It is reported in today’s Irish Examiner that former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern can not understand the choice of President Obama for this year’s Nobel Prize. (I already posted on the surprise choice of the Nobel Commitee here). Mr. Ahern is quoted as saying that the choice ‘doesn’t make any sense’ and further that President Obama is probably embarrassed by his selection. The quotes come from an interview in Time Magazine with Mr. Ahern (It helpfully notes that Taoiseach is pronounced ‘Tea-shock’). In the article Mr. Ahern blames the media for his decision to step down as Taoiseach noting that they ‘kept after me’ though adding that he would have left office anyway in 2009 . He also considers that the recession can also be put at the media’s door. He asserts that when he attempted to introduce a property tax ‘the media killed me.’ While acknowledging there were mistakes made during the boom years, he would appear to be suggesting that this was largely out of his control and in the media’s. When questioned on whether he would consider running for Irish President he states that he has not considered it
It is in his remarks regarding President Obama that in many ways Mr. Ahern is at his most scathing arguing that if there were prizes for good mood music Mr. Obama would have won two of them and that the prize does not make sense. While I would agree with Mr. Ahern that the choice was ill-judged as I mentioned in the earlier post, it is strange that he is so virulent on the topic. The Examiner article notes that Mr. Ahern was once considered a possible winner of the Prize for his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, one wonders whether this is why Mr. Ahern is so concerned that it only be awarded to those who have achieved something and not on aspiration only.
The Nobel Academy’s surprise announcement that Barack Obama will be the recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his, ‘for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples’ is an unexpected turn of events. The Nobel prize has been awarded since 1901, though it is not given out in years that the Academy do not believe that work undertaken in the previous year has been of such importance that granting the prize would be worthwhile. There have been five Irish winners of the prize; John Hume and David Trimble in 1998, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan in 1976 as well as Sean McBride in 1974. Previous US Presidents have won the award though not while in office; for example, Jimmy Carter in 2002 for his work with the Carter Foundation.
The Norwegian Committee has emphasised Obama’s policy as regard to nuclear weapons, though given Russian President Medvedev‘s agreement to enter into talks regarding Russian policy on the reduction of nuclear stockpiles, it is somewhat surprising that the Academy did not seek to award some similar acknowledgement to him.
The other reason given by the Academy is with regard to America’s re-engagement with international diplomacy and law under the Obama administration. However this seems to simply reward the type of engagement that most other countries carry on with the vast majority of the time. While certainly the Bush years were not the time of multilateral engagement and openness by the United States, it seems strange to reward a President for returning to normal diplomacy.
While this is not as strange a choice as say Henry Kissinger by the Academy, I do sincerely hope that Barack Obama works to deserve the accolade bestowed by working towards peace in Afghanistan and ensuring a peaceful solution can be found to Iran’s nuclear policies.
As we previously noted here, yesterday saw the official launch of the Scholars at Risk Irish network, supported by Universities Ireland. To mark the launch of SAR’s organised presence in Ireland (it had already been working in NUI Galway, particularly through the efforts of the Irish Centre for Human Rights), a very full Robert Emmett theatre in Trinity College Dublin was addressed by Nobel laureate and groundbreaking Iranian human rights lawyer, Dr. Shirin Ebadi. The lecture was delivered in Farsi with simultaneous translation, therefore my notes below are only notes and not direct quotes, but the lecture was a passionate and impacting argument for the importance of free expression, intellectual freedom, democracy and human rights.
On 22 September 2009 the Scholars at Risk network will launch its Irish presence with a launch and lecture at 4.30 pm in the Robert Emmet Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity College Dublin. The Irish network is supported by Universities Ireland and the lecture will be delivered by Nobel laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi.(Right)
SAR is an international organisation based in NYU that aims to protect academics who are at risk in their home countries because of their research and scholarship. According to the SAR website:
Scholars at Risk members save lives by providing sanctuary to professors, lecturers, researchers and other intellectuals who suffer threats in their home country. Through temporary academic positions, SAR members help scholars to escape dangerous conditions and to continue their important work. In return, scholars contribute to their host campuses through teaching, research, lectures and other activities. Many scholars return to their home countries after their visits. When safe return is not possible, SAR staff works with scholars to identify opportunities to continue their work abroad. The benefits are clear: Scholars are free to live and work without fear. SAR members gain talented academics and inspiring, courageous educators. The world benefits from solidarity among universities, greater awareness of current threats to academic freedom, and deeper appreciation of the vital role of higher education and scholarship in free societies.
Early registration for the launch and lecture is advised and can, of course, be done online.
Universities Ireland is to be commended for its support of Scholars at Risk, a move that shows Irish universities’ commitment to academic freedom here and abroad.