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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> September 2007
file under: transitionfrom hate to hope 27 Sep 2007 5:07 PM
Can A Speeding Train Make A U-Turn? Posted by Nissim Dahan
I suppose that a speeding train could make a u-turn if you add a track that makes a gradual turn, and guides the train gently back in the opposite direction. And in fact, the faster the train is going, the more gradual the turn will have to be, so that the u-turn will not cause the train to derail. Offhand I can't give you the exact mathematical computations, but I know of some sixth graders who probably could. Brainy little tykes. 

 

Why are we talking about trains and u-turns? Think of the Middle East as a train of sorts, a train with a lot of momentum to its motion. Certain unnamed passengers, some in first class, and some in coach, would like to make a u-turn, but there is always the danger that a course change which is undertaken too abruptly could bring the train to a calamitous halt. And yet, a great many passengers sense that a continuation of the present course could only spell trouble as well.

 

There are all sorts of quiet understandings in the Middle East: "Here's some money to build a madrasa, and yes, go ahead and teach what you want to teach," or "Here's some money to build a mosque, and yes, go ahead and preach what you want to preach," or "Here's some money to build a TV station, and yes, go ahead and broadcast what you want to broadcast."

 

In parts of the Middle East, and parts of the Muslim and Western worlds as well, ideological extremists are using Madrasas, Mosques, and the Media, as a propaganda machine to disseminate hate. And the funding for such activities is being provided by leaders of the Arab world, probably in a bid to hold on to power, and to placate extremist elements. Some of the leaders, however, are beginning to question whether disseminating hate is in their best interest. Such leaders may consider making a u-turn if it could be done without derailing the train.

 

There are hints in the air that change is in the offing. For example, a wealthy individual in Dubai has just initiated a 10 billion dollar foundation to promote secular education in the Middle East. Japan has just initiated an industrial zone in the West Bank. Such ventures attest to the idea, which is beginning to sink in, that Hope works better than Hate. You think? 

 

The problem with disseminating hate is that hate is a hard thing to control. If you teach an Arab man on the street, for example, to hate the West because of its corruption, and he notices that his own government has extensive dealings with the West, then the hate could easily be diverted inwardly against his own government. Why are you dealing with the enemy, he may well ask? Similarly, if you teach young Muslim children to detest the excessive materialism of the West, and they notice signs of excessive materialism within the borders of their own country, then the hate you intended for others, could easily be re-focused internally, and disrupt the social order. Hate is hard to control. You never know where it will point to next. And many leaders in the Middle East see the hate of the young generation pointing toward them.

 

And so, wealthy and powerful leaders of the Middle East may well conclude that disseminating hate is dangerous, destructive, and rife with unintended consequences. They may opt to dump an Ideology of Hate in favor of an Ideology of Hope. Such an outcome, as far fetched as it may seem at first blush, may be rendered more likely if the transition could be made peacefully, and gradually, without derailing the train.

 

What could be done to ease the transition from hate to hope? In the first place, the more concerted and unified the effort, the better. Instead of just one Arab country acting alone, and exposing itself to undue risk, it would be better for as many of the 22 Arab countries as possible to join in, so that the shift from hate to hope is seen as a broad based movement, stretching across the whole of the Middle East.

 

In addition, as we all know, saving face is important in the Middle East. Insults are taken very seriously there, and are not easily forgotten. You recall the Danish cartoons. Therefore, if the West undertakes to Sell a Vision of Hope, the "sales pitch" should respect the aspirations and sensibilities of the people there. We should sell a vision that allows people to be who they are, and to become who they want to become, even if they want to become different from us.

 

Selling a Vision of Hope should be structured and presented as a deal that inures to the mutual benefit of the West and the Middle East, and which has been negotiated fairly and at arms length. Only in this way will the train keep its balance, even as it charts a new course.

file under: religioncommon sense 23 Sep 2007 8:57 PM
We Have Met The Messiah And He Is Us Posted by Nissim Dahan
Many religious traditions espouse the notion of the Messiah, a person who will be sent to redeem the world from sin and suffering.

 

In Judaism, the Hebrew Bible doesn't really mention the idea of a personal Messiah who will end evil and usher in an age of peace. But the idea became popular as a result of rabbinic teachings, after the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. It is understandable that in the wake of the Temple's destruction, and the scattering of the Jewish people, the notion of a personal savior was a source of solace for a battered and beleaguered people.

 

Christianity, more than any other religion, has celebrated the idea of a Messiah, and portrayed Jesus as sharing in God's divinity. Jesus is revered as the bearer of God's grace, as a sacrificial lamb whose death erased original sin and saved humanity, as a spiritual being who bridges the gap between God and humankind, and who tells humankind that it is loved and saved. Especially in the Book of Revelation, Christianity speaks of the End of Days, and the battle of Armageddon between good and evil, after which the world will experience a Second Coming of the Messiah, and a reign of peace for 1000 years.

 

In Islam, the Qur'an does not mention a Messiah, but he crept into Islamic tradition as al-Mahdi, the divinely guided one. He will bring peace and justice, restore the true religion, and usher in a golden age that will last seven to nine years before the end of the world. The Shi'ites in particular believe that the Twelfth Imam will be al-Mahdi, who will herald the coming of the golden age and the Last Day.

 

I, for one, without intending any disrespect, prefer to believe that there will be no Messiah coming; that we, in effect, are the Messiah who can usher in the golden age, if we only choose to make it so. I offer a simple common sense principle for your kind consideration: If you know something to be true, then believe in it. If you don't know something to be true, then ask yourself, "Is this thing worth believing in?" If the answer is yes, believe in it. If the answer is no, then let it go.

 

For me, the idea of a Messiah coming here to make things right doesn't seem to coincide with current realities on the ground. And waiting for the Messiah to come, can make a dangerous world even more dangerous. It makes more sense, and is less risky, to assume that making things right is up to us. If we've messed things up, doesn't it make more sense that it is up to us to undo what we've done, and to bring a semblance of order to this good earth?

 

Suppose I'm wrong. It could happen. Suppose the Messiah will eventually make his presence known. Well, if we assume that it is up to us to make things better, and if we do just that, then his coming will be like the icing on the cake. He will come only to find that we beat him to the punch by taking things into our own hands, and making things better, in preparation for his arrival. If, however, he never comes, then we would have still made the world better, relying on our own redemptive powers, instead of waiting for things to come.

 

You see, that's 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 compass you carry with you, the universal moral compass of common sense.

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.