#tomorrow13: Guessing at tomorrow – health, terrorism, climate, economy, politics, and of course, Yair Lapid

By far the most engaging panel of the day: Will Tomorrow Be Better? Some great sound bytes in here, and not just because the panel was moderated by Channel One’s Oren Nahari and joined by former newsman Yair Lapid.

Note: Some of these excerpts are transcription, some shortened for readability. 

Israel’s economy: Finance Minister Yair Lapid

When we ask ourselves what is the one thing that distinguish between successful human societies and non successful societies – the answer is – ability to change. Successful societies know how to adapt.

Israel has this ability – we have the ability to change in a non-violent way, the ability to reinvent ourselves.

We did it in 1948 – when a nation of holocaust survivors became a state. In the 1950s, when immigrants flooded and changed the demography. Changed from the nation of Talmud, to the nation of kibbutz, to the nation of education, to the start up nation.

There’s something in the Israeli DNA, the biography of the Jewish people – that is especially legible to the information era. Centuries of studying Talmud and Torah and now looking to the information highway. Intuitive uptake of the data. Ability to dig more and more in the same place and the ability to find within it new things.

In the next two years we’re going to be changed once again: the big move we’re doing now to enter the ultra orthodox into the labor market. It’s seen by many people as a solution to a problem or a financial move. But it’s a great social opportunity.

They know how to think, they know how to explore – if we want to create an economy based on innovation – this can only be compared to when in 1991 hardworking educated immigrants came from the USSR and lifted the Israeli economy to the sky.

Intelligence and flexibility of the young Charedi kids, combined with innovation and possibilities of the Israeli economy, will change again the Israeli society.

The US, our big sister, is emerging from the crisis. Growth is better, markets are recovering. the boom in the east is not going to stop. even Europe is going to recover. One of the first beneficiaries is going to be Israel. The fact that we kept an economy in high growth – innovation based  and one of the least unemployment rates in the western world – puts us in a position without competition now that the global tendency is changing.

I sat with India the other day, discussing R&D opportunities. I sat with the CEO of Cisco the other day – who wants to expand, recently bought an Israeli company (NDS) for 5 billion. I met with a business delegation of 30 from China; a delegation  looking for investment opportunities.

They all know the world is changing. Don’t miss this opportunity. Come and change with us.

Our health: Dr. David Agus, University of Southern California

This week the US Supreme Court decided you can no longer patent human genes. Our DNA is now democratized. This will herald a new form of health care and awareness of each of us, of ourselves. Each of us has the ability, for a small amount of money, to look into our own DNA.

You can control most of your risk with this info. You’re body is talking to you all the time – we just never listened. Health care in the future: we will be listening.

The microbiome is the next field of growth. We have more bacteria in our bodies than we do hormones! Since the global climate is changing, so global micro organisms are changing, which means we are changing.

Growing genetically modified food: we have to because of the climates changing. We already have the remarkable technology that Israel has been developing for years – now we have to scale it not just for amounts, but also health-wise.

The human brain is an art. and the role of our technology is to make it a science.

Terrorism vs Global climate change: Professor Dan Gilbert, psychology at Harvard

Will tomorrow be better? Very easy to answer yes and very easy to answer no. Tomorrow will be better or worse depending on how we respond to a variety of threats.

Global terrorism: we have made great progress in the war on terror. there’s no chance that terrorists will ever wipe out the human race.

Global warming: this is a problem on massive scale  – we have made no progress in the last ten years – only backwards.

Why do humans respond to some threats so well, and some so poorly? We’ve evolved to respond to threats that have four features – and terrorism has all four, whereas climate change has none.

