President Obama and the Curious Case of the Nobel Peace Prize

There are moments in history which, upon remembering, you will be able to recall exactly where you were and what you were doing. The assassination of Kennedy, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and 9/11 are all embedded into the American consciousness. Now, for me, listed among those life changing and world altering events, is the moment I heard the news that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. I recall that morning perfectly. As I heard the news, a strawberry Pop-tart hovering inches before my mouth, I looked at the TV screen and thought to myself, ‘what the hell?’

I want to make two things perfectly clear before I go any further.

1. I AM an Obama supporter

2. I am NOT totally happy with ever choice he’s made since his election, nor with the number of issues he’s failed to address.

But I like to give my elected officials the benefit of the doubt. They deal with a ton of issues, all of which have hundreds of crucial details politicians have to keep track of in order to make informed decisions. How many of us have the time to learn and understand the reasoning behind the decisions politicians make anyway?

But still, what has Obama done in the past 11 months that makes him worthy of a Nobel Peace prize? Was there a deficit of candidates? I found myself asking this whenever the subject came up. Surely there had to be someone else.

In fact, there were a record number of nominations this year for the Nobel Peace Prize. There were over 205 nominees for 2009, besting 2005’s record setting tally of 199. Of the 205, 172 were individuals and 33 were organizations. Obviously, Obama didn’t have a lack of competition. Some highlights of the list of 2009 nominees include Denis Mukwege, Sima Samar, Ghazi bin Muhammad, Greg Mortenson, Piedad Córdoba, and Wei Jingsheng.

Dr. Denis Mukwege helps women of the Democratic Republic of Congo recover from rape. Congo has one of the highest rates of assault and sexual sadism in the world. Women are raped and tortured with mind boggling frequency and Dr. Mukwege and his clinic is the only place left to turn. Dr. Mukwege has done surgery on over 21,000 women, set up wards and clinics for their care and health, helping victims to physically reclaim a part of themselves which has been brutally taken away.

Sima Samar was the first Hazara woman to obtain a medical degree from Kabul University. After her husband disappeared during the communist regime in 1984, she put her education to use by building hospitals and schools for girls and women in Afghanistan. Currently, Samar is the chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and UN special rapporteur on human rights in Sudan.

Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad is a philosopher who, in the wake of 9/11, has encouraged religious dialogue, centering especially on the relationship between Islam and other faiths. In 2005, he brought many prominent Islamic scholars together to work out a “theological counter-attack” against terrorism. Muhammad also signed an influential letter, A Common Word Between Us, in response to a lecture by Pope Benedict XVI which was deemed by many to be an attack on Islam. The letter read, “Without peace and justice between these two religious communities there can be no meaningful peace in the world.”

Greg Mortenson has built over 84 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, educating children outside the limitations of religion. He also wrote the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time which is now required reading for military leaders and humanitarians. Mortenson has been shot at, kidnapped, and has two fatwas issued against him by local clerics for teaching girls. His mantra; politics won’t bring peace, people will bring peace.

Piedad Córdoba is a Colombian senator whose work negotiating with the guerilla group Farc has earned her the nickname “woman of peace.” Córdoba has helped negotiations with Farc and in 2007 secured the release of 16 hostages. Though political opponents claim that she is too close to Farc, the success of her work speaks for itself. Regarding her opponents claims, she says the political division with only be solved with negotiations and dialogue. “We have to finish this conflict with words and dialogue.”

Wei Jingsheng is called the father of Chinese democracy. A former electrician, Jingsheng became the figurehead of the democratic movement. He was jailed for 18 years for his democratic activities until international pressure forced the Chinese government to release him. During his imprisonment, he wrote letters to the regime on toilet paper which was smuggled from his cell and printed. Even after his release, he openly criticized the communist regime and called for democratization, leading to another jail sentence. Jingsheng famously wrote the Fifth Modernization; “We want to be the masters of our own destiny. We need no gods or emperors.” This is Jingsheng’s seventh nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

President Obama was awarded the Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” So, Obama won because those riots and black power revolutions southern ministers and governors were warning us about never came to pass? Okay, I might be being a bit too harsh. Nobel officials said they chose Obama to rally support behind his initiatives to end nuclear arms, ease tension with the Muslim world and stress diplomacy and cooperation rather than unilateralism. All of these are good things. Personally, I think President Obama has done a lot of great things, and that he can and will definitely achieve more during his presidency. But in the face of the other candidates and their achievements, I’m not entirely convinced he’s done enough yet.

Apparently, Obama doesn’t think he’s done enough either. Nobel award winners receive S1.4 million cash prize and President Obama has given his prize money to charity. I’m guessing he wanted to keep the peace.


About Morgan Maria D'Isidoro

Morgan Maria D'Isidoro has lived in Baltimore, MD for most of her life, saving a handful of failed escape attempts. Given the murder rates, she'll probably die here too. Morgan is a writer of speculative fiction and poetry, a musician of dubious quality, cat aficionado, art history fangirl, kitchen sorceress, recovering pyromaniac, accomplished liar, and an all around person of questionable employability.
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