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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Nissim Dahan's Blog
A steady stream of consciousness and thought provoking comments on the possibility of lasting peace in the Middle East and the world as a whole.
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.

file under: from hate to hopeeducationeconomic developmentcommon sense 23 Feb 2008 12:38 PM
Where is the Honor in Honor Killing? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Every once in a while we hear of an "honor killing" carried out by a family member against one of their own. A recent article about an Iranian father who stoned his daughter to death, for bringing "dishonor" to him and to his family, is a case in point. The girl may, or may not, have consorted with a man without the father's approval, but he took it upon himself to restore his "honor" in the cruelest way possible, by taking the life of his own flesh and blood.


How is it that people come to believe in such things? And the Muslim world is not the only place where such thinking abounds. You could be riding a subway or a bus in a modern American city, and you make the mistake of looking at a young man in the wrong way. He pulls out a gun and shoots you in the head for "disrespecting" him, simply by looking at him in a way that, in his mind, demeaned his sense of "honor."


A lot of times you see this kind of thinking among the poor and among the uneducated, but not always. If you are poor and uneducated, and if the weight of a hard life weighs heavily down upon you, then you man find yourself grasping at straws trying to reclaim a sense of honor and a sense of dignity. When you have nothing in your life that gives you dignity, or respect, you may end up looking for it in the strangest places: by stoning your daughter, or by shooting a fellow traveler for looking at you the wrong way.


What can I say? We have come to believe in a lot of stupid things. Why? Because many of us have no other reference point, and because sometimes it's just easier to accept what we are told is right, instead of thinking it out for ourselves. But if we think things out before acting out, we may think twice about acting out in the wrong way, and against our own best interest.


Common sense would suggest that there is no honor in killing. Honor is not bestowed on us as a matter of right, but is earned by each of us with the good things we do for one another. We are not entitled to honor. We earn it as we go. Common sense would also suggest that we were put on this good earth to live; not to kill, and not to die, before our time.


But poverty and ignorance do play a part, as many of you rightly point out. They make it more possible for stupid thinking to grab hold. If a father, for example, has a decent job, and a decent education, and is able to provide adequately for his family, then chances are good that he will find his sense of honor in the good things he has, and does, without resorting to the perverse notion of "honor killing," as a source of honor. If his daughter goes astray, he will find the strength, within himself, to set her straight with love and understanding, because his life gives him the self-respect he needs to respect others. But if that same father is left poor, and ignorant, he will find it difficult to respect others, even his own family, when he has no respect for himself.


People the world over will have to begin rethinking some of their deeply held beliefs, so that a semblance of order  has a chance to emerge. We will need a new framework for rational thought based on universal notions of common sense-the collective wisdom borne of shared experience. We will also need to invest in one another, as many of you so rightly point out, so that the moderating influence of education and prosperity could begin to neutralize the influence of extremist thinking. Ideology plus Investment equals Hope, and with hope, all things are possible, even the kindness that we owe it to ourselves, to show one another.

file under: vision of hopetransitionSaudi Arabiapeacemoneyglobal warmingfrom hate to hopeeconomic development 5 Feb 2008 9:01 PM
The Hamsa and the Businessman Posted by Nissim Dahan
Most of you probably know what a Hamsa is. Right? For those who don't; it is a good luck symbol, in the shape of a hand, which has been around as part of Arab and Jewish cultures for centuries. Most Hamsas feature an "eye" to protect from the "evil eye." And in recent times, a great many feature a "dove" to symbolize peace.


What would you say is the evil that we need protection from in this day and age? For what it's worth, today's evil is the evil of ideological extremism. And I'm not just talking about extremist religious fundamentalism. I'm talking about all kinds of ideological extremes, including the belief that we should keep our economies running on fossil fuels, even at the expense of cooking ourselves to death.


As some of you know, I am a strong believer in Selling a Vision of Hope, as the antidote to some of the insanity we see swirling around us. As you look at the five fingers of the hand of the Hamsa, think of the five aspects of Selling a Vision of Hope:


1. The thumb is for Ideology: Instead of believing what you want to believe, start believing in what makes sense. Use an Ideology of Common Sense to speak to one another with Common Sense and with a sense of personal dignity.


2. The index finger is for Investment: Use public and private funds to create an International Fund for Economic Development in the Middle East under the banner: "We stand ready to invest in you, if you are ready to invest in yourselves." Invest in projects which inspire a sense of hope, which create jobs, and which protect the environment."


3. The middle finger is for Hope: Use an Ideology of Common Sense along with some well placed Investment Dollars to Sell a Vision of Hope-a Vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom-on the Arab street, in the Muslim world, and in the world as a whole.


4. The ring finger is for Public Diplomacy: Once you sell a Vision of Hope, you sustain the Hope by launching a series of Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to prop a Vision of Hope up, and to carry it forward, such as: a Media Campaign, a program to Empower Women, a Student Exchange, a Cultural Exchange, an expanded version of the Peace Corps, and a series of International Conferences.


