After a mere nine months in office, only history may tell whether President Barack Obama is deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. But as an American living abroad, that is not the issue; what is at stake is the image this honor symbolizes for my country. Thirty years ago, I moved to France during the Rea “gun” era. I have endured the Bush blunders and survived a backlash of anti-Americanism ever since by keeping a low profile. If anything, USA has always been the country everyone loves to hate.
Obama’s role is like the one I once played as a professional basketball player on European teams, only on a much greater scale. He is expected to win every battle without stealing the show.
That he received such an unexpected honor one morning, and met with a war council that afternoon, reflects his precarious position during an unsettling time. War is no farther away than the next terrorist act – acts that respect no borderlines.
Should the USA withdraw from Iraq? Should we send more troops to Afghanistan or enter Pakistan? In retrospect, history allows us to weigh repercussions of past decisions such as dropping the atomic bomb in WWII. No one, however, can predict the implications of today’s policies. The stakes are even higher. A nuclear war would never allow hindsight.
What has Obama done in a short time to deserve such a highly esteemed award? He turned around the image of the Ugly American. In a nation once divided over slavery and split by centuries of racial inequality, his election as the first African American to sit in the White House gave hope to other oppressed ethnicities around the world.
He extended an open hand to the Muslim world, demanded a ban on nuclear testing, reopened the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and reversed the unilateral American foreign policy by becoming more compromising and multilateral.
The Nobel Peace committee awarded Obama the 2009 Nobel Prize, “For his extraordinary efforts in reinforcing diplomacy and cooperation…. creating a new climate in international politics.”
Humbled by such an honor, Obama stated that “this not about my accomplishments, but an affirmation of my country… I accept this award as a call to action.”
Instead of demanding what HE is going to do to prove his worthiness, I ask what are WE going to do in our own lives to help him in his vision. As everyone insists, one man alone cannot change the world.
Obama, nor the USA, exists in a vacuum. For better or worse, in sickness and health, in rich times and in poor, all of us – black, white, Jew, Muslim, capitalist, communist –are intermixed, destined to share one planet with limited resources.
When asked if Obama merits such an award, former Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, said simply, “He is a good man.”
At the International School of Geneva in Switzerland, I struggle to unite my class of freshman English students hailing from dozens of different countries, speaking in as many different mother tongues. I can only imagine Obama’s challenge in addressing the United Nations where policy decisions affect the wellbeing of entire nations.
“What has Obama done so far? “Nothing,” critics insist, “he is only a great orator.”
Well, that’s a start.
Words may be our safest weapon, language our best tool of communication. Communication fosters understanding. Understanding breeds compassion. Compassion makes for a better world.
Today, I will ignore the naysayers and stand tall. Congratulations, Mr. President. Thank you. For the first time- in a long time- I am proud to be an American.