This year the Nobel Peace Prize has been very personal for me. I was flown to Oslo to speak at the Telenor Youth Conference, to give a keynote speech to a wonderful group of 25 social entrepreneurs under 25, to share my vision with Esplori, the startup I founded, on how to democratise the tools for teaching and learning worldwide. I told them my life story, the mission that drives me, and some life lessons that I've learned along the way, that might be useful to them in pursuing their projects.
We did this in collaboration with the Nobel Peace Centre, and we were invited to the official Nobel Ceremony, at the Oslo city hall. As I write this on my phone, I'm sitting behind the king of Norway (trying to put my thoughts into words without getting caught).
This year's prize goes to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The speech justifying this choice outlines what the OPCW has achieves in the last 15 years, with a significant reduction of chemical weapons worldwide, many countries signing the treaty, and the steps they took in making the world safer.
All this is very good, chemical weapons are a real threat and I'm sure OPCW has done excellent work in the past three lustra. However, I find myself in a state of emotional conflict. While I understand the reason for this choice, I see its merits, and I'm honoured to be here at the ceremony, I also feel that this has been a very, to use a mild term, safe choice.
What I mean by that is that there are a few elephants in the room, and this year prize seems to be ignoring them wholly. The United States is the country with the most troops deployed worldwide (1,3 million in more than 150 countries), and plays a crucial geopolitical role. The fact that Obama, a warmonger, received the prize a few years ago is a disgrace, and it undermines the credibility of the organisation as a whole. Giving the prize to OPCW is a safe choice, one that offends no one, and it could have been given any year, since they've been around for so long, and they are (luckily) likely to stay here for some more, hopefully until there are no more chemical weapons in the world.
But the political climate of 2013, I think, was not in need of a safe choice. It required a bold action, one that would send a strong message. Personally, I think it should have been given to Manning, Assange, and Snowden, for exposing war crimes, government abuse, and bringing the topic to the public spotlight, while also carefully selecting the material, ensuring that no human lives were at risk as a result of the leaks. This would have been a smack in the face of governments and agencies that are committing crimes against humanity, against millions of people every day, and would have put into question the imperialism grandiose plans that are being enacted without us knowing, without our consent, against most constitutions of civilised countries, ironically using public money to do so.
This is my two cents, and while I'm honoured and humbled to be here at the Nobel Peace Ceremony, I have a bittersweet taste in my mouth, thinking that it could have been so much more than a safe walk in the park and pats on the back.
Maybe a mid way would have been more appropriate, with a shared prize between OPWC and the whistleblowers, though I don't know if that's even allowed by the rules.
Perhaps the future will change my mind, but as of now, I think that bold actions, not safe choices, are required to restore the credibility of this ceremony. And in a perfect world, next year they would take away the prize from Obama, but maybe I'm just being delusional.
In a time of violence and bloodthirsty messages of hatred, it is difficult to find a rational yet humane approach to such events. Peter Joseph may not be a social engineer, nor a politician, but he is standing on the shoulders of the real giants. Those who, when facing the easy way to violence, choose the path of love instead. And so should we.
On May 1, 2011 Pres. Barack Obama appeared on national television with the spontaneous announcement that Osama bin Laden, the purported organizer of the tragic events of September 11th 2001, was killed by military forces in Pakistan.
Within moments, a media blitz ran across virtually all television networks in what could only be described as a grotesque celebratory display, reflective of a level of emotional immaturity that borders on cultural psychosis. Depictions of people running through the streets of New York and Washington chanting jingoistic American slogans, waving their flags like the members of some cult, praising the death of another human being, reveals yet another layer of this sickness we call modern society.
It is not the scope of this response to address the political usage of such an event or to illuminate the staged orchestration of how public perception was to be controlled by the mainstream media and the United States Government. Rather the point of this article is to express the gross irrationality apparent and how our culture becomes so easily fixed and emotionally charged with respect to surface symbology, rather than true root problems, solutions or rational considerations of circumstance.
The first and most obvious point is that the death of Osama bin Laden means nothing when it comes to the problem of international terrorism. His death simply serves as catharsis for a culture that has a neurotic fixation on revenge and retribution. The very fact that the Government which, from a psychological standpoint, has always served as a paternal figure for it citizens, reinforces the idea that murdering people is a solution to anything should be enough for most of us to take pause and consider the quality of the values coming out of the zeitgeist itself.
However, beyond the emotional distortions and tragic, vindictive pattern of rewarding the continuation of human division and violence comes a more practical consideration regarding what the problem really is and the importance of that problem with respect to priority.
The death of any human being is of an immeasurable consequence in society. It is never just the death of the individual. It is the death of relationships, companionship, support and the integrity of familial and communal environments. The unnecessary deaths of 3000 people on September 11, 2001 is no more or no less important than the deaths of those during the World Wars, via cancer and disease, accidents or anything else.
As a society, it is safe to say that we seek a world that strategically limits all such unnecessary consequences through social approaches that allow for the greatest safety our ingenuity can create. It is in this context that the neurotic obsession with the events of September 11th, 2001 become gravely insulting and detrimental to progress. An environment has now been created where outrageous amounts of money, resources and energy is spent seeking and destroying very small subcultures of human beings that pose ideological differences and act on those differences through violence.
