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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Palestinian sister-city proposal stirs rancor in Colorado

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2013 file photo, a Palestinian walks through snow on his way home in the West Bank city of Nablus. The Boulder, Colo., City Council was scheduled to vote Tuesday, April 19, 2016, on a formal sister-city relationship with Nablus on the West Bank. But proponents instead asked the city to name a mediator to work with them and opponents, saying they were surprised by the resistance they encountered despite their efforts to win over their critics. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh, File)
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) ? This peaceful university town is 7,000 miles from the violence of the Middle East, but a proposal to become sister cities with a Palestinian community has stirred such rancor that the City Council is trying to negotiate a truce among its own residents.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

file under: Nuclear ThreatIran 25 Apr 2009 8:09 PM
What's So Wrong With a Nuclear Iran? Posted by Nissim Dahan
On the face of it, it may be possible to make a reasonable case for Iran's right to develop nuclear weapons. After all, Iran is an independent nation, and as such, should have the right to self-determination. If Iran perceives a threat from its enemy, Israel for example, which does possess nuclear weapons; shouldn't she have the right to counter that threat with a nuclear arsenal of her own? Why should Israel be singled out as the one state in the Middle East that is allowed to have a nuclear weapons capability? Why should Iran be denied the national pride that comes from joining the league of nations which have achieved nuclear capability?

 

And of course, some of the leaders in Iran may have come to conclusion that the development of a nuclear bomb may bring with it some other benefits as well. A nuclear capability of this sort may be a good defense against outside interference. For example, a lot of people are doing a lot of talking against North Korea, but you don't see anyone doing anything about it. Why? Perhaps because North Korea has entered the privileged circle of nuclear nations. Saddam Hussein had no such capability and look what happened to him. And a nuclear weapons capability would also be a good insurance policy against internal dissent. If the local population gets a bit too rowdy, the clamp of repression can easily be brought down hard, especially if there is little risk of outside interference. And if Iran wants to spread her influence throughout the region, what better way to be taken seriously than to keep a nuclear arsenal in your back pocket?

 

So given all these good reasons for allowing a nuclear Iran, why should countries like Israel or the U.S. even bother to try to block it, especially considering the risks implicit in taking Iran's nuclear facilities out? After all, any attempt to take military action against these nuclear facilities would bring with it a whole host of problems on the perpetrators: a vicious campaign of unbridled terror activity, extreme condemnation in the region and beyond, military reprisals, an upsurge of fanaticism, an oil embargo and/or disruption of the oil supply, etc. And it is precisely the recognition of the price to be paid, that keeps Western countries somewhat paralyzed in their attempts to neutralize the threat of a nuclear Iran. There is a lot of talk, even as we speak, but so far not a whole lot of action.

 

So given the risks implicit in stopping Iran, why not just call it a day, and let them have what they want? Couldn't the threat be countered in other ways, other than a military strike? Couldn't we just point a bunch of nuclear-tipped missiles at Iran and say that if they, or their proxy, ever use a nuclear weapon, then the retaliation against them would be massive. Wouldn't the prospect of such retaliation be enough to keep a nuclear Iran in check, as was the case between the Soviet Union and the U.S. during the cold war?

 

So what is so wrong in allowing Iran to go nuclear? In my view, the greatest threat with regard to a nuclear Iran is her ideological posture. The Mullahs in Iran came into power as a result of a relatively recent political and religious revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini decried the secular leanings of the Shah, and ushered in a renewed commitment to the religious traditions of the past. Shiite Islam would now be the law of the land, and a new foreign and domestic policy would take hold, which is more consistent with the religious tenets of those in power.

 

Religious zeal is precisely what's wrong with a nuclear Iran. Once you put a heavy dose of religiosity into the mix, then all the restraints of rational thinking  go out the window, especially under the right circumstances. Imagine if you will, an extremist group blowing up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and Israel being blamed for it. Under these circumstances, will any measure of rationality be able to control Iran's often stated commitment to destroy Israel, and pushing the button to make that happen? If purely rational considerations were on the table, then prudence and restraint would probably win out. But with religious ideological conviction at play, no one could be sure that reason will prevail, and at the end of the day, the existential risk of nuclear war may be a risk that is too great to take.

 

It is true, as others have often said, that other nuclear nations are ideological as well. It can certainly be said that Israel is ideological about her right to survive. In the war of 1973, for example, when her survival was on the line and in question, there was talk of using the nuclear option, and thank God, that talk did not result in taking such action. But as ideological as Israel is about certain things, like the survival of the Jewish people, she is not ideological religiously. She wants to retain her Jewish character, but she is not particularly interested in spreading Judaism throughout the region. The same cannot be said about Iran, which is very interested in spreading her brand of Islam, and her version of real politick, and is not averse to using terrorist proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah to do so.

