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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Giving meaning to an empty gesture

President Me Me Me is scheduled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo next week for his 2008 campaign speeches (it can't be for anything else - he was President for twelve days before the nominations had to be in). Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Emanuelle Ottolenghi has an interesting suggestion for turning this empty gesture from the Nobel prize committee into a meaningful one:
One of the transformative figures that precede him on the laureates' roster has been the victim of an unprecedented outrage. The 2003 Nobel Prize laureate and Iran's foremost human rights advocate, Shirin Ebadi, was recently robbed of her medal, alongside several other prizes (including the French Legion d'honneur) by order of Tehran's Revolutionary Court. The Islamic Republic of Iran raided her husband's bank safe and seized all their valuables. Her bank account was also frozen and her pension suspended. The regime claims she owes $410,000 in unpaid taxes—but this is clearly a baseless allegation and another brazen attempt by Tehran to silence one of its most outspoken and effective critics. Her human rights center in Tehran was shut down recently and three of her colleagues have been arrested. She still has her personal freedom—but only because she has not returned to Iran yet. One can expect to see her jailed upon return. Her plight is the plight of Iran—a country whose tyrannical regime Mr. Obama has unsuccessfully tried to engage since taking office last January.

President Obama is the leader of the free world—though his tepid support for Iran's beleaguered pro-democracy movement may suggest he is uncomfortable with this role. Ms. Ebadi is the symbol of defiance against a liberticidal regime, which, to use the President's own words, represents a "common challenge of the 21st century," and one which the president still must confront. They have the Nobel Prize in common. Let it be a way to bridge the gap between the president's ill-fated efforts to engage Ms. Ebadi's oppressors, and America's historic commitment to liberty abroad. And let it be a way to turn the Nobel Prize Committee's choice into a powerful message in the service of peace—for the best way to promote peace is to champion freedom.

The president's engagement strategy with the Islamic Republic has so far yielded little progress on Iran's nuclear program, but offered much cover to Iran's regime. Clearly, internal repression is not Mr. Obama's fault—but his premature award and his pledge to use it as an encouragement to future worthy endeavours offer him an opportunity, after past equivocations, to let Iranians know where he truly stands on the critical issue of their freedom. In Oslo, as the president accepts the award, he should donate his medal to Ms. Ebadi and invite her to the White House for the hand-over. Mr. Obama has already said that the money award of $1.4 million attached to the prize will go to charitable causes. In Oslo, he should similarly direct the Nobel Prize Committee to use the sum to pay Md. Ebadi's trumped up fines—and hopefully spend the rest on Iran-related human rights causes.
Don't hold your breath waiting for Obama to do this - after all, what's in it for him personally? But it's a nice idea.


At 5:20 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The US is not going to do anything to offend the mullahs. Don't hold your breath waiting for Obama to throw US support behind Iran's opposition - this year in fact, he just cut off American support for democracy activism in Iran.

"Empty gesture" indeed


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