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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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file under: national defensenational budgets 18 Sep 2007 5:25 PM
Democracy and The Military Industrial Complex Posted by Nissim Dahan
I think it was Winston Churchill who once remarked, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all others that have been tried."


Why, exactly, is democracy the greatest form of government?


Democracy is great because it places the greatest amount of confidence in the wisdom of the common man. It challenges him to use his common sense to elect leaders who will serve his best interests. And if those leaders don't measure up, it empowers him to kick them out of office. Whoever invented democracy, must have believed that the wisdom of the common man, as reflected by the wishes of the majority, is the best way of insuring the long term wisdom of government.


And yet, as ingenious as democracy is, it must be protected at every turn. While it is true that the ideological extremism of the Middle East poses a grave threat to our democracy, it is also true that we should be ever mindful of the threats from within. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his farewell address, said that "the military industrial complex," a term he coined, posed one of the greatest threats to our democratic form of government, as envisioned in our Constitution.


In the wake of World War II, and in response to the needs of the moment, a huge industry arose in this country for the purpose of producing and selling arms. The various interests of these huge and powerful companies were made known to our representatives in Congress by lobbyists who effectively protected the best interests of their clients.


The burgeoning relationship between industry, the Pentagon, and Congress, was of immense concern to President Eisenhower. He feared that the military industrial complex could result in policy decisions which were not in keeping with the wishes or best interests of the majority of American citizens.


Could a president, for example, be coaxed into war because it served the best interests of industry, as opposed to the best interests of the American people? Should war be declared by Congress, the representatives of the people, as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution? Or should war be initiated by the president, and remain undeclared by Congress?


Selling a Vision of Hope may require a reworking of national budgets, as we plan for our national defense. Like a general fighting on the battlefield against a fierce enemy, we will have to make use of all our weapons to win the fight that lies ahead. Since the fight against ideological extremism is about winning hearts and minds, and not about winning territory, we will need to fund new programs, and new "weapon systems" which are a bit alien to the current approaches toward defense. In broad terms, our new approaches will be: ideological, economic, spiritual, diplomatic, and military.


Resources will have to be allocated appropriately, even as we restructure some of our priorities. Since the solution to ideological extremism is not exclusively a military one, the allocation of resources will have to take that into account, as we make funds available for a multi-faceted approach toward our national defense.


There is no question that the military industrial complex, as predicted by President Eisenhower, has become an entrenched reality in our political system. The importance of a strong military defense establishment cannot be overstated. However, accommodations will have to be made to the new reality on the ground. Funds will have to be allocated, in the face of competing claims, and in the face of past arrangements, to fund the various programs that will be needed to Sell a Vision of Hope.


Hopefully, we will find it within ourselves as a nation, to make the changes that need to be made, and to face the challenges that lie ahead, with the strength, and the unity of purpose, that have defined previous generations.

file under: vision of hopepeaceeconomic development 11 Sep 2007 12:35 PM
Will Israelis and Palestinians Buy Into A Vision Of Hope? Posted by Nissim Dahan

You can't talk about peace in the Middle East, without talking about Israel and the Palestinians. While it is true that an accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians will have to be reached for there to be peace in the Middle East, it is also true that such an accommodation, in and of itself, will not bring peace to the entire region. In other words, the issues to be resolved in the Middle East go beyond the issues that divide Israel and a future Palestine.


In fact, it could well be argued that the ideological divide between the Western world and parts of the Muslim world would still be there even if Israel never came into existence. However, there is no question that resolving the issues between Israel and the Palestinians would go a long way to bridge the far wider ideological divide between the West and the Muslim world. In a way, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a microcosm of the wider conflict in the Middle East. Solving one will help to solve the other, and vice versa.


What is all the fighting about between Israel and the Palestinians? Experts point to all sorts of causes rooted in history. In the final analysis, there are equities on both sides of the conflict, as is usually the case. Jews trace their historical roots in the land of Israel for over 3000 years. Jews came to the conclusion, after some 2000 years of homelessness and persecution, culminating in the diabolical travesty of the Holocaust, that without a state of their own, they would have no future as a people.


Palestinians, on the other hand, believe that at least some of their people were unjustly displaced from their land when the state of Israel came into being. After Israel became a state in 1948, a great many Palestinians stayed in Israel, became citizens, and currently enjoy the highest standard of living in the Arab world. Arabs comprise about 20% of Israel's population.


