‘Fighting for peace’ is a contradiction in terms. This can be resolved by ‘advocating’ or ‘standing up for’ peace. But, mind you, this is no semantic war; the use of words betrays a mindset. ‘Fighting for’ would suggest that peace doesn’t come to us naturally, that it eludes us, that we are peace mongers at best, using the ‘Atoms for Peace’ argument selectively, thus exposing human nature as a wolf in sheep’s clothing!

But this time around it is not so much about ‘fighting for’ peace; the big fight is about the Peace award. The irony: The Peace Prize as an instrument of disquiet! However, not so strange if we consider that Alfred Nobel instituted it to atone for inventing dynamite! But, curiously, today the world stands dynamited into bits and bytes of opinion, with a 1.4 million dollar question in its trail: Is Barack Obama being awarded for what he has done, is doing, or is going to do?

Has the Prize, citing Obama’s extraordinary efforts toward a nuclear arms-free world, international diplomacy, and cooperation between peoples, come ahead of time? Former Peace Laureate Lech Walesa blurted: “So soon? He has not yet made a real input. He is proposing… but he still has to do it all.” And Henry Ford would have said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

But the point is that Obama has already built quite a reputation for himself. Through his model election campaign, in which ‘change’ was the buzzword, the man battled several odds on his ‘black’ road to the White House. And now nine months into the Presidency, he has created a new climate in international politics and, equally important, a new politics of climate change. Thanks to his world view, dialogue and negotiation have become choice instruments to resolve complex conflicts. His charisma has galvanized the world. To quote Angela Merkel, “Obama has in a short time managed to establish a new tone and a willingness to talk worldwide.”

Granting that the US President has still not been able to fully concretize the envisaged change, could we be as charitable as to recognize that concrete has a certain curing period? If we look at time future as a simple extension of time present, we shall no longer doubt that change is just round the corner. Obama has been an inspirational figure in the face of problems at home and abroad; he has made an impact on the world psyche, giving the people hope for a better future. Of course, he has now to live it out especially in the infernos of Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Afghanistan. His sagacity, intelligence, nobility of purpose and track record of sincerity and hard work will see him through it all. Yes, he can do it!

Some sections of the press have lampooned the choice of Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize; and the Taliban has even suggested that he should have instead won a ‘Nobel Prize for Escalating Violence and Killing Civilians’ (Wonder why they don’t institute a ‘Taliban Prize for Terrorism’!). On the other hand, many have realized that the Prize has come with a price: the pressure to perform, to show the results of his rhetoric, and to live up to the people’s expectations. In this sense, a Nobel Laureate is a modern-day nobleman: if Noblesse Oblige was the creed of the Nobility, responsible action should be the credo of the Nobelity.

Aside his noble intentions, did Obama have Nobel intentions? Members of the former slave race are ecstatic about being catapulted into the New Nobility, but the US President confessed, “To be honest, I do not feel I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honoured by this Prize.” For sure, he was thinking of Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela; of Willy Brandt, who got the Nobel for his Ostpolitik; and Mikhail Gorbachev, who early in his own presidency received the accolade for perestroika and glasnost. But uppermost in his mind must have been his political guru Mahatma Gandhi, who was not honoured by the Nobel and so could do it no honour!

It did surprise many that, rather uncommonly, the Prize should have come in between the promise and the performance. Himself “surprised and humbled” by it, Obama put Nobelity in perspective, saying, “I do not view it as recognition of my own accomplishment…. Throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honour specific achievements; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.”

By his rise onto the world stage, Barack Obama set new benchmarks not only for the international community and unwittingly for the Nobel as well!

(This version was published in Renovação, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 22, 16-30 Nov 2009, under the title ‘Novel Nobel’; the same middle, titled ‘Obama’s Nobelity’, with minor differences, was earlier published in Herald, 14 Nov 2009)