Newsletter

Receive HTML?

Peace Roadmap

Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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

In the News

Listen to an interview with Nissim Dahan on the Tom Marr Show.

What Do You Think
Should US take preemptive military action against Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities?
 
Who's Online
We have 9 guests and 2 members online
Show Support
Share the Vision
Vision of Hope
Archive >> August 2008
file under: who we areMiddle Eastculture 29 Aug 2008 3:07 PM
"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?" Posted by Nissim Dahan
Remember that Robert De Nero film when he said those words? I think it was Taxi Driver, and believe me; you wouldn't want to be the one talking to him. You probably have enough troubles without getting a crazed animal on your ass.

 

Is it just my imagination, or do people in the Middle East get pissed off easily? Do you think that some of them, at least, get up in the morning wondering where the next insult will come from? And once they lose their cool, they don't easily forget so easily, do they? And it's not a religious thing, either. Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Middle East all seem to be afflicted with the same malady. Maybe it's a tribal thing? Who knows?

 

I remember getting married some thirty-three years ago. We were married on the Champs Elysees in Paris, my wife having grown up there. We invited family from all over the world, and a lot of them actually showed up. But of special concern to us were my two uncles, on my father's side, who hadn't spoken to one another for some twenty-five years. How would they get along at the wedding, we wondered. Would they even come?

 

Well, both ended up coming, and we assigned them to be the two witnesses to sign the Ketubbah, which is the marriage contract in the Jewish tradition. God forbid you give one an honor, and not the other. But would they speak to one another after all those years of silence?

 

My fianc? and I came up with a strategy. We would spend a day with each one separately, showing each some of the sights of gay Paris. We asked one, "Tell me uncle, what was the fight with your brother all about?" He didn't seem to remember. We asked the other. Same response. Hmm. Twenty-five years of not talking to one another, and no one remembers why? Interesting.

 

The day of the wedding, believe it or not, everything went well. The two brothers signed the Ketubba, and that seemed to break the ice. They chatted away, and stayed close ever since, until they passed on.

 

I've often wondered about the psyche of the Middle East. Could it be that people there are particularly sensitive, and prone to bear a grudge? And what are the implications for peace if this is so?

 

If I had to guess, I would say that there is a strain of ultra-sensitivity in the Middle East. Obviously, not in everyone, but the tendency is still there as part of the regional culture. Many Middle Easterners are very proud of their cultural and religious heritage. But the flip side of pride is extreme sensitivity, and a tendency to hold a grudge.

 

Do you have a father, or a family member, that has to be spoken to in just the right way? And if you miscalculate your wording, do you begin to feel the heat just as the words slip off you tongue? And do you sense that your faux pas will not soon be forgotten?

 

Why is any of this important? A sense of honor is important, but a craving for honor could easily bring dishonor. Honor killing is an extreme example. Honor killing brings dishonor to the family, even as the family strives to protect its honor. A sense of pride is important, but too much pride can shut one off from criticism, and can induce long term hatreds due to perceived insults. And like an elephant, one never seems to be able to forget, or to move on.

 

The business of peace in the Middle East will not be clean or comfortable. People abused by the scars of history will hurl insults at one another, to give expression to their collective sense of grief and injustice. How we react in light of those emotions will make all the difference in the world as to our success in brokering a peace.

 

It is natural for people to be emotional. And emotions run particularly high in the Middle East, and for good reason. But it may be time to cool the emotions, even if only a tad. It may be time to go about the business of peace with a cool, calculating, collected mind, one bent on strength of purpose, instead of emotional relief.

 

We may well have to swallow our pride, to create a reality that we can really be proud of. If that means shelving our emotions for a while, so be it. If that means bringing some flexibility to our sense of honor, well that's how it goes. If that means giving up a piece of ourselves in the process, c'est la vie. We will have to be big enough and wise enough to admit that it's not just about us, but about those who will come after us. We will have to step out of who we are, to become something more than we ever were, or could ever imagine.

file under: will of the peopleterrorismmilitaryextremists 8 Aug 2008 9:24 AM
The Soldier and The Terrorist: A Conversation Posted by Nissim Dahan
Most of us know, deep in our gut, that terrorism-the use of force against innocent civilians for the sake of political advantage-is wrong.  But proving that is often more difficult than it first seems. The following hypothetical conversation is a case in point.

 

Soldier: I can't believe you guys; strapping on suicide bombs and blowing up innocent civilians. Have you no shame, no sense of decency?