Some Palestinians, however, were displaced from their homes either due to their own fears about the new state, or for security reasons during the War of Independence, or because the surrounding Arab nations told them to leave so that Israel could be destroyed, and they could then return to their homes.


But such was not the case. Israel repelled the invading Arab armies, and was not destroyed, and some 700,000 Palestinians became refugees in Arab lands, and have not been integrated into their host countries as ordinary citizens. It is also true, by the way, that as a result of the founding of the state of Israel; some 850,000 Jews were also expatriated and exiled from Arab countries in which they had lived for generations.


The question remains: Why, after so many attempts at brokering the peace, have all the attempts failed?


In the year 2000 President Clinton and Prime Minister Barak, as part of the final status talks of the Oslo Agreements, offered President Arafat most of what Palestinians had been asking for: between 94 and 96 percent of the West Bank, 1 to 3 percent of Israeli land to offset the 4 to 6 percent that Israel would keep for security purposes, all of Gaza, a Palestinian state with Arab Jerusalem as its capital, complete control of East Jerusalem and the Arab Quarter of the Old city, as well as the entire Temple Mount, along with 30 billion dollars to compensate refugees who would relocate to the new Palestine, and a dismantlement of most of the settlements in the West Bank. Arafat rejected the offer, made no counter offer, and a four year second Intifada ensued. Why did the peace effort fail?


People who rush to the peace table are often doomed to fail. This is particularly true of Israelis and Palestinians, where the levels of resentment and distrust know no bounds. People have to be conditioned for peace, in order to tip the balance in favor of peace. When it came to the peace offer made to President Arafat, the offer itself could not tip the balance in favor of peace, because people on both sides of the conflict remained too heavily invested in the mindset of war.


Leaders on both sides of the conflict, if they are to cut a deal, must come to believe that the advantages of peace will outweigh whatever advantages there are in maintaining a state of war. And we shouldn't fool ourselves. For some leaders in the Middle East, the threat of war is an effective propaganda tool for consolidating political power, for maintaining political control, and for diverting attention from internal political, economic, and social problems.


So how do you bring peace to Israel and to a future Palestine? Strangely enough, as you may have guessed, you sell each side on a Vision of Hope. Just as Selling a Vision of Hope could help bridge the ideological divide between the Western world and the Muslim world, so too can it help bring peace to Israel and Palestine. Israelis and Palestinians should begin to speak to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity. Israelis should invest in a new Palestine, and begin to revitalize the economy of that forsaken region.


With investment will come jobs, and with jobs will come hope, and with hope will come the inclination to embrace the possibility of peace. Even your enemy will cut you a break if you speak to him with words that respect his dignity, and you show him that his welfare is your concern by investing in his future. In this way, you can inspire in him a sense of hope, and with hope all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace. After conditioning each side in this manner, the peace table becomes a much more viable option.


The key to peace between Israel and Palestine is justice. Yes, there have been injustices in the past, on both sides of the fence. So the question remains: How do you bring justice?


As Israelis, do you continue to occupy a foreign land, and restrict your policy alternatives based on perceived, and perhaps real, existential threats? Or do you reach out for new possibilities by forging alliances with moderate Palestinians, and thereby marginalizing the extremists in the eyes of their own people?


As Palestinians, do you narrow your focus, and invest your energies in destroying Israel? Will that bring justice? Or do you instead partner with Israel, with all her technological and economic strengths, to help revitalize the economy of a new, and vibrant, and prosperous Palestine? Which option will really bring justice? Which option is really in the best interest of all concerned? Which option makes more sense?

file under: religionpeaceextremists 7 Sep 2007 5:12 PM
The Extremists May Have A Point, But Miss It As Well Posted by Nissim Dahan
Is there any validity to some of the claims being made by the ideological extremists in the Middle East? The answer is probably yes. If they look to the past, they can point to the Crusades, and more recently to the injustices wrought by colonialism. If they look to the present, they can point to the accelerated spread of Western culture and influence, and to the reality of Western economic and military power, as posing a threat to their religious beliefs, and their way of life. If they look to the future, they can point to the strong possibility that the West will continue to capture the imagination of young people, even in the Muslim world, at the expense of the rich legacy of Islamic culture and tradition.


