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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Category >> from hate to hope
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: Gazafrom hate to hope 31 Dec 2008 10:18 AM
We Could Argue Until The Cows Come Home...Or... Posted by Nissim Dahan
On the surface, at least, the purpose of a system of justice is to bring justice. In America, however, every defendant has the right to legal counsel. Every once in a while a sharp and crafty lawyer can get the defendant off, even if he was caught with blood on his hands. Such is the power of a persuasive argument. But is justice served when legal arguments and loopholes are used to subvert the truth?


We see unfolding before our eyes a tragedy in Gaza. Innocent civilians are losing their lives even as we speak. And as we witness the events of recent days, we also hear some rather persuasive arguments on both sides of the conflict. And since there are strong equities on both sides, and since the arguments are often equally persuasive, depending which side you're on, then the same question arises once again: Is the cause of justice being served?


From the Palestinian side we hear arguments which would constitute a strong case in a court of law: that Israel is responding disproportionately in relation to the initial provocation of the firing of the homemade rockets and mortars, that the rockets were fired as an act of self-defense in the face of the closures and the economic boycott of Gaza, that only a few Israelis have died as opposed to hundreds of Palestinians, that the targeting of civilians violates international law, and so forth, and so on.


Likewise, those in support of Israel could counter these charges with equally persuasive arguments: that in the face of mortal enemies Israel is forced to project a strong image of deterrence, that the closure and boycott of Gaza came in response to a constant barrage of rocket fire which can potentially target as many as 500,000 Israelis, that the respective number of casualties on either side does not negate the right to self-defense, that the civilian casualties are not intended but are inevitable when the militants choose to position themselves among civilians, and so forth, and so on.


These are just some of the arguments that are volleyed back and forth like ping pong balls. And yet, where is the justice? What do you say to a mother who lost five beautiful daughters who were only trying to make their way on a horse-drawn carriage? We can continue to argue back and forth, and satisfy ourselves that we are out doing one another in the blame game. Or we can be a bit more original, and bring forth peace, instead.


For peace to happen, a lot of things will have to change. Foremost, as far as I can tell, is the way we think. In a way, when we go about gingerly arguing our positions endlessly, with no clear outcome in sight, aren't we being just a little bit selfish? It's about what I believe and what I think. In other words, it's about me. And what is lost in the focus on me, is we.


We are all entitled to our beliefs, and to our ways of seeing the world. But are we entitled to trap ourselves in a vicious cycle of recriminations, a cycle that has no beginning, and no end, a cycle that will deprive our children of their right to a decent and peaceful life? It may well be time, before time runs out, and believe me, time is running out, to step out of ourselves and beyond our differences. It may be time to put on a shelf at least some of who we are and what we believe, in favor of something we can believe in even more, in favor of peace, in favor of sustainability, in favor of what makes sense.


Imagine, if we continue down the path we're going, we may well find ourselves all dead, and even in death, arguing our case before God: "Oh God," we'll say, "We were right about this or that, and we had no choice but to do what we did, in your name no less." And what do you think God would say in response? "I gave you life so that you could live, not kill, and not die, before your time. I gave you the common sense to bring a semblance of order to your lives. I gave you a wondrous world, full of beauty, so that you could create a paradise right here and right now.  And what did you do instead? You took what could have been a heaven on earth, and made it into a living hell. And you did all that in My name? Well guess what...thanks but no thanks."


Here is my dream for the Palestinian people for the New Year: a country of their own, side by side Israel, a country which enjoys the blessings of peace, prosperity, and freedom, where every citizen has the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams, and where every child dares to reach for the stars.


This war, tragic as it is, will soon come to an end, God willing. And then, hard as it may be to believe, because of many factors which are converging as we speak, there will be an opportunity to broker a lasting peace. Things can be done, right here and right now, by Palestinians, Israelis, and the rest of us around the world, to improve the chances for peace. But in order to do what we have to do, we will have to let go of some of our beliefs, of some of the history, and of some of who we are. We will let go of this, however reluctantly, so that we can realize a better version of ourselves, a version of ourselves that gives fuller expression to the potential for good that is within each and every one of us.


