Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo wins Nobel Peace Prize — has Obama honored his?
President Obama received his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for what the world hoped he would do. Liu Xiaobo was awarded his for what he’s already done:
Liu Xiaobo is a human rights activist who has called on the Chinese government to be accountable for its actions. He has been detained, arrested, and sentenced repeatedly for his peaceful political activities, including participation in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Along with more than three hundred Chinese citizens, [he] signed Charter 08, a manifesto released on the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 2008), written in the style of the Czechoslovak Charter 77 calling for greater freedom of expression, human rights, and for free elections. As of May 2009, the Charter has collected over 8,600 signatures from Chinese of various walks of life.
Late in the evening of December 8, 2008, two days before the official release of the Charter, Liu Xiaobo was taken away from his home by police. Another scholar and Charter 08 signatory, Zhang Zuhua, was also taken away by police at that time. According to Zhang, the two were detained on suspicion of gathering signatures to the Charter. While Liu was detained, in solitary confinement, he was not allowed to meet with his lawyer or family, though he was allowed to eat lunch with his wife, Liu Xia, and two policemen on New Year’s Day 2009. On June 23, 2009, the Beijing procuratorate approved Liu Xiaobo’s arrest on charges of “suspicion of inciting subversion of state power,” a crime under article 105 of China’s Criminal Law.
When Obama won the prize last year, I wrote the following:
The news that President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize is sure to set off another round of praise, hand-wringing, scorn, awe, judgment, jealousy, pride, and so much more.
It’s a truism that Barack Obama is proof we can achieve big things and fulfill big dreams. But there are constant questions: What constitutes greatness? What is success? Failure? What does it mean to be ‘important’? Is anyone really more important than anyone else? Where is the recognition for those courageous souls who endure deep suffering with great dignity? Does it matter whether they’re recognized? Is their achievement any less significant because it goes unheralded? And what is achievement? Is it material? Is it the attainment of our own arbitrary goals? Is Obama’s success really achievable by everyone? In our society, is it attainable by a woman? By the oppressed and disenfranchised around the world? By the voiceless?
Some of the answers are not what we’d like them to be.
I lost my father a decade ago, but his lessons were those taught by so many fathers: dignity, loyalty, hard work, honesty. I look for those qualities in other people and measure myself against them. I admire those who give selflessly, those who stand for something, whose beliefs matter to them, whose life’s purpose is to make the world a better place. A shining example: Sérgio Vieira de Mello. His story ended far too soon.
But Obama’s is being written before our eyes. And we are helping to write it. Let’s make it one of true greatness.
One of the reasons I admire fellow progressives who place principle above party and speak out against this administration when they perceive a breach of Democratic values is that they are trying to shape the course of events by exerting political pressure based on core ideals. They are writing Obama’s story with him and holding him to standards of greatness, to the standard deserving of a Nobel Prize.
Which is why they condemn indefinite detention, Constitution-defying assassination of American citizens, needless escalation of war, foot-dragging on gay rights, regression on women’s reproductive freedom and deception on life-threatening environmental damage, among other things. None of these activities comport with the high hopes and ideals surrounding the 2008 election, the belief (and relief) that the Bush-Cheney era would be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Prizes and awards honor individuals and are symbolic gestures, but ultimately, these prizes belong to each of us if we play our part in making the world a more just, more humane place. We can do that in many ways, big and small. One way is to hold ourselves and those around us to standards of fairness, justice, honor and dignity and to act and speak out when those standards are breached.