The peacemaker

Cyrus Bahrassa | Staff Columnist

President Obama is on a roll. He’s won the most powerful position in the world, a healthy amount of attention and numerous critics. He owns a range of titles, including Person of the Year, Enemy of Humanity, Leader of the Free World and Racist in Chief. And now you can add Nobel Peace Laureate to the list.

Sen. John McCain said it best on CNN that when our country’s president receives an award of such importance, it’s something to be proud of. I’m proud, but I’m also one of the many whose jaw dropped when they first heard the news. Honestly, President Obama’s selection was a huge surprise given his short time in office and his focus on economic and military issues. I would rather have seen the Peace Prize go to GM. No, not the floundering car company, but Greg Mortenson, co-author of Three Cups of Tea.

I’ve never read the book, but the story behind it is amazing. Weak and unwell after attempting to climb K2, one the deadliest mountains in the world, Mortenson ended up in a small Pakistani village, where locals helped him recover. To repay the debt, he vowed to build a school for the village so that children there would have more than twigs for doodling in the sand. He made good on his promise and has since expanded his efforts by founding dozens of schools in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan. Every day, his students fight terrorism with not bombs but books.

To me, Mortenson is a real peacemaker and a true hero because he understands the impact education can have on a community. Children—especially girls—can become literate and empowered. Adults can learn practical skills and gain an appreciation for knowledge to pass on to future generations. I firmly believe education is the best solution to many of the world’s problems, including terrorism, the spread of HIV and global warming. What Mortenson is doing is an example of how an education provides the best chance to improve and to prosper. Teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for life.

Sadly, not everyone agrees. In places where many still view women as trash, Mortenson has had to overcome violence and fatawa aimed at derailing his humanitarian efforts. After the attacks of Sept. 11, he received death threats from Americans because he educates Muslims. To me, such resistance is pathetic and, well, ignorant. I find it hard to fault a man who puts education first, who has the guts to make a difference one school at a time. President Obama won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize; Greg Mortenson should be next in line.

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