  1. Intentional
    1. The brain devotes specific networks to understanding other human minds – what others think, want, plan hope.
    2. This makes us hyper-vigilant for signs of all things human – that’s why we see faces in the clouds, and not clouds in faces.
    3. It’s why we care about underwear bombers but not the flu (which kills 400,000 a year). Or our children being kidnapped but not about child obesity. Terrorists, child molesters – human agents. Viruses and french fries – objects.
    4. In the same week: Boston marathon bombing – 3 people died. 4 died in fishing accidents, 186 in a China earthquake, 1,000+ in the Bangladesh factory, 
    5. If the WTC had fallen from lightening hitting the towers, we wouldn’t remember the date it happened. 
  2. Immoral
    1. Humans feel disgust and anger as reactions to moral rules. Moral rules, as they’ve been known since the beginning, are generally about food and sex. Most societies have moral rules about food and sex, but not about air conditioning.
    2. Global warming makes us worry, but it doesn’t make us disgusted – the way gay marriage and flag burning do.
  3. Imminent
    1. The human brain is a ‘get out of the way’ machine. Good at getting out of the way of oncoming dangers.
    2. Then, 400,000 years ago, we got a new trick – thinking about getting out of the way soon – not in the moment now. Our ability to think about the future is a new skill, relatively.
    3. Terror is a threat today, and climate change is all of our tomorrows.
  4. Instant
    1. The human brain is very sensitive to changes,like weight, size, light. But it’s not sensitive to these changes if they happen very slowly. It can be massive but still go unnoticed…
    2. For example: baldness happens one hair at a time!
    3. When environmental disasters happen all at once, we get upset – like a massive oil spills.

We are all the progeny of people of humans whose fear was a man with a stick coming to take their food and women. When confronted with these threats, we respond quickly and strongly.

Will tomorrow be better? if we chose our battles like our ancestors, there is no doubt tomorrow will be bleak. But if we can use this new part of our brain to consider the danger coming, our tomorrow can be quite bright.

Israel’s international politics: Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, women’s rights activist

Today Israel is an oasis of peace and economic prosperity in a difficult region. Today Israel has made effort. Today Israel has no peace.

It has something else – quiet.

A better tomorrow would be for this to come to a peaceful end for the Palestinians and Israelis. This peace has become an elusive thing; very few people believe in it, with the exception of Secretary of State John Kerry.

Despite what it is up against, Israel is stronger than it was ten years ago. Sometimes I think that the more they wish for Israel’s destruction, the stronger it becomes.

But what worries me is that Arab and Muslim leaders say they will not rest until Israel is destroyed. In the Arab spring, young Arab and Muslims are trying to stand up to their leaders. But in their passion and hatred of Israel, nothing has changed.

In their tomorrow, Israel does not exist.

Today, the ordinary Israeli man and woman in the street knows this, and is willing to live with this reality.

if Israel’s tomorrow seems incredibly hard to contemplate, we must think about Israel’s yesterday.

People who know that – people as old as the president or older – will maintain faith in Israel today, for I’m sure, if you continue to be as resilient as you are, that tomorrow will be better.

More #tomorrow13:

#tomorrow13: Behavioral economist Dan Ariely says we’re good, dishonest people

Waiting on line to enter a session, I became totally consumed in fascination over the behavior of some of the other people in line. Of course I use the term line loosely. People queued up early, creating a mob scene within five minutes.

I couldn’t help but focus on a particular woman at the absolute front, pushing at the rope cord, snapping at the stubborn security guard, and even tattling people who seemed to be getting ahead and sneaking through a different door.

All that, and here we were waiting for a talk by renown professor of behavioral economics, Dan Ariely, who was to address dishonesty and our tendency to act dishonestly.

Here are my notes from his highly entertaining talk:

There was a troubling piece of research: two people in a room. We ask them to please talk to each other for ten minutes, introducing themselves. Ten minutes later we asked ‘did you lie in the last ten minutes?’ Everyone said no. When we played back a tape… turns out, on average, people lied 2-3 times in ten minutes.

We all lie from time to time… but we all generally think of ourselves as generally nice and honest people.

How do we rationalize this?

Well, even God lies: In the story where He tells Sarah that she will have a child with Abraham, she laughs – my husband is too old! God tells the same to Abraham, but tells a white lie in there – after all, it;s for shalom bayit!

How do we measure dishonesty?

Here is one method: We gave people a sheet of paper with 20 math problems – everyone could solve all the problems with enough timem but we only give five minutes. After, they are told they get a dollar for every coreect answer, and to tally them and then shred the paper. On average, people were given six dollars for siz correct answers.

