Monday, October 12, 2009

Cornel West on Obama's Peace Prize

Cornel West, who truly is the star of The Examined Life, on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize (worth a listen, but the transcript is here):
I think it's very difficult for any head of an empire to be under the pressure of peace. 'Cause you're head of the largest military in the world, you got over a thousand military installments on the globe, you got ships in every sea. It's very difficult. And I think following brother Martin King, we know that peace is not the absence of conflict, peace is the presence of justice.

As usual, West is cramming reference upon reference into a few short paragraphs. But the last point, that I highlighted above is the most important. The 'presence of justice' can imply a lot of things, and explains why MLK Jr. turned to economic justice and anti-colonialism in his final years. Peace isn't just about ending war, it's about eliminating the conditions that bring about conflict, whether it is in impoverished neighborhoods in the USA or the Global South. So when people ask why I have been, since the start, against the War in Afghanistan or Iraq, is that the war on terror is not a condition that eliminates conflict, it continues and institutionalizes inequalities through war profiteering and the pursuit of narrow geo-political interests. Inequality is perpetuated both home and abroad. And this is obvious during the Bush II years, so much that it is one of the only consistent ways to explain his approach to 'governance' (it's almost impossible to write that without inverted commas). 'Governance' meant, to Bush and his cronies, as massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich as possible.

So trying to correct all that creates high expectations, but sometimes the prize doesn't always maintain such standards. West again:
You think of Nelson Mandela and Martin King, Ralph Bunch [sic: should be Bunche]. What a standard! Whew! But then I also recall Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Kissinger won the peace prize too. De Klerk won the peace prize too, so we gotta pray for our brothers and sisters in Sweden sometimes. But for the moment, we all ought to celebrate and help our dear president.

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