 

So bottom line, arguments can certainly be made, based on the equities of the moment, for allowing Iran to fulfill her national aspiration of becoming a nuclear power. And a great risk of reprisal will be taken by any nation, be it Israel or the U.S., which undertakes military action against Iran's nuclear facilities. However, given the religious ideological conviction that motivates at least some of Iran's leadership, the risk of a nuclear Iran may be a risk too great to take, by any and all of the actors in the region: by Israel, by the U.S., by the other nations of the region, and even by the Iranian people themselves. Sometimes, the unimaginable becomes possible, and the possible becomes real. It takes only a little imagination to imagine a nuclear Iran making the impossible real.

file under: Western civilizationPhilosophyGodfrom hate to hopeextremismethicsenvironment 3 Apr 2009 6:26 PM
If You Were God Posted by Nissim Dahan
Try to imagine being God, or more precisely, being the sum total of all the creative energy in the universe, even the energy of intelligence, and even the energy that is the lifeblood of each and every atom. Some 13.7 billion years ago there was nothing, not even time or space, or so the scientists tell us. And then, in an instant, there was a great explosion, what we call The Big Bang, and suddenly, there was everything, the entire universe in all its glory. You made that happen, and your creative energy continues to permeate every corner of the whole of existence.

 

Having created the universe, how would you go about confirming that your creation is indeed good? It's not like you have your mother telling you how great you are. You are God. You are all-powerful. You created something out of nothing. And yet, it is precisely because of your greatness, that you find yourself somewhat alone. In a very real sense, there is no one out there quite like you.

 

And so, in an effort to confirm the efficacy of your good works, you create life, as a reflection of the life that you've breathed into the universe as a whole. And in particular, you create man and woman, in your image no less, so that they could apprehend the nature of your existence, and the wonder of the work that you have wrought. And since you are a creator, and since man and woman are created in your image, then they too are given the power to create the world as they see fit.

 

And so, having put in place the various pieces of the puzzle, you watch for any signs which show that your creation is indeed good. You were like an artist on a rampage when you created the universe. Just look at the pictures sent back from Hubble. But like any artist, you want your work to mean something, and so, the search for meaning is at the heart of your intent in bringing into existence the whole of creation. And yet, how will the possibility of meaning make itself known?

 

In your search for meaning, you created man and woman, in your image, so that like you, they could create as well. But you didn't make it easy on them, did you? In fact, you couldn't. Your inclination was to believe that meaning could only emerge from the struggle between good and evil. And so, in a way, you stacked the deck against human beings, because you wanted to see how they would do in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. If they could succeed against the odds, then it would be an affirmation to you that your creation was indeed good. That it meant something.

 

And in recent days, as if to bring history to a head, so to speak, you've allowed the pressure to increase, so as to allow man's destiny to play itself out, once and for all. And so, you watch as global economies begin to tumble. You sigh as the environment is laid to waste. And you probably laugh as the extremists of the world take their ideological positions so seriously. But you are not detached from your creation. You still have a stake in the game. Your sense of self-worth is on the line after all. If man is somehow able to pick up the broken pieces, and to recast himself as "new and improved," then it will be an affirmation to you that your creation is indeed good, and that as between good and evil, good has the upper hand. At such time, your belief in the possibility of meaning will have been vindicated.

 

And so, having a legitimate stake in the game, you continue to make your presence known. With little hints along the way, and with puzzling coincidences that are ever more purposeful then they seem at first, you point to the right path for us to follow. As a loving mother nudging her baby to take her first steps, you push us onward, in so many ways, to do what is right, and what is necessary, even as we trip and fall at every turn. You do this because at the end of the day you want to believe that it was not all for naught, and that there is an underlying meaning to the whole of creation, a meaning that is sometimes buried somewhere, but is still waiting to get out.

 

Many of us lowly humans around the world find our nations' fabric somewhat tattered and frayed at the edges. Out economies are falling apart. Our environment has been trashed. And the forces of extremism are busy hatching plans for our collective future. It is time to pick up the pieces, and to weave them together in a new pattern, one that is more reminiscent of our founding principles and highest ideals. It is time to help God out to realize the potential for meaning, the meaning that was part of the design, but that has yet to come to fruition. Will we find the courage and the wisdom to use the dire circumstances of our time to remake ourselves in a new light, a light that will shine as a beacon of hope, for all to see, and for all to follow? What do you think?