We were created in God's image. And so, like Him, we too are creators. It is time to create a version of ourselves that allows God to see His image in us.

file under: transitionpeacemoderate majorityfrom hate to hopeforeign policyeconomic developmentcommon sensecharitable investment 28 May 2008 6:34 PM
If you were Barack Obama, how would you Sell a Vision of Hope for the Middle East? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Given the choice, most voters would rather forget about the Middle East. With so many pressing problems here at home, it is hard to keep worrying about that precarious place. But the Middle East is not easily forgotten. In the first place, our oil supply, which continues to fuel our economy until we find feasible alternatives, requires a measure of stability in the region. And in the second place, John McCain has stated repeatedly that the threat of Islamic extremism is the transcendent issue of our time. So how should Senator Obama speak about the Middle East, so as to inspire Americans with a sense of hope in that regard, and so as to meet the challenges he will face from Republicans on this important issue?


Americans are responding enthusiastically to Senator Obama's call for hope and change. Along these same lines, there is no reason why a message of hope and change cannot include the Middle East as well. In fact, Senator Obama would be well advised to give substance to his message of hope and change by selling Americans, and people around the world, on a Vision of Hope for the Middle East. In a very real sense, if people can become inspired with hope when it comes to the precarious Middle East, then they could definitely become inspired about a whole host of other issues, which are a lot less contentious. So let the Middle East be the test for the possibility of hope.


Keeping all this in mind, how would you go about inspiring people with a Vision of Hope for the Middle East?


Selling a Vision of Hope has five parts to it, like the five fingers of your hand:


The thumb is for Ideology:  The world, which is increasingly becoming globalized economically and technologically, is ready for a new ideological framework-an Ideology of Common Sense-based on universal principles of common sense;  by which we speak to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity. Instead of believing what we want to believe, it is time to start believing in what makes sense. In a more perfect world, common sense will inspire our thinking and inform our speech. How do wed begin to come together?  In our fractured world, common sense is the common denominator.


The index finger if for Investment: We should invest in one another to create good paying jobs which inspire a sense of hope, which protect the environment, and which help to neutralize ideological extremism. If the West is good at anything it is making and investing money. Why not use this strength as part of our strategic arsenal to promote the peace and to defeat extremism? We can 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." Good paying jobs there could create good paying jobs here at home, by opening up new markets for our goods and services. And with green technology jobs, we could help convert oil profits into green profits, and begin to clean up the environment as well.


The middle finger is for Hope: We could 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. Einstein came up with E=mc2. Thankfully, the formula for world peace is a lot simpler: Ideology plus Investment equals Hope, and with hope, all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.


The ring finger is for Public Diplomacy: Once you sell a Vision of Hope, it becomes important to sustain the vision, by launching a series of Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to prop the vision 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 on economics, religion, and education.


Take, for example, the program to Empower Women. Empower women in the Middle East, in ways that they deem appropriate, and you will have changed the face of the Middle East. Who are women? They are the givers of life and the caretakers of life, and as such are uniquely qualified to reconstitute their societies consistent with a Vision of Hope.


The pinky is for the willingness to Fight: If we already have to fight against ideological extremism, and we do, then we should fight, and fight hard, but we should position the fight within a Vision of Hope. We should elevate 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're not fighting a war against terror. We're fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.



By speaking this way, Senator Obama will neutralize any attempt to cast him as soft on terror, while at the same time inspiring a sense of hope for the Middle East. In effect, he will empower our nation to face the ideological extremists head on. Selling a Vision of Hope is a way of beating the extremists at their own game, of doing what they do only better, of co-opting their strategy and thereby marginalizing them in the eyes of their own people.


If the extremists are ideological about violent Jihad, we will be ideological about Common Sense. If they invest peanuts in charitable handouts, we will invest some serious dollars in jobs. If they sell a vision of hope for 72 virgins, or martyrdom, or paradise, or a caliphate, or what have you, we will sell a Vision of Hope for Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom.


At every turn, we will cut them off at the pass, and beat them at their own game. We will marginalize them in the eyes of their own people. They will become pariahs in the midst and will come to know the loneliness of being out of step with the will of the people. The will of the people will not be deterred. In the final analysis, the ideological extremists will not be able to capture the public's imagination, once people begin to imagine the possibility of a better life for themselves.


Ask yourself this: Where will peace ultimately come from? When all is said and done, peace will come from the heart and the mind of the man on the street. We can win his mind by speaking to him with Common Sense and with a sense of personal dignity. We can win his heart by investing in him-by giving him a place at the table, a stake in his future. And we can win the peace by selling him on a Vision of Hope. Give the man on the street a sense of hope and you will have turned the corner on world peace. Nothing less will suffice, and nothing more is needed.