 

Terrorist: I can't believe you guys; strapping on your seatbelts and firing missiles at this or that target, when you know full well that innocent people will be killed. Have you no shame, no sense of decency?

 

Soldier: There's a big difference here. We do not intend to kill innocent civilians. You do. The innocent people we kill are collateral damage.

 

Terrorist: "Collateral damage?" Isn't that a fancy cover-up for doing exactly what we do? We intend to kill innocent civilians. You don't intend it, but know full well that innocent civilians will die in your operation. So what's the big difference here? Pretending you don't intend something that you know will happen anyway?

 

Soldier: Look, we're wearing uniforms. We're properly equipped. We comply with military conventions. And we do what it takes to defend our country.

 

Terrorist: Well, we don't wear uniforms, because we'd rather not get shot before carrying out our missions. We are not properly equipped because we don't have the means. We defy military conventions because we don't have much of a military. And we fight, using what we have, on behalf of a cause we deeply believe in. We make do with what we have. Once again, all I see is moral equivalency between you and us.

 

Soldier: You're so full of it. All you can do is to hide in the shadows, like a rat, spreading fear wherever you go, and using violence to force people to your way of thinking.

 

Terrorist: And when you fire your missiles, and your bombs, and your guns, aren't you also placing fear in the hearts of  people, and forcing them to swallow your policies against their will? What's the big difference here?

 

Soldier: Yes, but you're so loony, you believe that killing innocent people will make you a martyr, and will get you into heaven, surrounded by 72 virgins no less. How stupid is that?

 

Terrorist: And when you kill and die, your people will celebrate you as a military hero, even if innocent civilians died in the process. How stupid is that?

 

Soldier: I fight for my country because I believe in what she stands for.

 

Terrorist: Do you believe that your country makes mistakes, mistakes which cost innocent lives?

 

Soldier: Well, everyone makes mistakes.

 

Terrorist: So you will fight and kill for your country even if you know she makes mistakes?

 

Soldier: I will defend my country no matter what.

 

Terrorist: So I fight for the cause I believe in, no matter what, even if I'm not always right in what I believe, and even if I have to do some unsightly things, like killing civilians.

 

Soldier: But your cause sucks. At least I'm fighting for something noble, like freedom and democracy, and on behalf of a nation that upholds the rule of law.

 

Terrorist: I don't see any freedom and democracy in the places you occupy. And where is the rule of law when you so easily suspend the rule of law, when you have to fight people like me.

 

Soldier: At least I know what I'm fighting for. What the hell are you fighting for?

 

Terrorist: I fight for God's law, and His law is the real "rule of law." His authority exceeds the authority of your secular nation. And I place my life in His hands, and in His service.

 

Soldier: So you don't see much difference in the tactics we use?

 

Terrorist: Not really. We basically go around doing the same things. We just justify ourselves in different ways.

 

Soldier: And as to motivation; I'm fighting for my country, and you're fighting for God.

 

Terrorist: Well, I don't have a country as yet, since you stole it, so I fight for God instead.

 

Soldier: So there's no big difference between terrorism and military action? Is that it?

 

Terrorist: No difference that amount to any real moral significance.

 

Soldier: Well then, I guess we'll have to let the people decide.

 

Terrorist: The people? What do you mean?

 

Soldier: We have our agenda, and you have yours. It will be up to the people on the street to decide what they prefer?

 

Terrorist: We are at one with the people. We represent the people. There is not even one ray of sunshine between us and the people.

 

Soldier: That's funny. But when some of your people dare to voice their disagreement with you, you usually end up killing them as well.

 

Terrorist: People who turn against us, are with the enemy, and deserve to be treated like the enemy.

 

Soldier: Well then, maybe there is a difference between us after all. Citizens, who disagree with what we do, or with the government we defend, have a right to disagree, and have a right to vote the government out, and there's nothing much we can do about it. So maybe it will be up to the people to decide. If they don't like our government's policies, they will vote it out of office. But if they don't like you, they may very well find another way to put you out of commission.

 

Terrorist: We are ready to die for our cause. We will not allow ourselves to be intimidated by you, or by anyone else, for that matter, even the people on the street.

 

Soldier: Well maybe there's nothing much we can do about you, though we'll keep on trying. But I can assure you, my friend: if you or I begin to walk out of step with the will of the people, they will make their will known to us, and there will be nothing that either one of us could do to stop that. The will of the people will not be deterred. It will be up to them to decide our fate. It will be up to them, once and for all, to decide what they want for themselves, for their children, and for the countless generations of children yet to come.