What the testers knew is that on average, people were actually getting four right.

Is it a few people who lie a lot?

No. There are a lot of people who cheat a little bit. There were 35,000 people in that experiment!

And it’s not too far from real society: there are big cheaters, but only a few. There are more little cheaters, like us, so we can feel ok. However, the economic impact of all that small cheating is actually higher.

What do we stand to gain and lose – is it worthwhile?

We changed the experiment – offered different amounts of money per correct answer. As the price went up, the cheating didn’t get higher. It stayed the same.
Lots of people cheat just a little, regardless of the probability of being caught.

People try to balance two forces:

  1. we look in the mirror and want to see good people
  2. we want to benefit from cheating

Due to our flexible skill, we can do both – as long as we cheat a little bit.

What influences rationalization?
A biggie: ‘I’m not really hurting anybody.’
People download illegal music… but they won’t sneak from a restaraunt without paying; that’s something that they enjoyed and interacted with people throughout.

Another way: Like stealing 50 cents from the office petty cash vs stealing a pencil – no one feels bad for the pencil.

We are becoming a society that has multiple steps between us and the people were dealing with. money is becoming more abstract – we’re not just dealing with cash. As the distance between ourselves, other people and money concepts, grows – what kind of people are we becoming?

How could you decrease rationalization?

We experimented with people signing honor codes – gave them a chance to cheat – but saw no cheating whatsoever. Even though it was a meaningless document, and they knew that, it still worked.

What happens when people are given many chances to cheat over time?

People cheat a little bit and balance feeling good, and then at a certain point people switch, and start cheating all the time. We call this the: what the hell effect.

So why would people ever stop?

Experiment: give people the chance to ask for forgiveness, confess. Once they do, cheating goes down dramatically.

South Africa used this idea for their reconciliation period after apartheid. If people can have a chance to say they are sorry then people can move on and change.

What are the cultural implications? 

Actually, Israelis cheat just like the Americans. Who cheat like the Italians, Chinese, Germans, English, Canadian, Colombian – all tested, all the same.

But dishonesty looks different in different places – how can it be the same?

The experiments are abstract and general and not embedded in any culture. They test the basic backbone of human culture. In that regard we’re all the same. But culture operates on top of it – it takes a domain – like illegal downloads, bribery, speeding – and tells you it’s ok to cheat. It matters per country, per domain.

My favorite part of Dan Ariely’s talk? 

When a moderator came in and handed him a note he had 5 minutes left. Dan looks up and says, “but my clock here has 8.5!” he looks cheekily at us in the audience and says, “I’m going to take the bigger one because we’re talking about fudge factors and cheating.”

More #tomorrow13:

#tomorrow13: Bill Clinton on Israel, peace, and how to change Us vs Them

Another year, President Shimon Peres turns 90, and we join together for the fifth Israeli Presidential Conference.

I know there’s quite a bit of criticism and controversy when it comes to the event. It comes from a good place but there are also good questions to ask about who isn’t present and what isn’t said.

But as an exercise in thought, I like to engage. I like to remember that at one point, I was headed toward a career in conflict resolution.

Today President Peres granted former US president Bill Clinton the high Israeli honor of the Presidents Award. Looking for ‘the meaning in all of this’, here’s how Clinton took it:

Note: This is mainly transcription, but also shortened to large excerpts for the sake of keeping it readable.

Former United States President Bill Clinton addressing the Israeli Presidential Conference:

The search for peace and reconciliation and a shared future does not fit easily within the flow of life as normally we think of it. We like to think of political efforts  almost as if they are sporting events. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. At the end, good guys triumph. It is much more than that. It’s a way of life. That’s why Shimon Peres has survived 90 years! He gets up today and imagines tomorrow. And focuses on today only insofar as it is relevant.

The wonderful Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam – to repair the breach – is a good and constant responsibility we all have. Truth is, in a world of increasing independence, we not only have to repair the breach in the fabric of our current community, but we have to push our imaginations to expand the definition of that community.

