly contribute to global instability.
Muslim nations are home to some of the flashpoints of international terror and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a major hindrance to global peace. Terror in the name of Islam has adversely affected lives of a majority of peace-loving Muslims.
In an earlier blog on June 14, titled, “Why Obama’s Cairo speech matters”, on President Obama’s speech at the Al-Azhar University, I had written that “An American had just pledged, in a globally televised address to Muslims, to actually defend Islam. And so we must be willing to at least give him a chance.”
The Nobel citation has credited Obama for promoting “cooperation between peoples”. There was proof of this in Obama’s Cairo speech: “And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” And, “America is not and will never be at war with Islam.”
Bush had started off the war on terror by infamously calling it a “crusade”, a word that served as a reminder of its wrong connotations of a war between Christians and Muslims. Of course, he hastily retracted his statement but then the tone had been set.
The choice of Obama for the prize clearly demonstrates the Nobel Committee’s angst to help his efforts to undo damages done to international diplomacy by the Bush administration. More than a thumbs-up to Obama, it is a thumbs-down to Bush.
Do not forget, Obama went to Cairo before he went to Prague. And the Turkey visit was worth it too. He has pledged to close Guantanamo, where many innocent Muslims had been incarcerated without access to legal help. Obama’s message to the Muslim world was designed to calm riled Muslim sensitivities.
The harms done by Neocon-guided Bush are seemingly irreparable. It is no secret that the war in Afghanistan may be a war of necessity but the war in Iraq was one of folly. It has only given more determination to the ruthless al-Qaeda. Confrontation, without exhausting all options of diplomacy, had set Iran off on the path to becoming a rogue nation. Now diplomacy is back as the lever of international politics.
No wonder, after eight years of neocon unruliness, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wants to embolden Obama’s thrust on diplomacy as the way forward.
I for one do not think Obama’s less than eight months of presidency entirely lacks achievements, unless you count achievements by the number of treaties you have signed. The Taliban have been broken up in Pakistan. That is why they are taking on the Pakistani establishment with more aggression than before.
Morever, Israel knows it would not have unstinted support on all its moves in Gaza. President Obama is bullish on clearing Jewish settlements and freezing expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.
The first statement he made on Iran was to the effect that he did not consider it a pariah state and therefore kept the door of diplomacy ajar.
Obama’s decision to negotiate with Iran, as opposed to Bush, over its nuclear program is already bearing some fruit. Iran has now promised to send its nuclear fuel abroad for processing, which is being viewed as a major concession because expectations from talks with Iran in Geneva were very, very low.
The agreement for now is “in principle” and there are no guarantees Iran will do as it has promised. But if it does, it will be the first decisive step that Iran’s contested president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will have taken towards nuclear disarmament.
On the other hand, Obama’s decision to cancel a planned missile-shield system in Eastern Europe that had riled Russia is a definitive step to defuse tension in the Continent.
Many would have wished the award was given to Bill Clinton simply because they feel it was long overdue. Since quitting presidency, the Clinton Foundation has done commendable non-profit work in the areas of health and development. And as President, Clinton pushed peace in Northern Ireland and Middle East unlike any other.
Just last August, he flew to North Korea, held talks with Kim Jong-il and secured the release of two American journalists.
A <Washington Post> editorial commented that a young pro-democracy protester, Neda Agha-Soltan, who lost her life after being shot by thugs working for the Islamist theocracy in Iran and captured on camera was the ideal candidate for being posthumously awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
But the Nobel Committee overlooked people like Clinton and Agha-Soltan because it was politically expedient to do so. After all, none of the above people has the opportunity that Obama has as current president.
It may well be that Obama presidency could begin to flag on solving the real big problems of this world, like Russia-Chechnya, Isreal-Palestine, AfPak and climate change. The real achievement of Obama is his changing the mood of the world. In the words of the Nobel Committee, he has “created a new climate in international politics”.
Whether that is enough to win somebody a Nobel Prize is best left to the Nobel jury, which clearly wants all of Obama’s goals fulfilled.
The Nobel strategy has worked before. In 1996, the peace prize went to Cardinal Carlos Belo and politician Jose Ramos Horta, both of who fought for East Timorese independence from Indonesia. The prize suddenly put their cause into sharp international focus, ultimately leading to East Timorese independence in 1999.
Remember the 1994 prize went to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat. It prodded them into signing the Oslo Accords, although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has yet to see lasting peace.
So, the prize for Obama is neither a recognition for topping the popularity charts nor an honour for oratory. The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize has been carefully though out, one that is aimed to help achieve crucial results and boost course correction. As one news anchor on Sky News put it, it is a prize for “not being Bush”.