 

file under: Western civilizationterrorismextremism 2 Feb 2009 12:14 PM
Pakistan's Swat Valley: Lest We Forget Posted by Nissim Dahan
I saw a news report recently on ABC News, about a little known place called Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan. It used to be a tourist haven not long ago, a ski resort, but has been transformed of late into something quite different. The news video showed a father carrying his son's limp body in his arms, after a mortar attack. The boy would not survive, nor would his sister. Masked men could be seen dumping mutilated bodies in the town square. One of these men was beating a man with a wooden rod for reportedly being a drug addict.

 

What had previously been considered a more developed district has been overtaken by the Taliban over the last 18 months. Approximately 184 schools were destroyed by the Taliban, 120 of which had been girls' schools. Women who had come to know progressive reform were now threatened with death for shopping alone.

 

Swat used to be called the "Switzerland of the East" but is now referred to by the people as "the land of the terrorists." The economy has collapsed, and parents don't feel safe sending their children to school. The Taliban have targeted politicians, police, and reporters with a hit list, and 47 local politicians, leaders and activists have been ordered to appear before the Taliban court, or else. Dozens have already been killed. The local police have been systematically wiped out, their numbers shrinking from 1700 police officers down to 300.

 

There is widespread belief in Swat that the Pakistani military has struck a deal with the militants, and is therefore not going out of its way to defeat them. However, military officers point to the difficulty of fighting militants who position themselves among civilians. Some question the military's commitment in the face of the ferocity of the Taliban's fight. Yusufzai, the Peshawar editor of The News International says that "...these militants are willing to die while the soldiers are trying to save their lives." Political activists accuse the military of supporting camps in tribal areas where militants receive training. The Awami National Party's Gohar says that in her opinion, "If we want peace and prosperity in Pakistan, we cannot go around killing people in other countries, or sending in extremists and militants from our soil."

 

Why is any of this important to the rest of us? We don't live in Swat Valley, do we?

 

In the wake of 9/11, U.S. foreign policy has focused on regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. All sorts of justifications have been offered for these policies, some of which have been proven to be false. But in the meantime, these two brutal wars continue to rage on, with no clear outcome in sight. And the conflict between Israel and Palestinians continues unabated as well. The recent military campaign in Gaza is just another case in a long string of military volleys back and forth.

 

America and Israel have faced an onslaught of international criticism as a result of their military activities, and the suffering such activity brings upon innocent civilians. And it is fitting that a world which calls itself civilized, should be repulsed by violence, and should be able to speak out against the brutality of military action, and in favor of justice for the innocent. After all, what does it mean to be civilized if it is not justice we seek? All this is true. And it is true as well that both America and Israel, who do share a strong connection based on common values, similar circumstances, and mutual interest, have gone overboard at times, with regard to excessive violence, and have wavered with regard to strategy, and with regard to their ultimate goals. In a very real sense, I doubt whether either Israel or the U.S. has a clear picture of what their ultimate goals really are.

 

But in the midst of all this uncertainty, one thing is pretty certain; the ideological extremists do indeed know what they want, and are emboldened by ideological conviction to get it. It is easy to get so wrapped up in criticizing the U.S. and Israel, that we lose sight of that. And yet, much as we hesitate to admit it, confronting the extremists is absolutely necessary, if we don't want our countries to delve into the hell that is Swat Valley.

 

Context is important. For example, stealing is wrong. That's true. But a mother stealing bread to feed her starving children is less wrong. Isn't it? Killing civilians is wrong. That's true. But killing civilians unintentionally in defense of one's freedom is less wrong. Isn't it? There are certain questions which have to be answered, and certain decisions which have to be made, even if they bring into question the very moral fiber of our being. Is there a threat to Western civilization posed by ideological extremists? Is this a threat we choose to confront? Do we use the means to confront this threat, even if it means that innocent people will be killed in the process?

 

These are hard questions, and the answers will be even harder for many of us to stomach. It goes against the grain of who we are. Many of us are idealistic, caring people, and it is exceedingly difficult for us to accept the profound nature of the evil we face, and the injustice that will be necessary to defeat it. And yet, the evil still stands lurking in the shadows. It will not go away quietly into that good night. It will remain and grow until we find the courage and the wisdom to confront it head on, with the same tenacity that emboldens the extremism we face.

 

I, for one, happen to believe that there is a great deal we could do, short of violence, to weaken the hold of extremist thinking. I believe in speaking to the man on the street with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity. I believe in investing in him; in giving him a place at the table, a stake in his future, by creating good paying jobs: jobs which grow the economy, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to neutralize an ideology of hate. I believe in inspiring him with a Vision of Hope. I believe in sustaining the hope with public diplomacy.