We are not truly independent; we can’t escape the consequences of what we do and what others do, not only in our own neighborhood but around the world. So there is today and the foreseeable future – a constant struggle to redefine those to whom we owe the definition of tikkun olam. Should we be trying to put everyone in our crowd?

I read an interesting quote this week by Rudyard Kipling; it went something like this: Whoever is in our group is us, everybody else is them.

In a funny way, most of the world’s struggles, since the first people showed up on the Eastern African savanna, emerging into tribes (and so on) – the whole of human history has been a constant battle to redefine who is us and who is them.

The imperatives of our ability to destroy each other have imposed on us a heavy responsibility to continually expand the definition of who is us, and to shrink that of who is them.

Sometimes the most shining examples of what has worked in this endeavor are found in small places. I think it is important to acknowledge that since everything that has been said here about the work I’ve tried to do is positive – a lot of it has been mistakes.

One of the best examples of overcoming past conflict towards unity is represented by the president and first lady of Rwanda. It’s also one of the greatest examples of my neglect as president. (We were so focused on Bosnia) and the people in Rwanda, through the genocide, were slaughtered so quickly – 10% of the people in 90 days – we literally never had a meeting on how to stop it in the White House.

I say this to make a larger point. Each and every one of us will face challenges in our lives.. We will not meet them all. A lesson from Shimon Peres: not to give up and give in, but to get up and go on. Keep the process going.

Later, I went to Rwanda and apologized for the neglect to help. In 2001 I saw a stunning example of the (reconciliation) work done to change the mindset of Rwandans – of who is us and who is them. And how important it is to let go of yesterday and embrace tomorrow.

The press with me (on that trip) wanted to find people who would say ‘what is President Clinton doing here, why wasn’t he here when we needed him before?’
One press member asked that to a cab driver. He answered, “No I’m glad he’s here.”

The journalist asked, “Why?”

The cab driver said, “Firstly, no one came to help us, and he’s the only one who came and said he’s sorry. Secondly, he didn’t make us kill each other. we have to take responsibility. And as he says, we need all the help we can get.”

No matter what anyone has done to us, or each other, the first step is to get rid of the things that divide us, including seeing ourselves as victims – we have to claim a future that we make. The great beauty of the state of Israel from its beginning that has allowed it to transform itself into what it is now commonly referred to, a start up nation, center of innovation for the whole world, is that it was seen as a safe place for the people of Israel to learn that they need no longer to be victims. That the beginning of freedom requires a responsibility.

What has that to do with today?

It is nice to receive a reward. It is nice for a country to have its monuments. But there are no final victories than tikkun olam. There are no perfect warriors for peace. No flawless leaders. Every day inside every person in the modern world where we are all crashing into each other and compelled to share the future, the battle begins as the morning breaks.

Everyone one of us, when we wake up in the morning, has inside, in our souls, a scale. You feel it every morning. On one side, all your hopes and dreams and best impulses. The world you want to make for your family, your community for people everywhere. On the other side, all those fears and resentments and disappointments, they are weighed too. Every day the balance between the bright side of the scale of our lives and the dark side, is a little different, isn’t it? Some days we get up full of hope – some days we get up and we’re just – can’t let go of anger and heartbreak.

We have to let go. For all of life is a constant struggle to expand the definition of who is us, and shrink the def of who is them.

The first time in Rwanda – the most amazing person I met was a lady – she seemed to have no visible marks (scars). She said she was attacked by her neighbors to find her husband and six children in a pool of blood around her.

“I screamed out at god – why was I spared?”

She started an orphanage with no regard for ethnic background and matched them with families with no regard for ethnic background.

Later on, I met a dashing young man, looked like he got an MBA at Harvard, who gave me a tour. I asked, “Did you lose anyone?” From his family, 73 people were killed.

“Isn’t this hard for you, taking me through here?”

“Oh no, it’s therapeutic. Our president tells us we have to face the past and let it go, and face the future.”

“You remind me of a lady I met the first time I was here.”

He smiled. “Well I should – she’s my aunt.”

Why do I tell you this?

