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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

Look inside Nissim Dahan's book Selling a Vision of Hope with Google Books.

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file under: vision of hopeAmerican DreamAmericaa new model for the Middle East4th of July 5 Jul 2011 1:22 PM
Happy Birthday America Posted by Nissim Dahan

Granted, I may be somewhat biased in this regard, but to my mind at least, the United States of America is the greatest country on earth, and probably the greatest country that ever was, and unfortunately, every once in a while, it comes time to prove it. This is such a time.


The problems which sit stubbornly at America's doorstep are numerous and overwhelming: a huge debt burden that threatens future generations, a slow economy that is slow to rebound, high unemployment, two wars being fought with limited success, environmental threats which have been put on the back burner, and the list goes on and on. A multitude of problems is taking its toll on the American spirit and putting at risk the American Dream.


As the world watches with dismay at the trials and tribulations of the American enterprise, still somehow, in the minds of many, America continues to be the last best hope for mankind. There is no country on earth that is more able, or more inclined, to help turn things around for the better in this troubled world, as she has done so many times before.    

America has had her fair share of criticism of late, and some of it, at least, is justified. However, as yet, no one has been able to suggest a better form of government, and no other country on earth holds a better promise for the destiny of man.


Many of the problems we face as a nation are problems we share with other nations as well. A world that is quickly becoming smaller economically and environmentally spares no country from the looming threats which are bound to affect us all. We are all in this together. And therefore, if America is able to reset herself, and to make good on the promise of her founding, then the world as a whole will be the better for it.


America must find the courage and the wisdom to look herself in the mirror, and to remake herself in a new light. Cosmetics will not be enough. She has always been pretty to look at, but it is the beauty from within that she has to bring out. Yes, she will focus on solutions to her problems. But those solutions, in this increasingly global world of ours, should take into account the welfare and best interests of other nations and other people, so that a partnership is created the world over, by which the success of one nation inures to the benefit of other nations, and vice versa.


The new world order, and the fix for what ails America, will involve financial engineering, by which all nations stand to gain from the success of individual nations. It can't just be about living the good life. It must also be about living a life that brings good to the world.


Take the Middle East as an example. In the current scenario, America finds herself fighting two wars, at vast expense, and sees the Middle East as a threat to the American way of life, with the oil supply in jeopardy, and extremism on the loose. But what if America could somehow partner with the Arab states, by which American knowhow could be partnered with Arab capital and business sense, in an effort to revitalize the entire region with good paying jobs, including green jobs, and including millions of American jobs as well. What we're looking for here are win/win situations which help everyone move beyond adversity and toward a Vision of Hope.


People the world over sense that things are coming to a head, to an ultimate conclusion of sorts. Human destiny is playing itself out even as we speak. The choices we face are stark. Things will either go well, or they will go very badly indeed. You don't have to be a prophet to realize that when you're talking about the world's oil supply, at a time of increasing competition for scarce resources, you're talking about the potential for World War III.


We owe it to ourselves and to future generations, to avoid the calamity of war. We are called upon, in our time, to remake ourselves in a new light, a light that shines as a beacon of hope, a light that points to the possibility of peace, prosperity and freedom for all, and a light that secures the destiny of man as far as the eye can see. So, happy birthday America.  May you find the courage and the wisdom to live up to the potential that is your birthright.

file under: vision of hopeeconomic developmentDemonstrationsa new model for the Middle East 3 Jun 2011 4:30 PM
A New Model for the Middle East Posted by Nissim Dahan
The Mubarak model is out. The extremists, however, are ready, willing and able to put their model in place. It is important, therefore, for those who seek freedom to put a new model on the table, one that inspires a sense of hope, one that competes effectively for hearts and minds, and one that points to the possibility of peace, prosperity and freedom, on the Arab street, in the Muslim world, and in the world as a whole.


And what will this new model look like? It will look like a Green Industrial Zone between Israel and Gaza, which creates some 200,000 jobs, and which will bear witness to the miracle of Jews, Christians and Muslims working together, side by side, for the sake of a brighter future.