There is no question that the Western model for civilized behavior is becoming the norm in many areas around the world. Look at the spread of capitalism in China, India, and Russia. There is also no question that Western thinking stands in stark contrast to certain interpretations of Islam, particularly the interpretations as enunciated by ideologues like Osama Bin Laden, and others like him. And so, from the point of view of the ideological extremist, Western civilization has threatened his version of Islam in the past, continues to threaten it in the present, and will continue to threaten it in the future.


It is not that the ideological extremists don't have a point. It is rather that they miss the point by advocating indiscriminate violence. As Robert F. Kennedy used to say, "What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents."


The ideological extremists could legitimately say that their way of life, their traditions, and their religious beliefs are being threatened by forces beyond their control such as globalization and the spread of Western civilization. And the answer would be to find ways for religious belief to co-exist with modernity, to use common sense to find common ground. But the minute you advocate on behalf of violence, you undermine whatever legitimacy you may have had, because the call for violence will bring into question the legitimacy of your positions, especially positions predicated on religious belief. "Religious violence," so prevalent in our world, should be considered an oxymoron, the sooner the better.


To have any credibility, an advocate on behalf of religion must advocate on behalf of peace. Religious belief, by its very nature, points us in the direction of peace, not of killing. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all teach that man was created in God's image. Therefore, when we choose to kill one another, aren't we, in effect, spitting on God's face, by undoing the sanctity of His creation, the part of His creation that mirrors Him?


There are legitimate ways to deal with the threats which are perceived by the ideological extremists. We recognize that they are trying to hold on to their deeply held beliefs. We know that they believe that their actions, of behalf of their religion, are being judged by God. We can agree that they should have the right to compete for the hearts and minds of their young. We can admit that things have happened in the past, on all sides, and are continuing to happen in the present, which are unjust, and which undermine the pride of a very proud people. And we are prepared to work together to build bridges, so that the noble traditions of Islam could be passed on from generation to generation.


But having said all that, we have no choice but to conclude that to advocate indiscriminate violence, even in the name of our closely held beliefs, is morally wrong, and cannot be tolerated within the framework of civilized behavior. Whatever legitimacy the extremists may have had, is negated and made null and void by their willingness to kill indiscriminately. The hope is to find a way to bridge the ideological divide by saving face, by restoring pride, by Selling a Vision of Hope, and by leaving by the wayside the inclination to kill.

file under: common sense 30 Aug 2007 4:40 PM
The Little Cavegirl Posted by Nissim Dahan

Picture in your mind a nine year old prehistoric girl, gathering nuts and berries with her mother near the mouth of their cave. Whenever she gets the chance, the little cavegirl likes to bring the spears, which are stored inside the cave, to the male hunters. As she gathers food with her mother, she notices two males approaching from one direction, and two others approaching from the other. The males need their spears to go out and hunt. The little girl aims to please. She quickly takes leave of her mother and runs to the cave to grab hold of the spears.


Now, here's an important question. As you recall, she saw two hunters approaching from one direction, and two others approaching from the other. Would the little cavegirl know to bring back four spears? Remember, it's not like she ever studied math. We're talking prehistoric cavemen here. Would she realize intuitively that two plus two equals four?


None of us can know for sure, but my guess would be that the little girl would know to grab four spears. And her mother would also know to gather up enough nuts and berries to feed the entire clan. What we think of as simple mathematics today, would probably have been a matter of common sense back then.


As it turns out, cavemen were quite adept at using common sense. It helped them survive for some two million years. Our species has only been "civilized" (if you can call it that) for the last 10,000 years. But for the previous two million years we had nothing but brute strength and common sense to get us through yet another day.


You may think that the violence we see swirling about us today dates back to the brutishness of the caveman. You'd be wrong. It turns out, as depicted in a recent documentary on the Discovery Channel called The Rise of Man, that cavemen were actually quite gentle with one another. They took care of their sick, and watched out for each other. As hunter/gatherers there was no real reason to kill. Would you kill your neighbor just to steal a couple of peanuts? Why bother?