As Barack Obama is suggesting, start with a vision, a big Vision of Hope. Give it some substance on the ground. And soon enough, the reality on the ground will fill up the space created by the vision. Such is the dynamic for change in the world, and such is the prescription for change in the Middle East. This may well be the time, before time runs out, to dream the impossible, and to make the impossible come true.


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file under: Saudi Arabiapeacenational defensemoneymoderate majorityhuman rightsglobal warmingfrom hate to hopeeconomic development 5 May 2008 9:12 PM
ISRAEL@60: A Light Unto The Nations? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Sixty years have passed since the founding of the State of Israel, and it is fitting, therefore, to look back and to assess. Since her founding, the expectation was that the Jewish State would become "A Light Unto the Nations," in keeping with biblical prophesies to that effect. Has this hope been realized, or has Israel failed to measure up to the hopes of its founders?


In many respects, the light of Israel has shined brightly for the world to behold. Due in large part to the boundless courage of her defenders, she came into being out of the ashes of the Holocaust, and in spite of a concerted and protracted effort to destroy her. She nurtured and sustained a vibrant democracy even in the face of persistent and existential threats to her security. She prospered economically using very few natural resources, save the natural resourcefulness of her citizenry. She successfully absorbed disproportionately high numbers of refugees with open and loving arms. She has pioneered untold advances in science and technology, while holding fast to a love of art and culture. In these, and many other ways, Israel's accomplishments can be considered A Light Unto The Nations.


And yet, Israel's history remains a mixed bag of good and bad, as is the case with almost all nations on earth. Each accomplishment is offset by a detriment of sorts. True, she has met the security challenges forcefully, but at the expense of occupying and subduing a neighboring population which feels hopeless and dispossessed. True, she has prospered economically, but at the expense of an increasingly wider gap between the haves and the have-nots. True, she maintains a vibrant democracy, but at the expense of a contentious vying for power between secular and religious Jews, and between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority within its borders.


At every turn, each success is countered by an equally significant threat, either from within, or from without. It is as if the path to Israel's perfection is lined with a multitude of impediments, like a ship passing in the night through treacherous waters teeming with hidden mines and explosives. In this regard, Israel's light does not always shine as a beacon of hope, but as the light of a lighthouse, pointing to unseen dangers, and lighting the way toward a safe passage.


The threats to Israel, as she turns 60, are the threats we all face in this increasingly globalized world: How do we usher in an age of peace in the face of ideological extremism which is hell bent on war? How do we defend our way of life, when extremist elements are aligning to take that life away? How do we empower the dispossessed with a Vision of Hope for the future, when that vision seems to be slipping away? How do we close the gap between the wealthy few, and the impoverished many? How do we prosper economically while protecting the health and sanctity of our environment? How do we defend ourselves militarily without dashing the hopes and aspirations of the innocent? How do we advance scientifically and technologically without losing sight of the values and emotions which make us human?


The answer to these and other questions rests in the promise that Israel offers as she forges ahead toward the next 60 years. And the answer she comes up with can shine a light for others to follow. And what would that answer look like? It's not all that complicated: Israel will use her technology, her knowledge, her drive, and her inclination toward business, to partner with Arab entrepreneurs, to solicit Saudi investment, to hire and train Arab workers, to produce green technology products, to clean the earth, and to safeguard our place upon it. The answer is staring us in the face, if we care to look; Good- paying jobs, aimed at green technology products, with the ultimate goals of: revitalizing the stagnant economies of the Middle East, conditioning people for peace, neutralizing the effects of extremist ideology, protecting the environment, and giving the impoverished and the dispossessed a helping hand out of the clutches of extreme poverty and hopelessness. All this can be done, believe it or not, while enabling all concerned to turn a healthy profit.


With God's help, Israel will continue to shine her light unto the nations. Every once in a while her light will shine with pride; the pride born of success. But more often than not, Israel will have no choice but to face the same challenges that all nations now face in this, the 21st century. And in that struggle, she will continue to shine her light, to point to the dangers which lie ahead, and to point to solutions which are effective, equitable, and just. In this manner, Israel will truly fulfill her destiny to shine as A Light Unto The Nations.

file under: transitionglobal warmingfrom hate to hopeeconomic developmentcharitable investment 24 Apr 2008 5:15 PM
What If Being Good Were Made Profitable? Posted by Nissim Dahan
The political philosopher, Machiavelli, concluded that "fear" was the best tool a leader could use to keep his subjects under control. And there is no doubt that fear has worked well over the centuries to keep people in line. But could it be that in today's globalized world a new organizing principle may be emerging?