Between the Israelis and Palestinians there are many reasons for distrust.
The one thing i know is – the lesson that had been driven home – and I could give a hundred examples of this that i have personally seen in tiny Rwanda – if you’re compelled to share the future, you have to decide what the future will be.

If the terms favor you more than them, there will always be us vs them. There is no perfect answer to any of this – there is simply the perfect obligation to expand the definition of us, and shrink the definition of them.

I ask you to think about that.

In one of the places I’ve been in the fundraising work, there’s a phrase of saying,
how are you? The answer in English is not translated into ‘I’m fine, how are you?’

It’s: I see you.

Think about that. There are people all over, serving nice food in rich countries, etc – who are not seen.

I’m honored to be here because I think President Peres always tries to see everyone.

All the people we sometimes don’t see are going to be part of the future. They have to be able to advance their dreams too. All our lives and our children’s and grandchildren’s will be determined by whether today we have succeeded in expanding the definition of us and shrinking the definition of them.

We have to say we see you – and stay on the path – and keep living and keep working.

More #tomorrow13:

#tomorrow12: Dr. Ruth on Sex of the Future.

Disclaimer: This post is about sex. As told by a German-American Jewish 4’7” Holocaust orphaned therapist with a famous and fabulous habit of giving advice. About sex.

I remember being a kid, staying up late with a little handheld radio to listen to learn  about love, relationships, and sex.

So it’s pretty cool that today I got to listen to Dr. Ruth live among the enormous crowd in the giant hall at the Israeli Presidents Conference (thankfully management realized the tiny 100-chair room they had planned on using for her talk would not suffice by maybe tenfold).

Here are a few notable parts from her talk, transcribed as best I could:

Dr. Ruth’s intro

I am sure that the future of sex is assured because all of you are here.

As you know, there is a midrash that explains why someoone like me at the age of 84 can still talk about sex from morning to night, because I’m Jewish, because for us Jews, sex has never been considered a sin, sex has always been a mitzvah between husband and wife. I don’t want you to just pick up someone from the conference… but I want you to promise, those of who you dont have signifcant other, I want you to start looking today. And those who of you who do, I want you to pretend tonight is Friday night, and use a new sex poistion, and then call me and tell me, bec maybe I’ll learn something new.

What Judaism teaches us about sex

What we do need is more research – we do have some data, but it’s not enough. For us Jews, not only that it’s a mitzvah on Friday night, it also is a prayer – Eshet Chayil – there is one sentence in that prayer that is the more sexually arousing than anything in the entire world. There are many women out there, but (the husband says to wife) “you are the very best” and in terms of sexual arousement, there is no better sentence than for him to say to her than “you are the very best” – and she should say that to him; let’s add that to the tradition.

Where we’ve come

What has changed in the US – not the questions about relationships, disappointments, finding someone, keep the spark. What has changed is the vocabulary. People ask me questions with much more explicit lanuage than in previous years.

Women have heard the message that the woman has to take the responsibility for her orgasm. This resulted in less women having sex satisfaction, and not sharing what they need from their partners. That language has changed.

Sex and older lovers

We know that older people do need to be touched. The orgasmic response is not as intense. The erection is not as hard as it was. But if they spend their lives saying how terrible it is, that’s not worth living. But it is better to engage in sexual activity in mornings. For a woman it’s important to know that it’s not true that she needs the night – needs the stars to twinkle.

Wake up, have breakfast, take the phone off the hook, go back to bed and have good sex.

What President Shimon Peres has to say

President Shimon Peres said something this morning – I didn’t ask him about his sex life, I don’t ask personal questions – he said “in love and in peacemaking, you have to close your eyes.”

On Fifty Shades of Grey

God forbid you should know something I don’t know, so yes I read all three volumes of 50 Shades of Grey.

On what her late husband thought

“The shoemaker’s children don’t have shoes.”

Sex education in schools

We need more sex education in the schools. I’m old-school. I tell the teachers have a shoebox in the room, let the students put questions in the box, no names, and answer them.

Our rushed lives 

I tell couples, everyone has a rushed life. When you get home, drink a little wine. Not too much that she falls asleep and he can’t get an erection.