So why dwell on cavemen, you may well ask? To sell a Vision of Hope we will need a new way of thinking and a new way of speaking to one another-a new framework for rational discourse. In effect, we will need nothing short of a new ideology, a new system of belief. If we succeed, we will come to believe in what makes sense. But perhaps this "New Ideology of Common Sense" is not new at all? Perhaps An Ideology of Common Sense has its roots deeply embedded in ancient history, in the history of our prehistoric ancestors? Think about it. Common sense kept us going as a species for some two million years. True, it wasn't much of a life-short and brutish in nature. But it was a life, nonetheless.


As you think back to the lives of prehistoric men, women, and children, and as you consider how they were able to keep us going as a species, ask yourself this: How confident are you that we can survive another two hundred years, let alone two million years? Perhaps the key will be to retrace our steps, and to reconfigure our future, in accordance with the time-tested truths and values that sustained our very existence as the years passed? Perhaps the truth of the caveman is the same truth that stares us in the face today?

file under: extremistscommon sense 29 Aug 2007 4:30 PM
Why Would Anyone Strap On A Suicide Bomb? Posted by Nissim Dahan

It is exceedingly difficult for some of us in the West to fathom how a young man or woman could become convinced to blow themselves up in the name of a cause they believe in. Our Western minds have a hard time making sense of the phenomenon of suicide bombers. And yet, we may well have to probe the minds of these fellow travelers, and understand how they think, in order to figure out how to best deal with them, and how to counter the threat they pose.


Some of us naturally assume that a suicide bomber must be necessarily poor or uneducated. We rationalize to ourselves: Only a desperate person with nothing left to lose would be willing to give up his life for the sake of any given cause. But there is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that this is not the case. Many suicide bombers are well educated and well off financially. The 9/11 hijackers are a case in point, as are the recent British doctors. Poverty and ignorance do not explain the dynamics of suicide bombers.


More than anything else, my hunch is that it is religious faith and belief that drives the suicide bomber to do what he does. His worldview is such that he is able to step out of the bounds of social norms, and into a mindset in which extremist thinking and self-destructive behavior become rational and even inspiring. Once he assumes this frame of mind, blowing himself up for a cause he believes in begins to make all the sense in the world.


Many anthropologists have come to believe of late that our species is hardwired for religious belief. It was difficult to understand, at first, why people would subject themselves to all the rigors of religious ritual and belief. But recently, many noted scientists using the Darwinian model of natural selection, have come to the conclusion that the propensity for religious belief was "adaptive" for our ancestors, that it helped them to cope with the difficulties of life and death, and that it was therefore passed on as a genetic trait from generation to generation.


So his religious beliefs are what motivates the suicide bomber, and what allow him to transcend his natural fear of death. His beliefs mold him into the person he must become to fulfill his destiny as a martyr: his belief in Islam, in violent Jihad, in martyrdom, and in the promise of paradise.


It is precisely because we, as human beings, have a need to believe, and have a propensity to act on our beliefs, that it becomes exceedingly important for us to come up with an ideology, a belief system, that makes sense, and that helps us to sustain ourselves on this good earth. In a world that is becoming increasingly technological, dangerous, and complex, and where people are becoming increasingly dependent on one another economically, it becomes even more important to embrace an ideology which keeps us safe, and which allows us to deal with one another without fear or mistrust.


In the past, we may have gotten away with believing whatever we wanted to believe in. Scores of millions of people died unjustly in the name of false belief, but we kept on going as a species. But such is not the case today. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of jumping to false belief. It has become too dangerous to do so. We cannot allow ourselves to hang on to outdated modes of thinking, to beliefs which threaten our very existence.


Yes, we are all entitled, by virtue of our very humanity, to worship as we please, and to believe as we wish. But it is incumbent on all of us, if we are to survive as a species, to screen our religious beliefs through the filter of common sense. I say "all of us" because if we are honest with ourselves, there is extremist thinking on all sides of the ideological fence. If an idea makes sense, we can believe in it wholeheartedly. If it makes no sense, we owe it to ourselves to let it go. Wouldn't such an approach be more in keeping with how God designed the universe? Isn't common sense more in keeping with His intent?


All religions contain scriptural passages or scriptural interpretations which are not palatable to the modern mind, and which make no sense. It is the mark of a reasonable person to ignore such passages and such interpretations even as he holds on to his religious beliefs. To do otherwise would subject us and our children to the insipid onslaught of irrational thought and destructive behavior, and would bring into question the prospects for our very survival. Such a disastrous outcome could not have been God's intent for the creatures He created in His own image.