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The nobility of "Nobel" recipients

The Jakarta  Post |  Wed, 10/14/2009 1:34 PM  |  Opinion

Anand Krishna

 

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) is, perhaps, the greatest inventor of all time. The range of his inventions is simply mind-boggling, from the deadly dynamite to the prestigious Nobel Prize. It is not the dynamite, though, but the prestigious prize that has carried his name to this date.

In 1988, a French newspaper erroneously published an obituary of Nobel, citing him as "the merchant of death". That was a turning point in the life of the man who had turned Bofors, formerly a steel mill, into a major armament manufacturer, still in business to this day.

Nobel has been successful at disassociating himself from his past. Today, we do not remember him for what he was, but for what he stands for. The Nobel Prize conceived and initiated by him through a will prepared before his death has become a standard, a yardstick of individual achievement for all peoples living on the planet.

Most of us were, therefore, quite naturally surprised when Le Duc Tho (1911-1990), a Vietnamese revolutionary, general, diplomat and politician, declined the prize in 1973. He was awarded the Nobel for Peace jointly with US Foreign Secretary Kissinger for "their efforts in negotiating" peace for Vietnam. While Kissinger accepted the prize, Duc Tho did not, stating there was still no peace in his country.

Earlier, in 1965, philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Nobel for Literature, for he did not believe in the credibility of such prizes.

In the same year, John Lennon and the other Beatles were named Members of the British Empire. Four years later, however, Lennon returned his award, making a stand against the British response toward Vietnam.

Much earlier, in 1919, the famous Indian poet and educationist Rabindranath Tagore (the first Asian to receive the Nobel for Literature) returned the knighthood granted him by the British government, in protest to their atrocities toward his fellow countrymen and women in the Indian dominion.

Now comes President Barack Obama of the United States of America. The recipient - in his own words - was "surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee". But naturally, as former Polish president Lech Walesa, a 1983 Nobel Peace laureate, remarked, "So soon? Too early. He has made no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the recipient of the 1984 Prize, was very diplomatic in his comment: "It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope."

So the prize this year is not given for "achievement", but for "promise" and "message of hope". Indeed, Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee, was very clear about this. He said Obama had "captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future". Emphasizing further, he said the prize was being given for President Obama's "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation among the people of the world".

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg seconded him by stating the Nobel for Peace this year was being "given to someone . who has the power to contribute to peace". Prize for potential; once again "achievement" is not an issue here.

In the business language of export-import trade, this is a clean "red clause letter of credit". Your payment is guaranteed even before the shipment, and you can withdraw it almost in full. Not bad, Mr. President. And two thumbs up to the Nobel Committee for their remarkable improvement over the years. Who cares what Alfred Nobel would have said on this if he were still alive. Rest in peace, my dear old man, we are taking good care of the mandate given to us. You need not worry.

Therefore, let us not worry if President Obama was nominated for the prize only two weeks after his inauguration as the President of the United States. For that was the deadline for the nomination.

Two weeks are more than enough to work miracles and to give hopes and dreams. After all, we are living in the 21st fast-moving century.

It does not matter if the war in Afghanistan is still on and President Obama has not been able to do anything about it, other than continue with the strategy devised by president Bush. The situation in Iraq and Pakistan has also not improved. Iran and its nuclear bomb is no longer an issue, but a reality. The global economic crisis is still taking its toll. And the situation at home remains gloomy.

I presume the Nobel Committee overlooked all such issues, for the prize this year was given to the message of hope, and not to its realization.

Some time ago, a man of God in my country, Romo Magnis Suseno, was granted an award by a leading entrepreneur, which he declined on the ground of moral principles. Follow the lead, Mr. President. Follow the lead of Le Duc Tho. This way, your Excellency, you would not only add a more humane luster to your image, but also save the Nobel Prize from losing its credibility.

Mr. President, I have been meditating on this for several hours now. I have been studying the lives of the past recipients of the prize. Having received it, most of them did not make any further contribution. It was a kind of "reaching the top" experience for them. They could go no further.

Whereas your Excellency has the potential to go further. Let not this prize be a burden on you and keep you from growing and evolving further, which perhaps is the intention of those who worked behind the scenes to ensure you were granted the award.

Mr. President, I humbly request you meditate on this. God bless you, Mr. President. Amen.

The writer is a spiritual activist and author of more than 130 books (www.anandkrishna.org, www.aumkar.org).