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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> August 2007
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.

file under: human rights 19 Aug 2007 7:19 PM
What is a Woman?s Place in the Arab World? Posted by Nissim Dahan

We have to be careful when we criticize aspects of a foreign culture. It is often a bit presumptuous to do so, and can open up our culture to valid criticisms as well. We are all far from perfect, and we know it.

 

Having said that, even to the casual observer, it is readily apparent that many women in the Middle East are not treated well, and this may well explain some of the problems in the region. In some Arab countries women can not vote, or can not drive, or can not own a business, or can not even work outside the home. The rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan was perhaps the most blatant example of the oppression that women are subjected to in parts of the Middle East. I'll never forget the image of a poor woman being stoned to death in a soccer stadium, for allegedly engaging in adultery.

 

All this stands in stark contrast to Muhammad's teaching, and to his example as a man. You may or may not know, but Muhammad's first wife, Khadijah was a very wealthy businesswoman who owned a number of successful businesses. It was she, in fact, who proposed marriage to the young Muhammad, and who encouraged him in his becoming a Prophet, and in his founding the new religion. Later, one of the Prophet's daughters went on to become one of the greatest theologians of Islam. And in his teachings, Muhammad defied the tribal customs of the day and advocated on behalf of treating women as partners, and protecting their rights.

 

In many respects, strange as it may seem, Muhammad could be thought of as one of the first feminists of the ancient world. When he passed away, however, the tribal customs of the day, including treating women like property, came to be enforced, and became integrated into religious teachings.

 

What is wrong with marginalizing women in the Middle East? Plenty. First of all, how can you thrive economically if half of your workforce is oppressed and marginalized? Also, keeping women down can make it more possible for ideological extremism to flourish. Who are women? They are the givers of life, and the caretakers of life. They know how to make things work, often using scarce resources. Their families depend on them. They work tirelessly to protect their children, and therefore, they don't have the time or the inclination to incite ideological hate, or to instigate violence. When your job is to care for your family, you are not predisposed or conditioned to promulgate hate. Caring for others does not leave much room for hate.

 

Women are the givers of life, and the caretakers of life, and as such are uniquely qualified to reconstitute their societies consistent with a Vision of Hope-a Vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom. Empower women in the Middle East, in ways that they deem appropriate, and you will have changed the face of the Middle East.

 

Investing in female entrepreneurs, for example, makes a lot of sense and will accomplish a great deal of good: women will reclaim their sense of dignity, they will spark needed economic growth, and women and men will work together as equal partners. With economic power women will begin to have a say in political reform and will advocate for their rights: the right to vote, the right to run for office, the right to own and manage a business, the right to work for equal pay, the right to pray with men, the right to participate fully in religious worship, the right to choose a husband, the right to make decisions about her body, and the right to partner with her husband on an equal footing.

 

As women are empowered economically, and as women's rights are asserted ever more vigorously, then gradually the moderating influence of the feminine mystique will help to dull the sharp sword of extremist positions. As the natural givers of life, and as the natural caretakers of life, women do not have a lot of patience for war and bloodshed, and their rational disposition toward peace can and will become a part of the political landscape of the Middle East.

 

So Mamas, this may well be the time, before time runs out, to do what it takes, to really protect your babies, and to protect them in a way that will keep them safe for generations to come.

file under: vision of hopeeconomic development 17 Aug 2007 6:19 PM
Can Wealthy Arabs Be Inspired to Sell a Vision of Hope? Posted by Nissim Dahan

Let me ask you this: What is the one thing that can turn a pipe dream into reality?

 

The answer: Money.

 

Let's face it, Selling a Vision of Hope is only a pipe dream at this point. If you ask me, it's as close to impossible as you can get. Lots of people look at it and wonder if we're smoking something. But all that will change once a wealthy financier decides to fund a project on the ground which resonates with hope, and which says to the world that a Vision of Hope could be made real if people choose to make it so. He could fund an industrial zone, or a vocational school, or a hotel on the Gaza coast, etc. Any project of this sort could be used as part of a PR campaign to spread the message that a new era is about to dawn in the Middle East.

 

Now let's think. Who in the Middle East have lots of money, and who have the greatest vested interest in the future of the Middle East? The answer: The leaders of the Arab world, including: business leaders, political leaders, religious leaders, and royalty. Could these leaders somehow become inspired to Sell a Vision of Hope? In the past, unfortunately, a great deal of money has been used to finance ideological extremism. Perhaps in a bid to keep the peace, and to hold on to power, the decision was made to fund mosques and madrasas in which hate and intolerance were preached and taught. And this is still going on as we speak.

 

The problem, as perceived by many in the Arab elite, is that when you teach hate, the hate can easily come back to haunt you. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the Royal Family is threatened by Osama Bin Laden's hate, as much, if not more, than the West is. So is it just possible that the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia, and others like them in the Arab world, could be inspired to invest in Selling a Vision of Hope, as a way of leading their people with a vision that keeps the peace by inspiring a sense of hope? Is it just possible that a vision of Common Sense, Economic Investment, and Hope is a better way of bringing a semblance of order to the Middle East? And could such a vision be sold to the leaders who are in a position to decide, and to the people on the street who may be willing to listen? And could all this be done, as transformative as it is, while maintaining social order?

 

Like Bob Dylan used to say: "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind."

file under: vision of hope 10 Aug 2007 4:16 PM
Why the word "Selling"? Posted by Nissim Dahan

A good friend asked me recently: Why do you call your project, "Selling" a Vision of Hope? He implied that the word "Selling" has to do with the mundane area of commerce, and may demean the vision in some way.

 

I thought about it for a while and I came up with two reasons why the word "Selling" is indispensable for our Vision of Hope.

 

In the first place, the word "Selling" implies that our vision is persuasive-that we are actually able to connect to the man on the street. When it comes to peace, a lot of good people have a lot of good ideas. But how many of them are actually able to sell their ideas on the ground? How many are able to move people so that they actually become inspired enough to take action on behalf of a vision? We want to "Sell" the vision, not just think about it, or philosophize about it, or write about it, or discuss it on a talk show. We want to "Sell" it to the man on the street, and inspire him with a sense of Hope, because in the final analysis, only he is really in the position to make the vision real, to give it substance on the ground.

 

In another sense, while it is true that the word "Selling" connotes a commercial transaction, in a very real sense, Selling a Vision of Hope is a business deal of sorts. What does the West want? The West wants Peace and a good measure of stability in the Middle East and the Muslim world. What do people in the Middle East want? Most people in the Middle East, except the ideological extremists, want a sense of Hope, a future that they can believe in. So bottom line, here's the deal: The West will Invest in the Middle East as a way of inspiring a sense of Hope, as a way of creating a new reality on the ground, which could one day lead to Peace. In exchange, people in the Middle East will begin to imagine the possibility of Hope, and will work hard toward that end.

 

Is it really that simple? No. But at the heart of Selling a Vision of Hope is an implied quid pro quo. We will Invest to inspire a sense of Hope, and you will remain open to the possibility of hope, because with hope, all things are possible, even the impossible dream of Peace. And the language to be used in our business negotiations will be the universal language of Common Sense, a bridge between the whole of mankind.

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