And why will a Green Industrial Zone make any difference now, when so many other such projects have been tried before? Because the Arab Spring is a game changer. Because the man on the street has found his courage, and is crying out for two things: a job, and the personal freedom to live his life as he sees fit. Because the Arab leadership is running out of time, and running out of options. Because at this particular point in time, when so much is at stake, there is a hint of an alignment between the self-interest of some of the key players in the region, and the best interests of the region as a whole. Because the leaders may actually need one another for a change, to stave off some very common existential threats; namely the threat of a nuclear Iran, and the threat of the man on the street. And because these common threats could be used to forge a security/economic alliance between the Arab States, Israel, Europe and the U.S. to provide security, and to revitalize the entire region with good paying jobs.


And who would be willing to build a Green Industrial Zone between Israel and Gaza? Wealthy and powerful people, who would never have said yes before, may be willing to give it a shot this time around. People like Stef Wertheimer, a multi-billionaire in Israel, who sold his business, Iscar, to Warren Buffet, and who enjoys building Industrial Zones where Jews and Arabs work together. People like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who have partnered together in philanthropy, and who may see this project as giving needed direction to U.S. foreign policy, and creating American jobs in the process. People like the Saudis, who have the cash, thank God, and who may see job creation as a way of restoring Arab pride, and bringing about positive change in a gradual and moderate manner, instead of dealing with revolution at their doorstep. People like Hamas, who may still hate Israel's guts, but who may partner with her, nonetheless, in order to create the jobs that the people are demanding. And even Israel, which needs something like this to break the paralysis of the peace process, and which would prefer an industrial zone on her border, as opposed to launching sites for missiles.


And why a Green Industrial Zone in particular? Because a project of this sort would provide the answer to the three greatest questions of our time: How do we grow our economies? How do we protect the environment? And how do we weaken the hold of extremist thinking? And the answers are simple enough: We grow our economies by investing in one another to create good paying jobs. We protect the environment by using business to address the environmental issues endemic to the region, such as water shortages and the like. And we weaken the hold of extremist thinking b giving the man on the street a place at the table, a stake in his future. In the final analysis, the ideological extremists will not be able to capture the public's imagination, once people begin to imagine a better life for themselves.


And why will one, single, solitary project of this sort make any difference to the collective future of mankind? Because at a time when the whole world is looking for answers, and looking for ways to revitalize itself, this particular project will put together all the pieces of a solution to our most intractable problems, will package those pieces in the most attractive way possible, and will allow us to sell the man on the street on a Vision of Hope for the future. As such, a single, solitary project will capture the world's imagination, and will attract additional investment dollars, for other such projects, and what begins as a single, solitary, project could well blossom into a movement for change.


Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, in Montgomery, Alabama. Normally a non-event. But Marin Luther King was no ordinary man. He was a man with a vision, a big vision of hope for America, a vision of equal rights and justice under the law. He saw in Rosa Parks a way to breathe life into his vision. And soon enough, the reality on the ground grew to fill up the space created by the vision, a vision of hope. Such is the dynamic of change in the world, and such is the prescription for change in the Middle East.

file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsraelHamasFatahArab Spring 15 May 2011 5:39 PM
Palestine: How Will She Come Into Being? Posted by Nissim Dahan
The recent agreement in April between Fatah and Hamas has paved the way for Palestinians to act unilaterally, this coming September, to ask the U.N. to declare a Palestinian State on the basis of the 1967 borders. By some estimates, Palestinians will receive 140 votes in favor, when only 128 votes will be needed. The only real question that remains is: Will a Palestinian State come into being unilaterally, or as a result of a last minute negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine?


A non-negotiated Palestinian State will pose problems for both Palestinians and Israelis. On the Palestinian side, a state may well be recognized by the international community, but if Israeli settlements remain in place in the West Bank, and if there is an Israeli military presence there, then Palestine will be a state in name only, with no reality or sovereignty to back it up. Palestinians would probably expect that the international community would pressure Israel to dismantle the settlements and to withdraw to the 1967 borders, but such pressure could take years to bring results. In the interim, political tensions between Fatah and Hamas could resurface, as they have in the past, and if a civil war breaks out, then the international community may become far less willing to pressure Israel to comply with U.N. demands.