What not to say to men

Please women: don’t tell him that your last lover had a large penis. Size of penis has nothing to do with the sexual satisfaction… except if it’s a minuscule one.

What worries Dr. Ruth

Very worried in our day and age, talking about the future, about loneliness. And expectations – television has made a terrible problem. Read the Shades of Grey but know it’s fantasy. Know that when you watch, this guy doesn’t have an erection for an hour. The worrisome thing is the expectations. That we have because of the way all of us live.

How to look for sex properly

I want people to find somebody. I want people to participate it. Do something like take a course. Do something that when you go for home, you’ve done something for yourself. I want the women to start a conversation. It’s not the Victorian age. I want women to say, “can we go for coffee?” But I don’t want her to fall to pieces when he says, “I have to wash my hair tonight.” Inner assurance to say to yourself when he says no – he doesn’t know what he’s missing.

Our homework

All of you with partners – new position tonight! All of you with no partners, when I come back next year, all of you have partners!

Other Tomorrow 2012 coverage: 

#tomorrow12: Prof. Kahneman talks decision-making and coaching leadership.

Panel: Learning from Mistakes on the Way to Tomorrow

The following are notes from a talk by Professor Daniel Kahneman, winner of Nobel prize in Economic Science, known for his work in psychology of judgment.

It is not always easy to know if a mistake has been made. In the most important situations, it’s extremely difficult to know if a mistake has been made. We know about mistakes in simple tasks – when we’re driving, reading, spelling. There’s a specific way to do things, and in general we learn from these.

The world is an uncertain place. In most consequential situations… it’s impossible to tell in advance, it’s also impossible to tell after the fact. Decisions are gambles. A good decision – the best decision – could have bad outcomes. The bad ones could have good outcomes.

Political forcasting is like playing the stock market. The world is too complicated, making it hard to speak about mistakes when you live in a word like that. Where forecasting is impossible and uncertainty is reality… we intuitively tend to think that when the outcome was good, the decision was good, and vice versa. You can’t incur with such certainty that a bad decision was a mistake.

We judge by outcomes. A very severe problem. There are few worse things than hindsight; it perpetuates the illusion that the world is understandable.

What’s the alternative? Focusing on process. Decision making is an activity.

But there’s no quality-control in decision-making processes, and governments are decision-making factories. Yet factories need to have quality control, and it’s something we should have.

There’s a lot that we know about the errors people make. There is very little ongoing critique of decision-making.

In order to learn from decision-making, we should be keeping track – of the decisions, the deliberations. It is very difficult to achieve in organizations. There’s a big resistance in organizations; people in authority do not like anybody looking over their shoulder.

What could we have? A coach for leaders: the coach doesn’t play better than the athlete their coaching; but s/he can look objectively at the athlete and help them improve.

Leaders need to have confidence to take on such a coach, without waiting for the outcome itself to determine – or not determine, as previously said – whether a mistake was made.

Other Tomorrow 2012 coverage: 

#tomorrow12: Shimon Peres project for Israeli-Arab integration into hi tech.

In this week’s episode of That’s! So! Shimon! I am pleased to present a new initiative of Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers “which promotes the integration of Arab academics into the Israeli hi-tech industry through a coalition of leading hi-tech companies and NGOs in Israel.”

The project is called Ma’antech, and they are announcing its expansion today at the Israel Presidents Conference.

Our mission is to launch the natural integration of Arab employees into the Israeli high tech industry by supporting both candidates and employers throughout the entire recruitment process.

Over 22 Israel-based and Israeli companies have already gotten involved. Many of them aren’t shockers (and good for them as international entities). Some examples include Cisco, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, HP, Checkpoint, Amdocs, LivePerson… and more:

Of course, other companies are welcome to join the initiative with Ma’antech.

A few words from President Peres:

“Everybody is asking about my age. Whats the secret? Everyone can be as young as his dreams. Look at the future.”

Other Tomorrow 2012 coverage: 

#tomorrow12: Ayaan Hirsi-Ali speaks about the true Arab Muslim revolution.