Take China, for example. I don't doubt that the leaders there would like nothing more than to crack a few more heads in Tibet. They are tempted to use fear to quell the dissention there. Why, because they rule over a huge number of people, situated in a varied array of political, religious, economic, and social subgroups. If Tibetan dissention were allowed to bear fruit; what other repercussions would likely ensue? And for the Chinese leadership, the loss of order would pose an existential threat.


And yet, with all the incentive to use the Machiavellian notion of fear, China realizes that there is a limit to what she can do in this regard, given the context of the new economic and diplomatic realities she finds herself in. The Olympics are coming up, and too many cracked heads would not be exactly in keeping with the Olympic spirit of international friendship and fair play. And there are also all those trading partners to think of. A massive crack down would not bode well for good business relations.


The conundrum in which China finds herself is indicative of a new organizing principle at the heart of international affairs-and that is the principle of maximizing profits. Of course, the inclination to maximize profits has always been around, but in a globalized economy, in which market share and profitability are everything, profit is becoming an ideological imperative.


Now some of you may think that the quest for profits is perhaps a shallow endeavor, not worthy of much consideration, and not indicative of the more noble aspects of the human condition. But I, for one, think that the hunger for profits could be used to energize a rational approach to solving some of the most intractable problems and existential threats we face.


Ask yourself this: What are the most serious problems we face? I would point to three in particular: Ideological Extremism, the threat to the Environment, and widespread Poverty. Could the need to maximize profits in a global economy help to bring solutions to these global problems? I think it's possible that the answer is, yes.


In a global economy, the major players are in constant search of new markets for their goods and services, and for a ready supply of natural resources, like oil. Look at China trying to open up new markets wherever she can. Is it possible that the competitive nature of a global economy may be conducive to healing some of the world's ills?


Let's say for example that you want to tackle the problem of ideological extremism. Well, you could easily conclude that creating good paying jobs in third world countries will help to neutralize extremism. Good paying jobs will not necessarily sway the extremists themselves, but they will make it more difficult for the extremists to sell their ideological wares. The vast majority of people will be less susceptible to extremist ideology once they are able to hold on to good paying jobs and provide for their families. So in this example, the search for profits becomes a search for new markets, which in turn means the creation of good paying jobs. The need to protect profits coincides with the need to quell extremism, which widespread employment will help to do.


Let's say that you want to protect the environment. So ask yourself this: How can we make environmental protection profitable? Well, a barrel of oil is now selling close to $120. The profit margin there may now be great enough to allow green technology to compete profitably. So, as part of the ubiquitous search for profits, you create jobs, which produce green technology products, which help to clean the earth up, and quite possibly reverse the course of Global Warming. You see, it's not that we want to be good by cleaning up the earth. God forbid. It's more that we clean up the earth because we can turn a profit. But if the earth ends up cleaner, then who cares what the motivations were?


Let's say that you want to eliminate extreme poverty; along with the hunger, disease, and homelessness that necessarily come with it. You could ask for charitable donations, but don't hold your breath. History shows that people are not as charitable as they ought to be. So ask yourself this: How do we make it profitable to end poverty? Once again, look to the profit motive of wealthy nations and corporations, and play to their ambitions.


For example, in a global economy it is important to keep the wheels of economic activity turning. Poverty is an obstacle to profits because poor people, with nothing to lose, can easily succumb to extremist thinking. Therefore, in our never ending search for profits, we will need to open up new markets for our goods and services, and we will need access to natural resources. And we can't let poor people get in the way. Therefore, in order to create new markets, we will create new jobs, for people to be able to buy our goods, and at the same time, with their stomachs full, they will be less susceptible to extremist thinking, so as to allow the profits to keep rolling in.


The idea here is not all that complicated. If it is indeed true that the new organizing principle of the global economy is profitability, then it makes sense to put all this ambition to good use. It may well be possible to structure the global economy in such a way, that the need to improve the bottom line will coincide with the need to solve some of the big global problems which lie at our doorstep. As such, we will become good not due to our innate sense of goodness, but because being good will be our ticket to being profitable.

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