I first read that President Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in a five a.m. e-mail from a friend, not a fan of the President’s, and I assumed my friend was joking. Reading the cover of this morning’s Washington Post, I realized three things: he was not, the judges were badly misguided at best, and that their decision may actually make a mockery of an otherwise noble prize.
Or, and I really hope this is the case, Obama getting the Peace Prize represents a quantum leap in our understanding of the relationship between nurturing hope and making peace, be it in the world or our own individual hearts. If that is the case, then Obama’s prize might bring a gift to all of us with a teaching from which we could all benefit. To be fair though, both possibilities should be considered. I prefer to get the bad news out of the way first.
Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama might seem ridiculous and can even be shameful, if the award is to have any real meaning. And I write that as one who voted for Obama, and would likely do so again if he faced the same competition in the race. But awarding this prize, at this time, to President Obama may actually be a bigger embarrassment than having awarded it to Yassir Arafat.
Arafat, even if he was insincere in many of his claims about making peace with Israel, and continued to support terror against Israel, did transform the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, putting peace concretely on the agenda of both sides. With all that one can say about how badly Arafat behaved, even after having won the prize, when the history books are written, they will all record the sea change brought by his decision to negotiate with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Love him or loathe him, Yassir Arafat changed the game on peace in the Middle East.
In terms of changing the game on international peace, Obama has simply not done that, at least not yet. That is not an attack on him, perhaps no one could do so given the short amount t of time in which he has been in office, and given the challenges we face. But the bottom line remains that he hasn’t done so, and unless the purpose of this award has been redefined, as being to better position a potential peace-maker, it should not have gone to him.
President Obama getting this award threatens to demean the process, past recipients, and may indicate that the judges are the worst kinds of panderers who some have previously accused them of being. But there is another way to look at this.
A brighter possibility is that the award committee gave him the prize for being black, or more accurately for being the first black president of the United States, and for the healing which that accomplishment represents. But if that is the case, the award should go to the American public because it’s about his presidency, not his personal accomplishments in the area of peace-making.
In fact, the words of the award committee indicate that this may have indeed been their purpose. Heralding Obama as a transformative figure in U.S. and international diplomacy, the committee said: “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”.
It is not what he has done, but who he is, that inspires hope according to the people who gave the award. And there is no question that hope and peace are closely related. One could even argue that it is not peace which leads to hope, but hope which leads to peace.
Perhaps, when it comes to making peace and so many others of life’s challenges, a leap of hope is required. I am not talking about naively making one’s self needlessly vulnerable, but about daring to imagine that things really could be different if we took steps in the direction we wanted to go. Isn’t that what hope is all about?
Peace-making of all kinds requires hope, and if by instilling hope one effectively lays the groundwork for lasting peace, then perhaps there is a degree of wisdom in choosing Obama for the Peace Prize. But that is a claim which should have come from the committee which awarded the prize, not a commentator like me who is trying to make sense of an otherwise strange turn of events.