5. The pinky is for the willingness to Fight: When necessary, and it will be necessary, fight, and fight hard, against the forces of extremism, wherever they may be found, but position the fight within a Vision of Hope. Raise the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. People will fight harder once they know what the hell they're fighting for. For example, we are not fighting a "war against terror." We are fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.


That's pretty much it. Now let me ask you this: If you want to give some substance to Selling a Vision of Hope, what kind of project would you recommend? I need your advice. What kind of project would say to the world that a Vision of Hope could be made real if people choose to make it so?


Here's one idea. See what you think. We get a consortium of Arab and Israeli businesspeople to build a factory on the West Bank. They get funding from Saudi Arabia, believe it or not. They hire and train local Palestinian workers to produce a product which is especially suited to protect the environment. For example, they could produce a long lasting battery to power cars. You pull into a gas station and switch out your battery, instead of filling up on gas. The research for this product comes from a leading university in Israel, or elsewhere, which specializes in green technology. The project is successful, and attracts more money, for more projects, for more jobs, and for more eco-friendly products.


Why would the Saudis fund such a project, you may well ask, especially since it promotes green technology? Here are a few possible reasons: The Saudis could use some good PR for a change. They would be using oil profits to protect the earth, and to stabilize the region with good paying jobs. What a concept! They would diversify their investments, and made good money, by getting in on the ground floor of technology that the entire world wants. Good jobs would help neutralize some of the ideological rhetoric, as in the case of China, and India. As people begin to make a living, and begin to imagine a better life, the allure of extremism will diminish. Business has a way of creating its own ideological imperative. Eventually, this effort could pave the way for substantive peace, not just BS, which would bless the House of Saud with a good measure of peace of mind. Everybody wins, even the earth, except maybe the extremists.


So what do you think? Any chance of making something happen along these lines? Are we overlooking anything? Are we on to something, or just spinning our wheels? A penny for you thoughts.

file under: common sense 21 Jan 2008 11:28 AM
Believing In What Makes Sense Posted by Nissim Dahan
This post is dedicated to Mohammad Memarian, who rightfully questions whether it is possible to discern a universally shared ideology based on notions of common sense, which would find widespread agreement throughout humanity at large.


As some of you may already know, I believe that the answer to world peace is Selling a Vision of Hope, which consists of five parts, like the five fingers of a hand:


The thumb is for Ideology: Use an Ideology of Common Sense to speak to one another with Common Sense and with a sense of personal dignity.


The index finger is for Investment: Invest in one another with projects that resonate with hope, that create jobs, and that protect the environment.


The middle finger is for Hope: Use Ideology and Investment to Sell a Vision of Hope-a Vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom-on the Arab street, in the Muslim world, and in the world as a whole.


The ring finger if for Diplomacy: Sustain the Hope with Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to bolster a Vision of Hope, and to carry it forward, such as: Empowering Women, Student and Cultural Exchanges, Media Campaigns, Expanding the Peace Corps, and International Conferences.


The pinky is for the Fight: When absolutely necessary, fight, and fight hard, but position the fight within a Vision of Hope. Raise the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain, by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose.


As you can see, Selling a Vision of Hope has many aspects to it, but it begins with a new ideological perspective, a new framework for rational discourse, a new way of thinking and speaking called an Ideology of Common Sense. So what exactly is this new ideology all about, and is it something that people the world over are likely to buy into?


Let's start with a few questions. Do you believe that a lot of what we believe just doesn't make any sense? And do you believe that the world is moving to a place where we have to begin making sense of our lives, if we are to survive as a species? Do you believe that some of the ideological nonsense we hold on to so tightly is holding us back from taking the steps that are needed to solve the problems we face? And if so, is there an ideological framework which is better suited to the requirements of our current realities? And is it just possible that this new ideological framework is not new at all, but was given to us as a gift, in the very beginning of our stay here on this good earth?


What is Common Sense? We use it every day of the week; except when we're drunk. But what exactly is it? Try defining "common sense" in one sentence. Not that easy, is it?


For me, Common Sense is the intuitive wisdom to conform our thoughts and actions to universally shared truths and values. Don't blow a circuit; it's not all that complicated. The "intuitive wisdom" is the wisdom that comes from within. It's inside you. "Thoughts and actions" because it's not enough to think straight; you have to act on what you know to be true. "Truths and values:" Truths are the realities we perceive. Values are the realities we aspire to. And why are these truths and values "universal?" Certain truths and values are so logical, so fundamental, and so self-evident, that they are universally perceived as true, and therefore universally accepted.


Let me suggest, with your kind indulgence, three such universal principles: The Golden Rule, The Golden Mean, and The Greatest Good. I call them the 3-G's for short.


The Golden Rule: "Treat others as you would have them treat you," is found in every major religion on earth. Why? Because it makes sense. That's why. You don't kill me, and I don't kill you, and we can both continue on our merry way. It's that simple, and therefore, true. What if The Golden Rule would have us treat each other well, by Investing in one another, especially as part and parcel of a truly Global Economy?


The Golden Mean: "The truth is usually somewhere in the middle between two extremes." In other words, truth is not an extremist position, but is rather sitting somewhere in the middle. Aristotle first introduced the idea, but the Prophet Muhammad and the Jewish scholar Maimonides subscribed to it as well. What if the Golden Mean would have us moderate our views by using notions of Common Sense as our Ideology?


