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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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US President Barack Obama (R) speaks with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (L), Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, during the US-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, on April 21, 2016
President Barack Obama said Thursday the United States is united with Gulf Arab nations in fighting the Islamic State group and sought to reassure them about US overtures to regional rival Iran. In Riyadh for talks hosted by Iran's arch-foe Saudi Arabia, Obama said Washington still had "serious concerns" about Tehran, but insisted no country had an interest in conflict with the Shiite power. Obama, on likely his final presidential visit to America's historic Gulf allies, was in Riyadh seeking to reduce tensions with the Sunni Arab states.

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> March 2008
file under: Iraq 31 Mar 2008 9:28 PM
Should the U.S. Leave Iraq? Posted by Nissim Dahan
As the U.S. presidential election continues in full swing, a lot of talk centers around Iraq. Senators Clinton and Obama are competing with one another as to the soonest pullout date possible. Senator McCain is pledging to stay the course until victory is at hand. And popular support for the war is at an all time low. So who is right?


There is no question that the U.S. started the war based on wrong intelligence. Prior to the war, there was no significant Al Qaeda presence in Iraq, and no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were ever found. True, Sadaam was an evil tyrant who started two wars, and who caused the deaths of one to two million people. And true, at one time, he not only had WMD's, but used them to kill thousands of Iranians and Kurds. The fact that he ran out of WMD's doesn't make him a saint, does it. But the fact still remains that the U.S. went in to war based on wrong assumptions and false intelligence.


So what's the problem in just pulling out as quickly as possible? We would stop the killing and maiming of our brave soldiers. And we would stop the enormous cost to our taxpayers. The war has already cost over half a trillion dollars; money that could have done a lot of good here at home.


But you don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure out that a precipitous pullout could be exceedingly dangerous. Imagine; the U.S. pulls out. A bloodbath ensues. U.S. credibility and deterrence plummets. Extremists of all flavors jump in to fill the power vacuum in Iraq. Iran's influence in the region continues to grow ever more menacing. Iran continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Sunni countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia follow suit to counter the Iranian threat. The West perceives a threat to its oil supply, and by implication, its economic wellbeing. Result? World War III, with a nuclear edge to it. If the West is inclined to fight for anything, it is dollars and cents.


Perhaps a better course for the U.S. to follow would go something like this:

  • We will initiate a gradual pullout and draw down our forces, and redeploy them to military bases located in strategic areas of the Middle East. Our presence in the region will enable us to keep foreign powers in check.
  • We will continue to train and supply Iraqi soldiers; to allow them to fight the insurgency, and to reconstitute Iraq as a vibrant and prosperous democracy. Iraqis will do most of the fighting on the ground. We can provide air support and intelligence.
  • We will continue to support political reforms and accommodation between the various factions of the Iraqi government.
  • We will establish an International Fund for Economic Development in Iraq, which will be used to invest in Iraq's economy, and to create jobs, in those locations which are secured militarily by Iraqi forces.
  • Our vision for Iraq will be a Vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom-a Vision of Hope-and we will use our influence with the community of nations to make that vision real.
  • As circumstances allow, we will suggest a NATO type force, comprised of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, from various nations in the region, which will step up to the plate when called upon to defend the rights of people in the Middle East.
  • We stand ready to invest in you, if you are ready to invest in yourselves, by fighting the insurgency, by coming together equitably as a people, and by reconstituting your country as a vibrant and prosperous democracy, in keeping with universal values, and with the values of Islam.

In short, regardless of why we went in, in the first place, it may be prudent to maintain a presence in the region, for the sake of U.S. credibility, which has been weakened considerably, and for the sake of maintaining a measure of deterrence, which will be able to keep in check the dangerous ambitions which threaten world peace.


