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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Obama, Saudi king discuss strained alliance, Middle East conflicts

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Saudi King Salman at Erga Palace upon his arrival for a summit meeting in Riyadh
By Roberta Rampton RIYADH (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama met Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Wednesday to seek joint action on security threats including Iran and Islamic State - and to talk through tensions between the two allies that have been laid bare in recent weeks. Obama's fourth and likely last visit to the world's top oil exporter has been overshadowed by Gulf Arab exasperation with his approach to the region, and doubts about Washington's commitment to their security. Most of the Gulf Arab monarchies have in private been sorely disappointed by Obama's presidency, regarding it as a period in which the United States has pulled back from the region, giving more space to their arch rival Iran to expand its influence.

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> May 2009
file under: vision of hopeMiddle Eastextremismenvironmenteconomy 26 May 2009 10:45 PM
Are the Stars in Proper Alignment for a New Middle East? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Say what you will, the Middle East is a mysterious place. The person who says he knows what will happen there is either foolish of naïve. And yet, there are signs afoot which may point in a new direction, one that is more hopeful, and which hints of a better day and a brighter future.


Whatever else it was, 9/11 was a wake up call of sorts. The horrific events of that day said to the world that there are pent up resentments in various parts of the world, which are festering, which may explode at any time, and which, if taken to their ultimate extents, could threaten Western civilization at its core. 9/11 said to the world that certain basic assumptions about the Middle East may have to be looked at once again, and that certain models that have been put in place, with regard to the sharing of power, may have to be revisited.


Is it smart, for example, for the West to support corrupt regimes which oppress their own people? Is it smart for Arab regimes to pay off the extremists, in a bid to sustain the calm, at the price of teaching hate to a young, frustrated, and impressionable generation? Is it smart to live off of oil profits, without growing an economy and enabling people to earn a decent living? In these and other ways, 9/11 brought into sharp focus the flawed assumptions which underlie much of the Middle East, and much of Western thinking about that precarious place.


Partially in response to 9/11, Western and Middle East governments are beginning to see things from a new vantage point, one that keeps changing as circumstances dictate. The American reaction was initially to launch two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq. But gradually the focus may be shifting somewhat in the direction of winning hearts and minds, not just military battles. Western insecurities about the free flow of oil, and about the viability and health of the environment, may result in a move toward energy independence and renewable sources of energy. Saudi Arabia, which sees a threat to its source of revenue, and which senses that the deal cut with the extremists, circa 1979, is beginning to threaten her own hold on power, may be more open to growing and diversifying her economy, and using oil profits to generate green profits, and using good paying jobs to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking.


The ambitions of some key players in the area may bring with them a realignment of alliances in the region. Iran perceives a power vacuum in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and intends to fill that vacuum with her foreign policy and ideological objectives, buttressed by a nuclear capability. She uses her proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, to test the waters for her ascendancy to power. In reaction, Sunni states like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, may realign themselves with Israel no less; the one power in the Middle East, which, along with the United States, could be looked upon to keep Iran's power in check. If such a military alliance could emerge, and if it could be strengthened with an attempt to revitalize the stagnant economies of the Middle East, could this bode well for a new Middle East?


And the women of the region are being called upon to play their part in pointing to the possibility of hope. The brutal assault on women by the Taliban of Afghanistan brought into sharp focus the plight of women around the world, including the Middle East. The video footage of a woman being executed in a soccer stadium made an indelible impression on millions around the world. The assassination of Benezir Bhutto was more than a minor footnote in the annals of the stifling of women, and the countervailing courage of women. The ineffectiveness of Zippi Livni spoke to the triumphalism of men in contrast to the moderation of women. And yet, women of courage are not hesitating to speak out, even as they face the countless perils entailed in doing so.


What do these, and other such trends, tell us about the direction that the Middle East is likely to take? No one can know for sure. And certainly, human intention is only a small aspect of human destiny. And no one person is in a position to orchestrate the future of the Middle East. But even given all that, in the overall scheme of things, one could argue that there is at least a decent chance of better things to come.


It is not that things will get better just because of the good intentions of some well intentioned individuals, although everyone of goodwill has a part to play. It is rather that the nature of the problems at hand all point in a certain direction, such that the solutions to these problems will necessarily mean that a new day has dawned in the Middle East. For example, could the global economic downturn mean that the Middle East could be seen as a potential economic engine, as a new market for the goods and services of more developed economies? Could the threat to oil rich Arab regimes posed by ideological extremists mean an investment in growing Arab economies, and using good paying jobs to weaken the hold of extremist thinking? Could the threats to the environment mean an investment in green technology, and green jobs, in a bid to diversify strictly oil economies, and to wean the world from its dependence on fossil fuels? Could the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremists be the impetus for new alliances in the Middle East, and even for peace, including an accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians?


No one really knows the answers to these and other such questions. But there is at least a strong possibility that the answers will require the realization of a Vision of Hope, by which, in partnership with the Middle East: we will use a new ideological framework to speak to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity, we will begin to invest in one another to create jobs which grow our economies, protect our environment, and help to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking, we will use an Ideology of Common Sense along with some well placed Investment Dollars to sell one another on a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom, we will sustain the hope by launching a series of public diplomacy programs, including empowering women, which will prop the vision up and carry it forward, and when necessary, and it will be necessary, we will fight against the forces of extremism, and fight hard, but we will also position the fight within a Vision of Hope. We will raise the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. We are not fighting a "war against terror." We are fighting a war of ideas, a war for hearts and minds, a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.


Will all this come to pass? I don't honestly know. But it seems that the solutions to our most intractable problems seem to coincide nicely with a more hopeful vision for the Middle East. Of course, things could get a lot worse before they get any better. But if the stars align themselves just right, and if enough people of goodwill are willing to breathe life into a new vision for the Middle East, then there is at least a good chance that the impossible will happen, and that the broken pieces of the Middle East will come together in a new and better way, one that inspires a sense of hope for generations to come.