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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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U.S. split deepens over Putin's intentions in Syria civil war

Russian military jets flying from Syria seen shortly before landing at airbase in Voronezh region
By Jonathan Landay and Phil Stewart WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia?s latest military moves in Syria have sharpened divisions within the U.S. administration over whether Russian President Vladimir Putin genuinely backs a U.N.-led initiative to end the civil war or is using the negotiations to mask renewed military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Russia has repositioned artillery near the disputed city of Aleppo, several U.S. officials told Reuters. Despite withdrawing some fixed-wing aircraft in March, Russia has also bolstered its forces in Syria with advanced helicopter gunships, and renewed airstrikes against moderate opposition groups, said U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Listen to an interview with Nissim Dahan on the Tom Marr Show.

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Vision of Hope
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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.

file under: peaceIndustrial ZonehopeGaza 16 Jan 2009 3:05 PM
They Beat Their Swords Into An Industrial Zone Posted by Nissim Dahan
In the Bible, Isaiah, in one of his more memorable prophesies, says that there will come a time when, "...They beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation does not lift a sword against nation, and they no longer learn war." Quite a profound sentiment, if you ask me, but how realistic is it, given the recent violence in Gaza?


In recent days, in the midst of the ghastly fighting in Gaza, I've heard about a proposal to build an industrial zone on Gaza's border with Israel, which will employ as many as 200,000 Palestinians. At first blush I thought, "That's crazy." But upon further reflection I thought, "That's brilliant." And actually, come to think of it, the line between "crazy and brilliant," is often a thin line.


As we speak, Hamas and Israel seem very close to concluding a truce. Israel is probably facing insurmountable international pressure to the point where further military gains will be outweighed by extremely bad PR. And Hamas has probably reached the point where it can still claim some sort of victory, having survived the onslaught, without tipping the balance toward utter military defeat. So both sides may have reached the point where a truce makes sense.


My guess is that the truce will call for an end to the rocket fire by Hamas, in exchange for an easing of borders on the part of Israel. To that end, international monitors would probably be put in place to verify compliance on both sides. But what if we could use this opportunity to create new realities on the ground, realities which will help to insure the continuity of the ceasefire, without having to rely solely on the agreements reached?


And so, in recent days, an unusual idea has surfaced; Why not build an industrial zone on the border between Gaza and Israel. The more I think about it, the more I think it could work, not only to help the people in Gaza, but actually, as a symbol of hope which will point in a new direction for the Middle East, a new direction that points to the possibility of peace.


As part of the ceasefire, and of the truce, a demilitarized zone will have to be created between Israel and Gaza. Why not use this zone to build an industrial zone? Such an outcome will afford ordinary Palestinians the opportunity to find employment, and to support their families. Gaza, by implication, will no longer face the prospects of an economic blockade. Economic prosperity would breathe new life into that troubled region. People on the street will begin to embrace the possibility of hope, and with hope, all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.


But will Hamas buy in? Believe it or not, I think there's at least a good chance they will. Hamas may spew forth a lot of ideological rhetoric, but in the final analysis, what they are most interested in is power, raw political power. An industrial zone, with its resulting economic prosperity, may be the easiest way for Hamas to consolidate its hold on political power.


Every political party needs some basis for its political legitimacy. If Hamas continue to rely on its hatred of Israel, and on its campaign of terror, they will continue to face Israel's retaliation, and they run the risk that ordinary Palestinians will become fed up. But if Hamas can show that its efforts have brought about economic prosperity, then now they have a source of legitimacy which actually satisfies the man on the street. Hamas may then find it comfortable to rule on the basis of political and economic gains, as opposed to empty rhetoric and terror.


Will Israel buy in? I think they will. To many around the world, Israel's military attack may seem irrational, and certainly not related to any reasonable notion of self-defense. But Israel may look at self-defense from a different point of view than most. For example, in light of its 2006 defeat in Lebanon, Israel may sense that she is losing her credibility with regard to military deterrence. She may conclude that if her enemies see her as weak, then she is done for. In addition, Israel may have launched the attack in Gaza for internal consumption. If her own citizens see her as weak, in response to Hamas' barrage of missiles, how could she hope to maintain her legitimacy to rule her own people?


However, having launched and concluded the military onslaught, Israel may quickly come to the realization that in the final analysis, only peace will bring her security. And therefore, peace may ultimately be the best form of self-defense. If an industrial zone on Gaza's border could help secure the peace, by creating jobs and by giving Palestinians a place at the table, a stake in their future, then Israel will not only buy in, but will help to make it happen as well. The most dangerous man is a man with nothing to lose. Give Palestinians a sense of hope that their lives could indeed get better, and they will give you back their hearts in return.


What about Abbas? An industrial zone in Gaza, along with its resulting economic prosperity, could well threaten the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in its existential struggle with Hamas. Hamas sees the West Bank as the ultimate prize. Therefore, as has been suggested, it will be important as well, to grow the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, so that both territories will come to enjoy the hope that comes from job creation and economic growth.


Business creates its own ideological imperative. When people are making money, they have little time or inclination for ideological nonsense. And people will think twice about allowing violence to rock the boat. If both leaderships, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, come to embrace economic growth and political freedom as their legitimate sources of power, then it will be up to the people to decide who should rule the new nation, and under what terms. And no matter who wins, the decision will be left to the people, who will have to live with the decision they made. Such an outcome is at least preferable to the irrationality and unpredictability of war.


Isaiah's vision may still be a long way off. But an industrial zone in Gaza may well be a step in the right direction. What do you think?

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.