Yet, in the United States alone each year, roughly 30,000 people die from automobile accidents, the majority of which could be stopped by very simple structural changes. That's ten 9/11's each year... yet no one seems to pine over this epidemic. Likewise, over 1 million Americans die from heart disease and cancer annually - causes of which are now easily linked to environmental influences in the majority. Yet, regardless of the over 330 9/11's occurring each year in this context, the governmental budget allocations for research on these illnesses is only a fraction of the money spent on “anti-terrorism” operations.
Such a list could go on and on and with regard to the perversion of priority when it comes to what it means to truly save and protect human life and I hope many out there can recognize the severe unbalance we have at hand with respect to our values.
So, coming back to the point of revenge and retribution, I will conclude this response with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., likely the most brilliant intuitive mind when it came to conflict and the power of non-violence. On September 15, 1963 a Birmingham Alabama church was bombed, killing four little girls attending Sunday school.
In a public address, Dr. King stated:
“What murdered these four girls? Look around. You will see that many people that you never thought about participated in this evil act. So tonight all of us must leave here with a new determination to struggle. God has a job for us to do. Maybe our mission is to save the soul of America. We can't save the soul of this nation throwing bricks. We can't save the soul of this nation getting our ammunitions and going out shooting physical weapons. We must know that we have something much more powerful. Just take up the ammunition of love.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, 1963
I receive an email from Michael Moore yesterday, an open letter in response to the surprise announcement that Barack Obama's won the Nobel peace prize.
Dear President Obama,
How outstanding that you've been recognized today as a man of peace. Your swift, early pronouncements -- you will close Guantanamo, you will bring the troops home from Iraq, you want a nuclear weapon-free world, you admitted to the Iranians that we overthrew their democratically-elected president in 1953, you made that great speech to the Islamic world in Cairo, you've eliminated that useless term "The War on Terror," you've put an end to torture -- these have all made us and the rest of the world feel a bit more safe considering the disaster of the past eight years. In eight months you have done an about face and taken this country in a much more sane direction.
The irony that you have been awarded this prize on the 2nd day of the ninth year of what is quickly becoming your War in Afghanistan is not lost on anyone. You are truly at a crossroads now. You can listen to the generals and expand the war (only to result in a far-too-predictable defeat) or you can declare Bush's Wars over, and bring all the troops home. Now. That's what a true man of peace would do.
There is nothing wrong with you doing what the last guy failed to do -- capture the man or men responsible for the mass murder of 3,000 people on 9/11. BUT YOU CANNOT DO THAT WITH TANKS AND TROOPS. You are pursuing a criminal, not an army. You do not use a stick of dynamite to get rid of a mouse.
The Taliban is another matter. That is a problem for the people of Afghanistan to resolve -- just as we did in 1776, the French did in 1789, the Cubans did in 1959, the Nicaraguans did in 1979 and the people of East Berlin did in 1989. One thing is certain through all revolutions by people who wish to be free -- they ultimately have to bring about that freedom themselves. Others can be supportive, but freedom can not be delivered from the front seat of someone else's Humvee.
You have to end our involvement in Afghanistan now. If you don't, you'll have no choice but to return the prize to Oslo.
P.S. Your opposition has spent the morning attacking you for bringing such good will to this country. Why do they hate America so much? I get the feeling that if you found the cure for cancer this afternoon they'd be denouncing you for destroying free enterprise because cancer centers would have to close. There are those who say you've done nothing yet to deserve this award. As far as I'm concerned, the very fact that you've offered to walk into the minefield of hate and try to undo the irreparable damage the last president did is not only appreciated by me and millions of others, it is also an act of true bravery. That's why you got the prize. The whole world is depending on the U.S. -- and you -- to literally save this planet. Let's not let them down.
I agree. I think this prize was not given for what he did, but rather a smart political decision that urges him to take more action when it comes to end conflicts. That is, not just speeches and handshakes, but real action. Get the troops home, now, stop the nonsensical wars and occupations that the 2008, U.S. armed forces were stationed at more than 820 installations in at least 39 countries. Some of the largest contingents are the 142,000 military personnel in Iraq, the 56,200 in Germany, the 33,122 in Japan, 28,500 in Republic of Korea, 31,100 in Afghanistan and approximately 9,700 each in Italy and the United Kingdom. These numbers change frequently due to the regular recall and deployment of units..
Altogether, 84,488 military personnel are located in Europe, 154 in the former Soviet Union, 70,719 in East Asia and the Pacific, 7,850 in North Africa, the Near East, and South Asia, 2,727 are in sub-Saharan Africa with 2,043 in the Western Hemisphere excepting the United States itself.
Mr. Obama, are you to stop this madness anytime soon?
There are thousands of people who deserve this prize more than him. But he's the one who has the most potential influence of changing the world for the better, and the Nobel committee just gave him a good reason not to disappoint the world, or else he will have to lose the face, return the prize and show himself as a man of war.
Let's just hope he will bring some of the change he was promising during the election.