What about Gerry Adams? Each story I encountered regarding the recently awarded Nobel Peace Prize contained some such reference to the fact that Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, was not among those being acknowledged for Northern Ireland’s most recent peace accord. While several articles regarded this omission as morally or politically justified, others seemed to suggest he was unfairly deprived of recognition as a essential player in April’s Good Friday Agreement.
The question did not seem all that complicated to me. My gut reaction was that Adams, the leader of the Irish Republican Army’s political wing, had no right to be honored as a “peace-maker.” But I soon realized that this issue was not so cut and dry as my superficial understanding of the troubles had led me to believe.
I have tried to penetrate the turbulent history and the enduring violence that has plagued Northern Ireland. I will be the first to admit that I am nowhere near to grasping the intricacies of this inexorable feud. But what understanding I did have was challenged by the ambivalent attitude expressed towards Gerry Adams in this recent flurry of media coverage.
My investigation of the “Adams question” may have left the dilemma unresolved, but what did surface was how problematic the Nobel Peace Prize can be.
Adams could not be awarded the prize, many articles implied, because he was too controversial. There was a risk that such recognition would be detrimental to the current peace negotiations.
But therein lies the predicament. Should this prize be awarded into the middle of a tenuous peace process?
When awarding other Nobel prizes they usually wait a few years so they don’t, say, give Nobel distinction to a couple of guys claiming to have figured out cold fusion. It is useful to remember that the Nobel committee has recognized the Ulster peace process before…in 1976.
Twenty-two years of bloodshed were to follow Swedish accolade. The Nobel committee seems to like to wave the peace prize, like a carrot, at well-behaving foes.
Unfortunately, the prize is not always a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has the potential to be self-defeating as well.
In a conflict where two opposing sides are trying to come to an agreement, there are often those who adamantly oppose any negotiation. To see their faction’s representative sharing the stage with “the enemy” could do more than push the precarious peace process forward, it could push it right over the edge. The current stalemate in the Middle-East negotiations is a timely example. Four years ago, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat were awarded the Nobel Prize. Considering that Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist, that terrorist acts on both sides have persisted and that the negotiators are still butting heads, we can only hope the Northern Ireland recipients do not follow the precedent set by 1994’s distinguished honorees.
There is another reason many people feel that Adams could not be rewarded the Nobel Peace Prize: as the leader of Sinn Fein (and a former IRA member) he is inextricably linked to the atrocities committed by the IRA.
Of course, the extent of his knowledge and/or participation in terrorist activities is not entirely clear. Sinn Fein denies affiliation with the IRA (but how could it do otherwise considering that IRA membership is a punishable offense). Regardless, Adams’s ties with the terrorist organization have forever defiled his reputation. But it seems that the Nobel’s standards are not so high that Gerry Adams could be not be included among its esteemed ranks.
Not all the winners are (literally) Mother Teresa. Yasser Arafat, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat are just a few of the past recipients whose reputations are strewn with bodies. I still find it ironic that Rough-riding, big-stick bearing, Teddy Roosevelt is one of the two American presidents to have been awarded the Nobel honor.
I don’t mean to diminish his role in bringing an end to the Russo-Japanese War, nor do I want to deny the achievements made by any recipient with a less than pristine past. However, these men demonstrate that a peace-maker can often be a mixed species, part hawk and part dove.
So, what about Gerry Adams? Should he have received a Nobel Prize? My inquiry into this question brought me no resolution.
It is clear that my perspective is too convoluted by a Boston upbringing, too colored by Neil Jordan films, and ultimately, too insulated from the reality of the conflict. However, regardless of any official recognition (of dubious merit) from the Swedes, I think Gerry Adams should be recognized for the strides he has made to facilitate a truce in Northern Ireland.
To be a consistent advocate of peace is great. But achieving peace depends on the enemies. When it comes to ending such trenchant hostilities, like the Troubles, it is the aggressors who ultimately lay down the weapons.
Maybe the “most valuable” peace-maker is he who is “most improved.”