WASHINGTON, March 10, 2014 – Last week the UK Telegraph featured Forget Obama and the EU. The man who should really have the Nobel Peace Prize is an obscure Iraqi cleric. Today a growing chorus of voices are calling for Grand Ayatollah Sistani to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, both from the Middle East and the West.
The article says of Sistani, “he’s been an outstanding voice of moderation, peace and tolerance, without whom [Iraq] would probably be a far bloodier place than it already is.”
Grand Ayatollah Sistani, 83, is the world’s top Shiite leader, and the head of the Islamic seminary in Najaf, Iraq. He is widely credited as the reason that Iraq has not completely fallen into civil war, and the staunchest advocate for the Iraqi system of democracy. In relation to the Nobel Peace Prize, he has repeatedly both condemned and forbidden violence, saving countless lives.
“In the decade since [the war in Iraq began], the Shia community has suffered the most appalling provocation. Most of the car bombs that have gone off in Baghdad over the years have been targeted at Shia neighbourhoods, killing thousands. Sunni death squads regularly ambush Shia pilgrims as they head to Sistani’s city of Najaf, turning the annual holy festivals into a ritual slaughter. In 2006, al-Qaeda also bombed the Shia holy shrine at Samarra, an act roughly the equivalent to destroying St Peter’s Basilica…
“…Yet throughout all this bloodshed, Sistani has beseeched ordinary Shias not to retaliate.”
At the same time that the Telegraph was calling for Ayatollah Sistani to win the Nobel, so was a major Iranian newspaper, the Tehran Times, marking an unusual instant of agreement between Western and Iranian news media.
It’s hard to pinpoint when the first call for the Grand Ayatollah to win the prize was. In 2005, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Thomas Friedman wrote an article entitled A Nobel for Sistani that said:
“Mr. Sistani has also contributed three critical elements to the democracy movement in the wider Arab world. First, he built his legitimacy around not just his religious-scholarly credentials but around a politics focused on developing Iraq for Iraqis…
“The second thing that Mr. Sistani did was put the people and their aspirations at the center of Iraqi politics, not some narrow elite or self-appointed clergy …, which is what the Iraqi election was all about. In doing so he has helped to legitimize “people power” in a region where it was unheard of…
“Third, and maybe most important, Mr. Sistani brings to Arab politics a legitimate, pragmatic interpretation of Islam, one that says Islam should inform politics and the constitution, but clerics should not rule.
“… All I have to say is: May he live to be 120 – and give that man a Nobel Prize.”
A year later, according to the Telepgraph “a group of Iraqi Christians nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, for giving ‘Muslims all around the globe a good example how to follow peaceful ways’.”
Past Nobel Peace Prize winners have been controversial. In 2013 the Nobel committee unusually awarded the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.” OPCW has more than 180 member countries (and funding from many of them), yet as of today has only eliminated less than 1/3 of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
The committee avoided awarding Malala Yousafzai the award, despite her successful efforts to combat the influence of the Taliban, promote women’s empowerment, and advocate for peace.
In 2012 the committee gave the award to the entire European Union for unclear reasons.
The final decision on this year’s award will be made in October 2014. Other nominees are yet to be announced.