It is easy to cast a negative light on U.S. intentions. And to be quite honest, a great deal of criticism is warranted in this regard. However, you don't have to be much of a political strategist to envision a chaotic outcome in the wake of a precipitous U.S. withdrawal. In the final analysis, like it or not, the U.S. may be uniquely able to bring a sense of hope to the world, even if she has not been able to carry this mantle well in recent years.

file under: religioncommon sense 23 Mar 2008 1:25 PM
Paradise Lost Posted by Nissim Dahan
A lot of people around the world have a lot of faith in paradise or heaven. In the Middle East, in particular, notions of paradise carry a lot of weight, as some feel compelled to kill and die for the sake of their ultimate reward in paradise. And others, in addition, are willing to tolerate the injustice of the present, and do nothing about it, for the sake of the justice that will be meted out in heaven.


Frankly, I choose to believe that paradise does not exist, for two reasons: one, because paradise makes no sense to me, and two, because a belief in paradise may do more harm than good.


Why does paradise make no sense? Every version of paradise that I can think of quickly devolves into the realm of absurdity. Let's consider the possibilities:


Reuniting with loved ones in heaven: Suppose, when we die, we reunite with our loved ones in heaven. Presumably we would have quite an extended family waiting for us up there, considering all the generations which have passed on. Now, consider just one question: Did you ever spend an extended period of time with your extended family? And if so, did you consider that experience to be a "heavenly" experience? I rest my case.


The Garden of Eden version of heaven: Suppose we imagine an enchanted paradise where all our needs are met, and where happiness reigns supreme for all eternity. Can you imagine such a place? Some of us picture 72 virgins attending to our every whim and fancy. Don't get me started. The cost of headscarves alone would probably break the bank. But I, for one, picture the Caribbean Islands: turquoise waters, sunny blue skies, palm trees swaying in the wind, luscious frozen drinks, a delicious international buffet, and a courteous hotel staff waiting on me hand and foot. Sounds heavenly, doesn't it? But consider the time factor...eternity. How am I supposed to drag this vacation scene out for eternity? How many mystery thrillers can I read already? And who will write them up there in heaven; some saintly best-selling author? Doesn't quite work, does it.


The heaven where the soul reunites with God: Suppose I die, and my soul drifts upward and reunites with my Creator. At this point, my soul has no body with which to function, no brain with which to think, and no memory with which to remember. In short, no nothing; no resemblance to human life. Therefore, the soul, whatever it is, is not me, and therefore it is not me up there in heaven, but rather a disembodied spiritual essence of me which I can't really relate to, try as I might.


So, paradise makes no sense to me, but why is a belief in paradise so harmful? Because a belief in paradise or heaven defers to the afterlife what needs to be done right here and right now. The justice we await in heaven should be the justice that is meted out here on earth. Believing in heaven can inhibit us from doing what we need to, today, to make this world a better place, and to make our lives here more purposeful and sustainable. And for all those fervent potential martyrs and suicide bombers out there; do you really want to gamble with the here and now, on the possibly false hope for things to come?


The truth is that heaven and hell are with us right here, and right now. We have it within our power, and in our own hands, to make this life a paradise on earth, or to render the possibility of paradise null and void by making our lives here a living hell. We have the potential for paradise right here and right now. All the necessary ingredients are already in place. But it is up to us to realize that potential, as is the case with all aspects of human potential. Which way do we go as a species?


Suppose I'm wrong. It could happen. I say we cease to exist when we die, like we were before we were born. That's not so scary, is it? You don't really worry about how it was for you before you were born, unless you're deeply in need of therapy. But suppose paradise does in fact exist. Wouldn't it make more sense to say:


"Well, since I don't know for sure, I choose to believe that my life here on earth may be all there is, and I will therefore make the most of my life, because my life, right here and right now, may well be all that I may ever have?" That way, if heaven does exist, it will be like the icing on the cake, to be enjoyed after living a full and happy life. If, however, heaven doesn't exist, then we will still have enjoyed a full and happy life.