 

All that is fine and good, but it will not be enough in and of itself. We will have no choice but to fight. Unfortunately, this is the sad state of affairs in which we find ourselves. We will have to fight because the enemy will not be moved otherwise. And therefore, since we have to fight, and fight hard, we owe it to ourselves to position the fight within a Vision of Hope; to 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 they're fighting for. We are not fighting a "war against terror." We are fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.

 

It is precisely because we have to fight, that we also have to invest. Our willingness to invest in the man on the street will give us, and people who choose to partner with us, including moderate Muslims, a good measure of credibility, and will embolden us to sustain the fight until the fight is won. The alternative is Swat Valley, an alternative that most of us cannot even afford to consider.

file under: President ObamahopechangeAmerican Dream 26 Jan 2009 11:48 AM
Reflections on the Inauguration Posted by Nissim Dahan
The inauguration of President Obama occurred just a few short days ago, but already, some of the memories of that momentous event seem to be fading. What I do recall in particular, are the countless smiles which lit up the faces of the two million people in attendance, and the countless tears which rolled down their faces. For many, the election to the presidency of an African American was the fulfillment of a life-long dream that they thought would never come. The day marked not just an inauguration, but indeed a new beginning with regard to race relations in America, and a reawakening of national, as well as racial, pride.

 

As happy as the occasion was however, so too did it resonate with a sober assessment of things yet to come, and the challenges which lie ahead. In the first few sentences of his inaugural speech, the new President made it painfully clear, that the problems we face are unprecedented in their scope. He talked about many things, but in particular: the threats to our economy, the threats to our environment, and the threats posed by ideological extremism.

 

I remember vaguely only a few scattered phrases from the speech. But I do recall his saying that the solutions to the problems we face will not come from government, but will come instead from our citizens, in whom the real instruments of power reside. He said as well that our economic ship will take time to right itself, and that there will be pain in the process. He said that the stewardship of our environment has to be given top priority. He said, to the ideological extremists around the world, that they will be remembered for what they build, not what they destroy. He said that our resolve in the face of extremism will not diminish even with the passage of time. And he offered America's helping hand to those who opt to unclench their fists, and to partner with us for the sake of a brighter day.

 

The words of the speech were powerful and poetic, fitting for the moment, and carefully chosen to convey the urgency of the challenges we face. But I think as well that a comparison can be drawn between the door that was opened by the election of an African American to the presidency, and the door that will have to be opened if we are to meet the challenges which lie before us. In many ways, the bridge that has been built across the racial divide is a harbinger of things to come, of the many bridges which will have to be built to solve the seemingly intractable problems which lie at our doorstep.

 

Many of the economic problems will be solved by restoring a sense of trust, and a sense of confidence, in our financial and economic system; in who we are, and who we choose to become. To find our bearings once again, we will build a bridge that spans the legacy of the American Dream with the future we dream for our children. Our economy cannot be just about short-term profits and the accumulation of creature comforts. We should use this opportunity to build an economy that is fair, and that gives everyone on earth a place at the table, a stake in his or her future. We will bring prosperity to ourselves by investing to create prosperity for others.

 

Similarly, to protect our environment, we will have to build a bridge between the natural world and the world we create for ourselves. We can no longer afford the delusion that we can do whatever we wish to the natural world, and call it a day. There is always a price to pay for our neglect. We are the stewards of the natural world, not its masters. It is only fitting that our survival as a species is intimately linked to our treatment of the world in which we live. We will protect the world not just because it is the right thing to do, but because our own survival lies in the balance.

 

And in a similar vein, the ultimate solution to ideological extremism and terror is to build bridges between Israel and Palestine, between the disparate countries of the Middle East, and eventually, between the Muslim world and the Western world. These bridges will have as their foundations the five elements of a Vision of Hope: the willingness to talk to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity, the willingness to invest in one another to create good paying jobs, the willingness to inspire one another with a vision of hope, the willingness to sustain the hope with diplomacy, and the willingness to fight against the forces of extremism but within the context of a vision of hope.

 

President Obama's election to the Presidency is a light unto the nations with regard to new possibilities for race relations. Similarly, at this point in time, and under such dire circumstances, the U.S. will be called upon to sail uncharted waters, and to build the bridges which will restore our economies, which will sustain our planet, and which will bridge the ideological divide for the sake of peace. In these unprecedented times, an unexpected man has come to power, as if to remind us that words like "change" and "hope" are not simply campaign slogans, but are rather the prescriptions for what ails us. If there is a silver lining to the grave situation we face, it is the chance to create a new version of ourselves, the chance for a new beginning.

 

And so, we celebrate the inauguration of President Obama, and wish him well, with the hope that a new face will inspire a new direction, and that the bridges will be built by all of us to connect the best version of who we are, with the promise of who we can become.