Friday, October 09, 2009

Nobel Prize
Like President Obama, I woke up to the surprising news that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. He got an actual wake-up call. I just got the radio alarm clock version. Still, I have to say I was shocked and my immediate reaction was annoyance: this just gives Republicans the excuse to: a) badmouth these very prestigious and important global awards, something they already started once Al Gore won, and b) complain that Obama hasn't accomplished anything of substance, a charge it's hard to disagree with in many respects.

I'm warming to the idea though (screw the Republicans), helped along by the interview I heard with Elie Wiesel on the way to school.

I think it's very easy from the perspective of America to forget just what the election of Barack Obama means to the world. He represents an affirmation of hope, yes, but hope for what? Hope for lots of things, surely, but this most of all: that our common humanity can overcome the very real conflicts of our cultural differences. It sounds corny, I know. It feels corny to type. But to a world beset by violence and crisis, which saw its most prominent leading country descend into madness over the last 8 years, it must be a very real moment of hope indeed, that America - flaws and all - is not going to merely turn our backs on diplomacy, justice and the environment.

That's no small accomplishment. Whether the President did that, or just represents it, is obviously debatable. But either way, its effects would seem to be significantly felt around the world, and shouldn't be underestimated.

But there's another element to this award: an air of desperation. The world needs you, Mr. President, the committee seems to be saying. This award is for what he - and really nobody else right now - can do, what he should do, and what he must do. It's a reminder of the weight he bears, and indeed an addition to it. The entire world is moved and inspired by his election; but is also depending on him to live up to the award he now owns. That's the message I get from this decision.

Read this reaction from Shimon Peres, and tell me it doesn't re-fill you with the sense of pride and hope you had on election night.
“Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact,” President Shimon Peres of Israel said in a congratulatory letter to Mr. Obama. “You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.”

Mr. Peres, who won the peace prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat in 1994 following the Oslo Accords, added: “Under your leadership, peace became a real and original agenda. And from Jerusalem, I am sure all the bells of engagement and understanding will ring again. You gave us a license to dream and act in a noble direction.”

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