You see how common sense works? It covers you coming and going. Any way you turn, it's right there, ready to guide your way along the path of life, like a moral compass you carry within you. It's that special gift, the gift that comes packaged in a box, the box of core truths and universal values.

file under: peacenational defensemoderate majorityhuman rightsfrom hate to hopeextremistseconomic development 3 Mar 2008 8:28 PM
Is Gaza More Than Gaza? Posted by Nissim Dahan
The Middle East is a symbolic place. One thing means another thing, and nothing is quite as it seems. The recent fighting in Gaza can be explained on its face, but it too could be symbolic of a much wider struggle.


Why did Israel decide to respond, as she did, at this particular time? Let's look for the simple answer first. Since Hamas took over the Gaza strip in mid-June, over 800 rockets and over 900 mortar bombs have been fired at Israeli towns like Sderot. A number of injuries have occurred, but these rockets were a bit primitive in design, had a limited range of 3 to 10 kilometers, and have been referred to as "homemade."


However, in the last several days, some 15 heavy rockets known as Katyushas were fired from Gaza against Israel's southern port city of Ashkelon. This rocket, which was used by Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War, has a range of 22 kilometers, and would expose 250,000 Israeli civilians to the threat of attack from Hamas.


We could argue back and forth as to what kind of provocation is enough to force a country like Israel to act in self defense. But there is no question that Hamas' decision to escalate the situation by upgrading its weaponry to Katyushas instead of Qassams, and by targeting Ashkelon instead of Sderot, was done intentionally, and with the specific intent of broadening the conflict. There is also no question that Hamas knew, in advance, that there would be civilian casualties on both sides of the conflict.


And so the question arises: Why would Hamas want to escalate the conflict and what does this say about Gaza's role in the wider conflict between the West and the Muslim world? To a certain extent, the struggle in Gaza is indicative of much broader trends. Hamas has concluded, rightly or wrongly, that a persistent and ever increasing attack on Israel is in their best interest. How else can we explain these attacks in the wake of the Israeli pullout from Gaza? Hamas would like to derail the peace process any way it can, even at the expense of its own citizenry? Why?


There are strong voices, in parts of the Arab world, which cry out that the struggle against Israel, and the parallel struggle against the West, are the only ways for Islam to resurrect itself, and to assume once again the power and prestige it once enjoyed. And Gaza is becoming a symbol of that struggle.


It does not take a brain surgeon to fathom the causes of resentment in parts of the Arab world:

  • It is the resentment that comes from a loss of power and prestige.
  • It is the resentment that comes from extreme poverty with little hope for a better day.
  • It is the resentment that comes from being unable to compete, in a world that seems to be passing you by.
  • It is the resentment that comes from political and religious oppression, and an inability to speak out.
  • It is the resentment that comes from the perceived hypocrisy of free societies supporting repressive regimes.
  • It is the resentment that comes from having the "infidel" occupy your lands.
  • It is the resentment that comes from having an unwelcome quest in your midst.
  • It is the resentment that comes from seeing your cultural identity disintegrate before your eyes.
  • It is the resentment that comes from searching for the soul of Islam, and not knowing which path to follow.
  • It is the resentment that comes from shouting out your deeply held beliefs, to a world that is not inclined to hear.
  • It is the resentment that comes from loving God, and not knowing if He really cares.

And Gaza is becoming the embodiment of Arab resistance, and of the collective decision to lash out in response. The problem is that in the long run, the policies pursued by Hamas, and by other extremists, will not work for them, or for their people. Israel is strong and will use her strength to defend her people. And so too will the West at large, as it defends itself against violent Jihad. Violence will not bring justice, but will only perpetuate itself, at the expense of the people on the street.


If Hamas seeks justice, which remains an open question, then it will declare a truce, and find a way to partner with Israel to create a state, and to create good paying jobs, for the sake of the people. If Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel as its ultimate purpose, then Israel will have no choice but to meet the challenge with even more destruction. No civilized society would do any less for its citizenry.


If Hamas chooses to cultivate its pursuit of death, then it will be up to the people to tell them, "No." And as Gaza goes, so too will go a good measure of the Middle East. And in the final analysis, it will be up to the good and simple man on the street to once again utter the word, "No." But it remains for Israel, and for the West, to make the case as to why he should take the risk.