Hello from the back of the plenary session on Day 2 of the Israel Presidents Conference, Tomorrow 2012, with our gracious and ever-activist host, Shimon Peres.

I’m huddled with (real) press members in the back after explaining sheepishly excitedly to a The Marker reporter that I’m a blogger (and, uh, former journalist).

The first perspective I’m thrilled to share is the talk by Ayaan Hirsi-Ali who I found wildly more fascinating than former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi AShkenazi (who by the way, made a great statement about the Tal Law and changing army model) or Ambassador Dennis Ross (loved your book, though).

Quick background on Hirsi-Ali:

  • Born in Somalia, Muslim, moved throughout Africa and Saudi Arabia.
  • In 1992 at around 20, came to Netherlands as a refugee.
  • Admired world figure after Islamist-related murder of her colleague.
  • Known for intellectual integrity and bravery.Critical view of Islam.
  • Lives in the United States.
Note: I attempted to transcribe her talk as best I could; it was worth getting every word I could. It’s not perfect, some of it shorthand, but it’s definitely most of what she said and certainly the spirit of her major points.

I have great admiration for what your nation, your country has achieved in a very short time.

It’s not only the only free country, but the only functioning country.

First two decades of my life versus the second half of my life since I came to the Netherlands – the first half of my life was categorized by three aspects.

First aspect is absolute authority. I grew up in a Muslim family, my father’s authority over our family was absolute. Couldn’t argue with him, didn’t discuss – we had to obey him. My relationship to my teachers was exactly the same. Students were expected to learn what they were taught. On a national level, authority was also absolute. If u disagreed with the policeman or the general or the president, then you ended up in jail. And you were lucky.

Second aspect that characterized first half of my life – I don’t know how to formulate it in English – but ‘to compromise is to suffer shame, lose face. If there was a conflict, you only had winners and losers. Makes settling a conflict, if you were clever, didn’t mean you compromised, but you bear a grudge and wait for the moment u can defeat your enemy.

In Koran school, when I got into fights, thats exactly how I behaved and how everyone else behaved.

The third aspect is that all problems from the micro problems of your life to the macro problems – national, international, global – you could find all the answers in the Koran or the Hadith example that Mohammad left.

This was all baked into me. When I left my country and came to Saudi Arabia, I recognized all these aspects. I didn’t feel they were that different.

When my family moved to Ethiopia and I associated for the first time with the non-Muslim community, I realized they were different. Kenya – I went to school in a multicultural society, I associated with children from Yemen, Pakistan, other Muslim countries. These were the three defining features we shared (the three aspects).

Fast forward: I came to the Netherlands and I find almost an exact opposite of that. I find that in the west, in fact, authority is not absolute. I know theres a long history before things came that way.

To compromise is one of the most honorable things you can do.,
and religion, the bible, whatever holy book – does not contain all the answers, there are other books, ways of teaching a solution.

If I extrapolate – and I know I’m being cheeky – from my early life to the issues facing your region, I see that in Israel, and indeed in America and other western countries, there is this disconnect, where you are dealing with a culture where you as a democracy have to negotiate with men who have absolute power and expect it. What I find optimistic about the events of last year and this year – Arab spring turning into Islamist winter – hopefully things will go in a different way – but what I find interesting, I find it thrilling, the first time Arab countries, Muslim countries, have questioned that absolute power. The masses have organized themselves and driven away the despot.

Can it translate into questioning, top down, the authority of the leader to the authority of the father, the teacher? That will be true revolution.

Principle of non-compromise: this region is a region governed by honor and shame. A true revolution will be once people move from this idea; to compromise is to suffer shame. If it can happen, it will impact the region and will have a fantastic impact on Islam and Arab world and indeed the Jewish people and Arab people.

Finally, religion – Islamists and Muslim brotherhood have won the hearts and minds of large Arab population because they offer religion Islam the Koran and the Hadith as the source that they will look into to resolve problems. Again, a true revolution is only likely if people put that aside.

Those three characteristics – absolute power, non compromise, fixation on religion – if all three change can we really speak of a revolution in the Arab world. And its impact on the whole world and the Jewish people, cannot be overstated.

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