SINGAPORE: Martti Ahtisaari is a great man. He deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for his life work. But it was a mistake for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to cite his work in Aceh as a reason for giving him the prize.
As a recent story by Agence France Presse put it, Ahtisaari’s “most notable achievement was overseeing the 2005 reconciliation of the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement rebels, bringing an end to a three-decade-old conflict that killed some 15,000 people. But it was Indonesia’s people and leaders who should have received the Nobel Peace Prize for the Aceh political miracle.
More fundamentally, the mentioning of Aceh in this Nobel citation raises serious questions about the mental maps used by the Nobel Prize Committee in making these awards. The committee members increasingly seem to be prisoners of the past. They continue to assume that we live in an era of Western domination of world history.
But that era is over. Increasingly, the rest of the world has gone from being objects of world history to becoming its subjects. By giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the Indonesians instead of a European mediator for Aceh, the Nobel Prize Committee would have recognized that the world has changed.
Three other big benefits would also have resulted from giving the award to an Indonesian. First, the West associates the Islamic world with violence and instability. Few believe that Muslims are capable of solving their political problems by themselves.
But this is precisely what the Aceh story was all about. Two key Indonesian leaders, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, showed remarkable political skill and courage in working out the peace deal for Aceh. A Nobel Peace Prize for them would have shown the West that Muslims can be good peacemakers and, equally important, it would have sent a message of hope to the Islamic populations of the world that have seen their self-esteem eroded by stories of failure.
Aceh was essentially a spectacular Muslim success story. Hence, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has squandered a valuable opportunity to send out a message of hope to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims, one that would have rid the world of the grand global illusion that peacemaking is a “white man’s burden.
Kishore Mahbubani is Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. His most recent book is The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).