A non-negotiated Palestinian State would be a problem for Israel as well. The U.N. could declare the new state, based on the 1967 borders, without resolving such contentious issues as the status of Jerusalem, the settlement blocks around Jerusalem, the rights of the refugees, and the decision as to whether Palestine will be militarized. Under such circumstances, Israel would be faced with the reality of a Palestinian State, without having resolved any of the vital issues which have divided the parties for so many years. In addition, if Israel maintains the settlements and her military presence in the West Bank, then she will likely be subject to a growing campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions by the international community, in an effort to delegitimize her, and to pressure her to relent to U.N. demands.


To a certain extent, the Israel/Palestine issue is a microcosm of the Middle East as a whole. The issues which divide these two people may be unique to this particular conflict, but the ideological barriers that keep these two apart are the same kind of barriers which have kept the Middle East trapped in the past, and which have prevented the Middle East from moving forward. The impasse over borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees is deep-seated, not because an equitable solution can't be found, but because the strength of ideological conviction prevents the parties from making the necessary concession to broker a peace. Is it possible, based on current realities on the ground, including the Arab Spring, that ideological intransigence will finally give way to the need to come together, in Israel and Palestine, and throughout the greater Middle East as a whole?


The Middle East, after years of oppressive rule, corruption, and stagnation, is being asked, by the man on the street, to dismantle the old model, in favor of a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. A transition of this sort is a better pill to swallow for those in power who are used to getting their way. In a similar vein, Palestinians and Israelis are being called upon to weaken the hold, to a certain extent, of ideological conviction, and to embrace the possibility that today is a new day, and that the past may no longer be a harbinger of things to come. Today hints of the possibility of fundamental change, of reaching the next stage of human development, and of becoming more than we ever dreamed possible.

file under: vision of hoperevolutionpeace in the Middle East 27 Apr 2011 4:29 PM
The Means to an End Posted by Nissim Dahan
Every once in a while we come to believe that the ends justify the means. But most of the time we scramble to find the means to a given end. And if we don't find the right means, then the end we seek will not be found, no matter how justified it is.


There is no question in my mind that much of what is happening on the Arab street can be explained as the fervent wish of some very well-intentioned people to shake off the oppressive yoke of the past, and to open the door to a brighter future. The people on the street have found the courage to embrace such noble aspirations as freedom and democracy. And to that end, they have put life and limb on the line, in an effort to dismantle established and entrenched regimes, in favor of new leadership which will be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.


And yet, as justified as these ends are, the means to these ends do matter, because the wrong means could very well spell a dead end to even the most justifiable ends. A revolution, almost by necessity, brings with it a period of instability and even chaos. After all, you can't very well bring change without disrupting the status quo. After a while, a certain measure of battle fatigue is bound to set in, and the revolutionary fervor of the man on the street can easily be overtaken by the political ambitions of political factions which are averse to freedom, which are authoritarian in nature, but which promise to restore some semblance of stability to the nation.


The revolution of 1979 in Iran is a case in point. The Shah of Iran lost favor in the eyes of the people, due in part to his repression of dissidents, even as he ushered in an era of gradual reform. His removal from power brought Shapour Bakhtiar into power, for only 36 days, supposedly with a public mandate to usher in democratic reforms. A period of instability ensued, only to bring to the fore another revolution, by which Ayatollah Khomeini took hold of power, and put in place a regime that was far more authoritarian than anything that preceded it.


It would be a travesty of justice for the people of the Middle East to have shed their blood, and to have invested their hope, only to be overtaken by the insidious agendas of ideological extremists. One way to avoid this, in my opinion, is for people to focus on goals which are realistic, which can be achieved more easily, which are not overly threatening to the powers that be, and which can help to bring about reform that coincides with the aspirations of the people. In short, the aims of the revolutions may have to take current realities into account. Even if a dictator is toppled, there are still those left behind whose agendas and ambitions must be taken into consideration.


I would focus on growing the economy, instituting economic reforms, and guaranteeing personal freedoms, as realistic means to achieving the greater ends of freedom and democracy. Economic growth and job creation may not resonate as dramatically as freedom and democracy. However, it could well be argued that business can be used to create a neutral pathway to freedom and democracy. A good paying job can go a long way to ease the burden of a hard life. But in addition, the same conditions which are needed to grow an economy are the same ones which will allow a viable democracy to take root and to flourish.


