Will the Nobel Peace Prize go to a religious leader this year?
(Photo: Nobel Peace Prize 2008 award ceremony, 10 Dec 2008/Ints Kalnins)
The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Oslo. What are the odds that a religious leader will win? I checked with our bureau in Oslo for the latest buzz.
“The Peace Nobel is basically a guessing game,” chief correspondent Wojciech Moskwa warned. A total of 205 individuals and organisations were nominated this year and a record number remained on the secret short list late last month, he learned in an interview with Geir Lundestad, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, French-Colombian politician and former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do and various U.N. organisations have gained traction as possible nominees, but Lundestad firmly declined to comment on the speculation.
By contrast, the independent International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) in Oslo publishes its own picks and it named Colombian peace activist Piedad Cordoba, Jordanian interfaith dialogue pioneer Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal and Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar as its favourites. “PRIO does not appear to have any special inside track, but they have on occasion been right,” said Moskwa.
Readers of this blog will recognise the name of Prince Ghazi, author of the interfaith dialogue manifesto “A Common Word Between Us And You.” That document, initially signed by 138 Muslim scholars and addressed to the leaders of all main Christian churches around the world, marked a fresh approach in interfaith dialogue by stressing two common core principles in Islam and Christianity. As the group says on its website: “Simply put, it is about the Two Golden Commandments: Love of God and Love of Neighbor, and it is an invitation to join hands with Christians on such a basis, for the sake of God and for the sake of world peace and harmony.” In an unusual departure, the document based its argument on quotes from both the Bible and the Koran, opening a new path for the world’s two largest faiths to communicate with each other.
The Common Word group, by now expanded to 305 signatories, has held several conferences with Christian leaders and theologians to explore this new path. One is taking place this week at Georgetown University in Washington. Perhaps the most notable example of its influence was the way Pope Benedict spoke about Islam during his visit to the Middle East last May. His 2006 Regensburg speech, which implied Islam was a violent and irrational faith, so upset and angered the Muslim world that 38 Muslim scholars addressed an initial letter to him in October 2006 correcting some misinterpretations and requesting a dialogue. When no response came from the Vatican, they issued the Common Word document in October 2007 with 138 signatories. They held a successful conference with the Vatican in November 2008 and, in May 2009, Pope Benedict essentially embraced their approach and used their arguments in appealing for more Christian-Muslim dialogue.
(Photo: Prince Ghazi at a Common Word conference at Yale University, 29 July 2008/Tom Heneghan)
“Interfaith dialogue is certainly part of the “bridge building” that the Nobel committee cherishes so much,” Moskwa told me. “They may also like to award a moderate Islamic scholar, especially one whose initiatives are referred to as a ‘theological counter-attack against terrorism.’ Since 9/11, the list of Nobel laureates clearly shows a bigger focus by the Nobel committee on the Muslim world. Prince Ghazi is an interesting candidate, although his name has not been widely mentioned in the Nobel context before PRIO published its picks.”
The other religious leader mentioned is Venerable Thich Quang Do, Patriarch of the outlawed United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, who seems to have been nominated several times since 2000. The Rafto Foundation of Norway, which sometimes anticipates the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded him its annual human rights prize in 2006. Quang Do has long been held under house arrest in his monastery near Ho Chi Minh City, accused of possessing state secrets. He denies that charge and Hanoi denies he is under house arrest or that it represses religion. Now 80, he was first arrested by the Communist authorities in 1977 and has been in and out of jail several times for protesting against restrictions on religion and the forced unification of Buddhist groups into a state-run church. He was put under his present house arrest in 2001.
“Thich Quang Do seems to get attention as a Nobel candidate year after year, but it’s not clear if the committee would pick another Buddhist leader after the Dalai Lama won in 1989. Two decades is usually not that long, in Nobel time,” Moskwa said.
(Photo: Thich Quang Do in a 1 April 1999 file photo)
Father Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo was the last person of cloth to get the prize in 1996, when he shared it for peace work in East Timor, Moskwa added. Other religious laureates include Bishop Desmond Tutu in 1984, Mother Teresa in 1979, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964, Dominican Georges Pire in 1958 and Quaker groups (The Friends Service Council and the American Friends Service Committee) in 1947.
Another Reuters Nobel watcher in Oslo, our Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle, has been checking out the prospects of a “green” winner but the fact that environmentalists won in 2007 (Al Gore and the U.N. Climate Panel) and 2004 (Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai) might work against another one now.
But the uncertainty continues. “There is no rotation (of themes), as there is no rotation as far as geography is concerned,” Lundestad told Reuters.
What do you think? Do you have a favourite religious leader you think deserves the Nobel Peace Prize? Has he or she been nominated — and if not, why not?