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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

Look inside Nissim Dahan's book Selling a Vision of Hope with Google Books.

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Obama says political progress needed before more Iraq aid

President Barack Obama and Saudi Arabia's King Salman walk together to a meeting at Erga Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. The president begins a six day trip to strategize with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, England and Germany on a broad range of issues with efforts to rein in the Islamic State group being the common denominator in all three stops. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) ? President Barack Obama said Thursday that the U.S. and its Gulf partners should wait to see whether Iraq can resolve its political crisis before committing more financial aid, arguing that the paralysis is impeding U.S.-led efforts to defeat the Islamic State group and reconstruct the war-torn country.

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Vision of Hope
Category >> extremism
file under: vision of hopeMiddle East Peaceextremism 19 Apr 2011 7:40 PM
Extremism Knows No Bounds Posted by Nissim Dahan

            It seems, at times, that there are no limits to extremism. I guess that's why they call it "extremism."


            The recent murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, age 36, comes to mind, although there are numerous examples to be found in all the nooks and crannies of the Middle East. Vittorio was an Italian activist and journalist, who chose to live in Gaza since 2008, and who championed the rights of Palestinians for the last several years. He was abducted quite recently by a radical Islamic group inspired by al Qaeda, and was used as a bargaining chip to pressure Hamas, the ruling political faction in Gaza, to release some political prisoners, including a Sheikh whom they consider their leader.


            The group threatened to kill Vittorio if their demands were not met, and a short deadline of 30 hours was put in place. Perhaps the victim tried to convince his captors that he too was fighting for justice for Palestinians. But in the end, the group decided to mete out its own brand of justice. In an unfortunate turn of events, the group's demands were not met, and Vittorio was strangled to death, even before the deadline had elapsed.


            Up until several days ago, I would have thought that Hamas was pretty extreme, calling for such tidbits as the destruction of the State of Israel, and death to the Jews. But now, however, it seems that this Salafist group may be even more extreme than Hamas, murdering an advocate for the Palestinian cause, even as Hamas watched in disbelief, and was rendered powerless to stop it from happening. Is it possible that this extremist group, which has become a thorn in Hamas' side, could be a wake-up call to Hamas, that maybe there is a better way to move forward? Perhaps, but I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.


            Such is the nature of extremism. There is no stopping it once it takes hold. One act of terror begets another, as the cold-hearted calculus of our cause takes us to a place where there is no mercy, where almost anything goes, and where almost any heartless act of violence is deemed justifiable in the name of a greater purpose.


            Aristotle taught us, a long time ago, that the truth is rarely to be found in the extremes. Rather, truth is usually to be found somewhere in the middle. In short, truth is not an extremist position. For example, if you were to ask Aristotle to define courage, he would probably say that it is somewhere in the middle between being foolhardy on the one hand, and being a coward on the other. It is somewhere in the middle, somewhere that Aristotle called The Golden Mean.


            As we search for new paths in the Middle East, paths that are more likely to take us to a better place, we should never lose sight of the fact that there are people out there who will tell us "No!" at every turn. These are people who are very committed to their cause, and for whom failure is not an option. Many of them have convinced themselves that God is on their side, and they have no qualms about killing in His name, even though it is precisely His creatures they are killing.


            We should keep the extremist agenda in mind as we venture forth to realize a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. An opportunity exists, this time around, to make something happen along these lines. But the extremists will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to derail us. Therefore, we will have no choice but to commit ourselves as strongly to our cause as they are to theirs. We will embrace moderation as tightly as they embrace extremism. We will dare to see the world in shades of gray, as they see only black and white. We will accommodate ourselves to our sense of self-doubt, as they convince themselves of the certainly of their cause.


            To triumph over extremism, we will chart for ourselves a course that is likely to take us to a new Middle East, and we will not deviate from our journey, even as fear and intimidation are thrust upon us. We realize that much of what preceded us has led us astray, and we know too that there are those among us who would wish to confound our sense of right and wrong, but we will be true to ourselves as we venture forth to what promises to be a promised land.



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: 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: Obamahopeextremismenvironmenteconomy 6 Nov 2008 3:02 PM
Can Barack Obama Deliver On A Vision of Hope? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Barack Obama is the president-elect; a momentous event in the annals of American history, and an inspiration to people all around the world. President-elect Obama campaigned on a vision of hope, and in many ways, his life's story inspires a sense of hope: born into relative poverty, raised by a single mother, abandoned by his father, turning away from the reckless abandon of his youth toward the pursuit of the finest education, turning away from the pursuit of profit toward helping his own community, inspiring his nation with a vision of hope, and through that hope, becoming the first African American elected President of the United States.


But even though his life inspires a sense of hope, and even though he campaigned on a vision of hope, will Barack Obama be able to deliver on his vision? The problems he faces are daunting to say the least: an economic meltdown, huge budget deficits, two wars being waged simultaneously, the threat from ideological extremism, and a planet that is in peril due to environmental degradation. How can a vision of hope be given substance in the face of such seemingly insurmountable challenges?


To my mind, for what it's worth, there is still room for hope, and Obama hinted at the reason in his victory speech. He said something to the effect that this historic election was not really about him, but more about the people wanting to break from the past, and opting for change instead. And he said that his victory is not really the change we need, but is rather a chance for us to bring about the change we all hope for. And he said that it will not be he who brings the change, but the people themselves who will do that, just as they brought him to the presidency.


One commentator said of Obama that he is somehow able to deflect attention away from himself, and to shine a light upon the people instead. That sense of humility, and that ability to empower others, is why there is still hope to turn things around in America, and to set the stage for change around the world.


Take Global Warming as an example. I am reading Tom Friedman's book, Hot, Flat and Crowded. He sees climate change as the moral imperative of our time. But he does not think that government can effectuate the change needed, even though tax incentives, regulation, and leadership are indispensable in this regard. Instead, if we're looking for a clean, renewable, and cheap source of energy, it will come from innovation on a personal level. It will come from thousands of companies, and thousands of inventors working in their garages, to come up with new technology. It will take the engines of our economies to select which innovation is best suited for commercial production. And it will take hard working employees to produce the products which can save our planet, or more accurately, our place on it. So government can help, but it will be for the people to pick up the slack, and to make things happen.


And just as with Global Warming, so too will it be up to the people to solve our current economic crisis. I read an article today about Credit Default Swaps. These are financial instruments which, along with bad mortgages, are at the heart of the economic mess we're in. The writer wrote, "When you see people earning $100 million dollar bonuses from using money to make money, instead of real things, start worrying." Instead of making money by making real things like houses, bread, shirts, cars, and computers, we decided to make money by shuffling papers. So here again, the answer may be inspired by a President Obama, but the ultimate solution will come from the hard work of workers, who by their productivity, will create economic growth based on real value, not empty pieces of paper.


And so too with ideological extremism, which threatens much of the world. Yes, government can fight wars, and yes, sometimes there is no choice but to fight; but in the final analysis, the answer for extremism will be in the hands of the people, who will talk to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity, who will invest in one another to create jobs which protect the environment, who will use those jobs to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking, who will sell one another on a vision of hope which is given substance in reality, who will sustain the hope with public diplomacy, and who will fight against the forces of extremism, the forces which would render the possibility of hope null and void.


And so, if everything works out well, God willing, and if the stars become aligned in just the right way, then Barack Obama, whose life has come to symbolize a vision of hope, and who campaigned by selling us on a vision of hope, will inspire us, each in his own way, to realize a vision of hope, not by depending on him, but by depending on ourselves to make true what is now only a dream.  

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