Once people across the Middle East are making money together, their lives will gain a good measure of dignity, and gradually, each person will become more humanized in the eyes of the other. Along with the empowerment that comes from personal economic well being, comes a natural inclination to demand and receive greater personal freedoms, and eventually, with the requisite institutions in place, will come a transition to democratic rule, not just in form, but in substance as well.


The economic path to democracy may seem, at first glance, to be a more circuitous path. However, in the long run, it may be the best way to get to where we're going, while minimizing the risk of getting lost along the way. Business is ideologically neutral. Business is something that most people have come to understand. And business is less threatening to the powers that be, who may decide to support the effort, as a way of effectuating positive change, in a more gradual and moderate fashion, while side-stepping  the prospect of chaos at their doorstep.

file under: vision of hopeMiddle East Peaceextremism 19 Apr 2011 7:40 PM
Extremism Knows No Bounds Posted by Nissim Dahan

            It seems, at times, that there are no limits to extremism. I guess that's why they call it "extremism."


            The recent murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, age 36, comes to mind, although there are numerous examples to be found in all the nooks and crannies of the Middle East. Vittorio was an Italian activist and journalist, who chose to live in Gaza since 2008, and who championed the rights of Palestinians for the last several years. He was abducted quite recently by a radical Islamic group inspired by al Qaeda, and was used as a bargaining chip to pressure Hamas, the ruling political faction in Gaza, to release some political prisoners, including a Sheikh whom they consider their leader.


            The group threatened to kill Vittorio if their demands were not met, and a short deadline of 30 hours was put in place. Perhaps the victim tried to convince his captors that he too was fighting for justice for Palestinians. But in the end, the group decided to mete out its own brand of justice. In an unfortunate turn of events, the group's demands were not met, and Vittorio was strangled to death, even before the deadline had elapsed.


            Up until several days ago, I would have thought that Hamas was pretty extreme, calling for such tidbits as the destruction of the State of Israel, and death to the Jews. But now, however, it seems that this Salafist group may be even more extreme than Hamas, murdering an advocate for the Palestinian cause, even as Hamas watched in disbelief, and was rendered powerless to stop it from happening. Is it possible that this extremist group, which has become a thorn in Hamas' side, could be a wake-up call to Hamas, that maybe there is a better way to move forward? Perhaps, but I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.


            Such is the nature of extremism. There is no stopping it once it takes hold. One act of terror begets another, as the cold-hearted calculus of our cause takes us to a place where there is no mercy, where almost anything goes, and where almost any heartless act of violence is deemed justifiable in the name of a greater purpose.


            Aristotle taught us, a long time ago, that the truth is rarely to be found in the extremes. Rather, truth is usually to be found somewhere in the middle. In short, truth is not an extremist position. For example, if you were to ask Aristotle to define courage, he would probably say that it is somewhere in the middle between being foolhardy on the one hand, and being a coward on the other. It is somewhere in the middle, somewhere that Aristotle called The Golden Mean.


            As we search for new paths in the Middle East, paths that are more likely to take us to a better place, we should never lose sight of the fact that there are people out there who will tell us "No!" at every turn. These are people who are very committed to their cause, and for whom failure is not an option. Many of them have convinced themselves that God is on their side, and they have no qualms about killing in His name, even though it is precisely His creatures they are killing.


            We should keep the extremist agenda in mind as we venture forth to realize a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. An opportunity exists, this time around, to make something happen along these lines. But the extremists will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to derail us. Therefore, we will have no choice but to commit ourselves as strongly to our cause as they are to theirs. We will embrace moderation as tightly as they embrace extremism. We will dare to see the world in shades of gray, as they see only black and white. We will accommodate ourselves to our sense of self-doubt, as they convince themselves of the certainly of their cause.


            To triumph over extremism, we will chart for ourselves a course that is likely to take us to a new Middle East, and we will not deviate from our journey, even as fear and intimidation are thrust upon us. We realize that much of what preceded us has led us astray, and we know too that there are those among us who would wish to confound our sense of right and wrong, but we will be true to ourselves as we venture forth to what promises to be a promised land.