No holds barred: Decline and fall of the Nobel Peace Prize

No holds barred Decline

Alfred Nobel must be spinning in his grave. How could five Norwegians have so screwed up his great prize? I grew up in awe of the Nobel and its noble recipients. This award was an acknowledgement on the part of our civilization that peace is humanity's greatest goal. I read books about the prize and its recipients. I gave my kids quizzes on the winners. I went so far as to establish an annual lecture at Oxford University that could only be delivered by Nobel laureates. Endowed during the 1990s by philanthropist Edmund Safra, the lecture was delivered to capacity audiences by such luminaries as Elie Wiesel, winner in 1986, Joseph Rotblat, winner in 1995, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, winners in 1994, and most significantly Mikhail Gorbachev, winner in 1990. I used to wait expectantly for the Friday morning in October when the Peace Prize was announced. And as a teenager, when I dreamed of what achievements my life might bring, the Nobel Peace Prize was at the top of the list, even ahead of the presidency of the United States. But what a drag the past few years have been! For me it began when the prize was awarded in 1994 to Yasser Arafat, the godfather of modern terrorism, whose lasting legacy is the army of suicide bombers he launched against the Jewish state to dismember pregnant women and disembowel helpless children. That such a cold-blooded killer could win the world's highest award for peace turned the prize into a farce. At Oxford, I hosted Kaare Kristiansen, who bravely resigned from the Nobel Peace committee as a result of the Arafat debacle. But one bad apple, I said to myself, could not ruin a prize so majestic in its ambition and scope. But then more strange choices followed. Strange, not because the recipients lacked virtue, but because their achievements had little to do with peace. The whole purpose of the prize is to promote peace as humanity's most noble objective. So what did that have to do with Al Gore and climate change, important as the issue is? And why award the prize to Jimmy Carter, whose legacy is not peace between nations but an almost irrational penchant for championing strong-arm dictators at the expense of their oppressed people, including praise offered for such international criminals as Kim Il Sung, Marshal Joseph Tito, Nicolas Ceausescu and Raul Cédras? Indeed, after the prize was awarded to Muhammad ElBaradei in 2005, it seemed it had simply become a tool with which to bash the Bush administration. IN LIGHT of these developments, the night before the prize's announcement last week, I told a friend that I bet President Obama would receive it. My friend was incredulous. "But he hasn't done anything." "Yes," I said, "but he's not President Bush." To be honest, even as I said it I didn't completely believe it. Surely the members of the Nobel Peace Committee did not hate Bush enough to destroy their prize by using it as a stick yet again. But the next morning the unthinkable happened. A man in office only nine months, who has not resolved a single global conflict and who has yet to disarm the Iranian nuclear menace, won the prize. Don't get me wrong. I am not an Obama basher. Our president is a man of rare eloquence. I have supported him through the good he has done and criticized him for the missteps I think he has taken. But come on. Peace is not simply a great speech, and universal harmony is not merely a collection of words. Martin Luther King was arguably the finest American orator of the 20th century. But he won the 1964 prize for his marches, rather than his words. It was his courageous action throughout the American south, defying attack dogs, powerful water hoses and determined assassins, that earned him the prize. It was the change he brought in ending segregation and Jim Crow that made him a global hero of peace. Indeed, the speech King gave in accepting the prize in Oslo is considered to have been among his most lackluster addresses - appropriate perhaps in highlighting that it was what he did, rather than what he said, that mattered. And this is where the real guilt of the Nobel committee lies. They have conveyed the mistaken message that what a man or woman says is as important as what they do. And while we need eloquent words to make us march, until those feet start astompin', the speeches remain empty rhetoric. No doubt had our president been given some time, he might have earned the prize outright, based on real achievements confronting Iran, shoring up Afghanistan's fledgling democracy, and perhaps even disarming North Korea. He might have earned the prize by bringing an end to some of the 30-odd civil wars in Africa where so much of his family still lives. But this prize will now be seen for what it has sadly become - a political statement against Republican US governments. I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat, preferring to utilize my God-given intelligence to choose my own position on the issues. But my value system comes from Judaism, which has always promoted peace as life's supreme goal. Indeed, our religion says one of God's names is Shalom, peace. The president should of course accept the prize; it is not his fault that the committee awarded him something he has not yet earned. But it would be noble if he utilized his speech in Oslo to tell the world that when it comes to people dying and cities being pulverized, words are never enough. Condemning the darkness is not the same as saving the dying, and repudiating the aggressors will never protect the innocent. The writer, founder of 'This World: The Values Network,' has just published The Blessing of Enough and The Michael Jackson Tapes.