The infirmity of noble minds

[Originally published in The Hindu October 25, 2009]

[Originally published in The Hindu October 25, 2009]

When George W. Bush lost the American Presidency to Barack Hussain Obama the better part of the world breathed again. Something had actually happened that reversed many dearly-held political and Biblical myths. Christian red-necks had lost out to a very young man with a Muslim lineage and middle name. And a white knight on a white horse (house) had been bested by a dark knight on a dark steed. Racist warmongers were flabbergasted to see that in the land of the brave and the free, a dark man need not anymore be a Prince of Darkness but a source of light. And that those who had peddled themselves as the torchbearers of light were pronounced the sources of darkness at home and abroad. This writer was sufficiently enthused to write a long poem which found its way to the Obama website. Not a panegyric, but one that celebrated but cautioned even as it celebrated.

That caution, after nine or so months of the Obama Presidency, seems vindicated. The war in Iraq continues to fester; and the assault on Afghanistan mires in a dangerously endless killing spree. The Zionists in Israel remain unmoved. The American Congress continues to be unwilling to free itself from the clutches of its life-sustaining corporate lobbyists and will not say ‘yes’ to climate change obligations. Pakistan, the weakest of weak states, succeeds in sucking the world’s most powerful man into a deep hole of deceit and chicanery. And at home voices are raised that say that never a black man can deliver as President. So, what did the Oslo Nobel Committee base its decision on? The promise of a new international climate of dialogue and nuclear disarmament?
Political decision

As to dialogue, the acid tests must be Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Honduras-and the whole Latin hemisphere generally. Can it be said that the Nobel Committee had reason to see paradigmatic transformations concretised in America’s conflicts with these entities? Hardly. And as to the call for a nuclear-free world, wasn’t that first made by Nehru and then by Rajiv Gandhi in the august precincts of the United Nations? But no prizes were awarded to those pioneering calls. The Chairman and Director of Publications of the Fortnightly, Covert, recently pointed out that the most deserving candidate in this area of consideration might have been Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, who actually dismantled his country’s nuclear wherewithal. Had the prize indeed gone to him, imagine how that decision might have radiated to the developing, and more particularly, the Muslim world with whom Obama seeks a new modus vivendi. But no.

In an interview in 1971 for award of the Smith-Mundt (Fulbright) scholarship, this writer was asked at one point as to what opinion he held of the Nobel Prize generally, and the Peace prize particularly. However impolitic it may have been, the answer given was that it was always a political decision. Or else why should a Kissinger have got it and not a Gandhi? Same in other areas of performance, as a long list of hits and misses emerged from that discussion. (Thomas Hardy, who died in 1928, never got the Nobel for Literature, even as many considerably lesser lights did get it.)

Every time that Obama speaks to the world there can be little doubt that he is impelled by a sentient drive to right the world’s wrongs. Yet, Prometheus-like, having stolen the fire from the red-necked Titans, can it be said that he has thus far lit the areas of despair that wrack the world? Can the Nobel Committee say so? Promise, yes, but when has any athelete ever been awarded prizes merely for the promise shown? And is the Committee so sure that this pre-emptive strike on behalf of peace will doubtless bear fruit? Alas, the world we inhabit has traps and treacheries that make such anticipatory simple-mindedness a source of ridicule merely.

True to his gesture of integrity, and his extraordinary intelligence, could Obama not have said to Oslo, first let me deliver and then may you. What a giant leap of leadership that might have been.