The Greatest Good: "Do what brings the greatest happiness to the greatest numbers." First enunciated by Jeremy Bentham as part of his philosophy of Utilitarianism, this principle is reminiscent of the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya, a Muslim scholar. What if The Greatest Good would have us maximize justice by organizing ourselves around a vision of Hope?


Putting it all together, the formula for world peace is not all that complicated. As Thomas Jefferson might have put it: "We find this truth to be self-evident: Ideology plus Investment equals Hope." And with Hope, all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.


This gives you a feel, all be it incomplete at best, for how an Ideology of Common Sense could help to bring us together, and to give us the language to be used in solving some of the big ticket problems we face, like: Global Warming, Poverty, Disease, Ideological Extremism, Nuclear Proliferation, Violence, and the like.


In a better world, Common Sense, as opposed to ideological extremism, will inspire our thinking, and inform our speech. The collective wisdom of humanity-wisdom borne of years of hard won experience-will help repair this fractured world, and will focus our collective energies with common purpose. In our fractured world, Common Sense is the Common Denominator!


Just as mathematics and music share a recognized universality, so too can our ability to decipher what is right from what is wrong be conferred a certain sense of universality, by viewing such issues through the prism of what makes sense. Only then will we be truly ready for the next stage of human development. Only then will the potential for peace, prosperity, and freedom, be truly realized. Only then will we come to know the true destiny we were meant to share.

file under: transitionfrom hate to hope 29 Dec 2007 11:14 AM
Are Clean Hands Possible In a World So Filled With Dirt? Posted by Nissim Dahan
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto filled me with sadness, and reminded me of the sense of hopelessness that permeates much of the world.


I am not a student of Pakistan's history. And I have been made to understand, of late, that in the past, Mrs. Bhutto represented a mixed bag with respect to the aspirations of her people. Yes, there are persistent charges of corruption, and accusations that she supported the Taliban. But I can't believe that her legacy will be defined only by her negatives.


There are several things to consider when we seek to judge her. She was a woman who defied the odds and was twice elected to lead a country that was not predisposed to elect her. Yes, she was driven out on charges of corruption, but, and this should not be underestimated, she chose to come back home. She was not naïve. She knew she faced a grave threat to her personal safety, a point that was driven home when she just arrived. And yet she chose to come back to compete in the political arena. Could blind ambition, alone, explain that? I think not. There must have been some noble aspiration on her part that compelled her to take the risk. Perhaps she learned from past mistakes and wanted to set things right? We can only guess.


In addition, how do we explain the immense popular support she enjoyed among her people? Are people totally blind? If she was so corrupt, and so indifferent to their aspirations, how then would they continue to support her so enthusiastically? They must have seen in her some hope for their country, and decided collectively to forgive her at least some of her past sins, for the sake of the hope she inspired in them. Aren't people entitled to decide accordingly? Isn't that the essence of democratic rule?


Was she a saint? Probably not. But then again, we've all been complicit in creating a world where saintliness doesn't cut it. The weak are crushed by the strong. And even goodness itself has to find a way to maneuver in the midst of evil.


The world is filled with moral vagaries. If a political system is corrupt, are you morally right, as a leader, to play the game, if doing so will give you the political power to do some good? Can we afford the luxury of a clean conscience, at the expense of not delving into the dirt; for fear that our hands may become dirty as well? How do we orchestrate the interplay between good and evil and still be able to look ourselves in the mirror every day?


Whatever else may be said of her, Benazir Bhutto was one hell of a fighter. She may or may not have had dirt on her hands; a clouded past, and a mixed bag of intentions, but she came back, sleeves rolled up, ready to fight. And at the very least, she said the right things, the things that inspired a sense of hope in her people. For that, she should be remembered well, even as we hold her accountable for past sins.


There are lessons here, but it is difficult to muddle through them, much as the truth is hard to decipher in the midst of all the nonsense which surrounds it. A political system which is corrupt will produce corrupt leaders. But leaders who wish to do good may have to play the game if they wish to make a difference. It is not enough to know that your hands are clean. It is sometimes necessary to get them dirty for the sake of the greater good. And in the final analysis, it may well be up to women of courage to save the world. Men may have become too full of themselves. It may well be up to women to use their God-given common sense to dispel some of the myths which hold us all back, and to really protect their babies by making the world safe once and for all.


We have allowed the sad state of affairs in today's world to cloud our thinking, and to taint the purity of innocence. It is hard to see things clearly, and to imagine the possibility that our leaders can be true to their most noble aspirations. We live in a cynical world, where the very possibility of goodness is held hostage by the reality of evil. And yet we have no choice but to hope that things can get better, and that it is our destiny to make it so.


What we see in the life and death of Benazir Bhutto is the playing out of many aspects of the human condition. We look at her, not quite sure of what conclusions to draw, and not at all confident in any judgments we choose to make. And yet we see in her a life that came and went, a life that made a difference, and a life that was cut short before realizing its full potential. What that potential would have been we will never know.