To Shimon Peres, The Peacemaker

Source: The Daily Telegraph

Source: The Daily Telegraph

As a young man, my mind was captivated by the image of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, along with Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat shaking hands in the White House lawn in 1993, overseen by President Bill Clinton. Sadly, the Oslo Peace Accords, for which all the three gentlemen won the Nobel Peace Prize, failed to bring lasting peace to the Middle East but laid the foundation of the Palestinian Authority.

Sadly, the Oslo Peace Accords, for which all the three gentlemen won the Nobel Peace Prize, failed to bring lasting peace to the Middle East but laid the foundation of the Palestinian Authority. It angered many Israelis and failed to satisfy many Palestinians, but sadly the fundamentalists always fail to follow the sacrifices and efforts put in to get even remotely close to such an agreement. Many believed that the peace deal led to Rabin’s assassination.

However, it inspired the entire world with the hope that a conflict as impossible as Israel and Palestine could possibly see an opening for peace, which could put millions out of suffering and misery in the region. One of the central figures behind the peace initiative was Shimon Peres, the foreign minister at the time.

Probably nothing inspired me more to value world peace than this single photograph. I thought that if a peace prize meant anything, it had to be all about the meaning of this picture. Just looking at it offers you a glimpse of hope that peace is possible in one of the harshest political conflicts in the world.

Source: Haaretz

Source: Haaretz

His death brings that sinking feeling in my heart, with a regret that I would never be able to meet Shimon Peres in person, perhaps in a diplomatic position. Just like the feeling I had after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, a regret that I would always live with. Another regret is that the Pakistan state establishment could not find a reason to establish diplomatic relations with Israel during his lifetime.

While his role as a statesman and diplomat for peace remains to hold universal appeal, he was one of and headed Israeli naval services after independence. A Polish Jewish immigrant, he was a part of the Haganah that later transformed into the IDF and was instrumental as one of the founders of the state. He saw the state grow to become a formidable outpost of democracy in a region crippled by autocracy and perpetual conflict.

Since he has been involved in the affairs of the state almost all his adult life throughout Israel’s history, his personality cannot possibly be removed from the controversy due to Israel’s brutal defense and retaliation tactics. However, as a statesman, and later as the President of Israel, Peres continued to reach out to the world and build a friendly image of Israel in a world that finds it hard to shrug off its antisemitic tendencies.

Probably the greatest reason to mourn the death of Shimon Peres, even though his role was mostly of a formal powerless figurehead of late, was that Israel has probably lost one of the last figures who could engage sensibly with the other side. His death leaves the current Israeli leadership in the hands of some of the most hardline right-wing government that Israel has ever had in its history. The worrying part is that the fundamentalism in the nationalism is only expected to grow, which hardly leaves you with an optimistic view of the situation.

There is easily more to celebrate about Shimon Peres than there is to mourn.

People like Shimon Peres matter because they are optimistic enough to believe in peace in a world of cynics, who believe in humanity when it is much easier to hate.

Let’s hope his passing serves as a reminder of how valuable peacemakers are.

Rest in peace, indeed.

What Made Hitchens So Cool

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) Source: The Times

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
Source: The Times

In one word what made Christopher Hitchens so cool was his courage.

It’s a word easily taken for granted, often involving violent connotations. But in Hitchens’ case, the courage was far more relevant and greater than any soldier with a gun could ever muster.

I speak as one who did not admire Hitchens for his politics and warmongering, becoming an advocate of the American war machine in the latter years. But as a great admirer of him for his eloquence, oratory and his clarity of thought and action on freedom of speech, secularism and raising arguments that no one would dare go near to. The kind of single-minded commitment which looked even like fanaticism to some, and at times, probably rightly so, I don’t know.

In his journalistic career, I consider his work on Mother Teresa to be probably the most important one. Well everybody knows how peace loving Henry Kissinger is, but questioning the moral integrity of Mother Teresa was really something unheard of. If I ever would have met Hitchens, I would most certainly have sincerely congratulated him on that effort.

But not only that. Christopher Hitchens was one of the most outspoken British journalists to have supported author Salman Rushdie during the Satanic Verses fatwa affair in 1988. As a matter of fact, he was one of the leading names to offer him support when everyone was reluctant. While that may not sound unpleasant to the Western ears, his support for controversial British historian David Irving which attracted much criticism.

While Holocaust Denial, a ridiculous history view which nevertheless deserves independent inquiry from scientific minds, is associated with Antisemitism, Hitchens, who supported David Irving’s right to his opinion is said to have some part of Jewish ancestry himself.

Now these are the opinions which would earn you a lot of enemies, let alone followers and admirers, but at the same time it was what he thought was right in consistency with the principles of freedom of speech. Why shut certain people up and if there claims are so ridiculous, why not scrutinize them and let them be humiliated. And boy, was Hitchens great at the art of humiliating, aka the hitchslap.

As a matter of fact, we do need people who must stand up for freedom of speech no matter how politically incorrect or offending it may sound. The kind of freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is the one that is the natural right of every human being. It’s pretty much physics as you cannot prevent someone from thinking and speaking in a certain way.

Probably that is why humans feel empowered by trying to repress the rights of others like them. Now that is power. That is control. That is government. Challenging existing accepted moral standards and dogma was what made Christopher Hitchens so cool. And we all know his views on religion. He called himself an antitheist.

It’s all outrageous to many, but well, that is what is different and most unique about him. The idea behind “God is not Great” is certainly not his originally, as he himself and other New Age Atheist scholars would acknowledge that it has been around for centuries, but his battle with the conventions certainly was. This is what made him stand out, for better or for worse. For not apologizing to those who called him an apologist.

The most important lesson from Christopher Hitchens is to question everything. And that nothing is sacred enough, if at all, to be immune to it.

So what is that one thing that you would have said to Christopher Hitchens on his birthday had he been alive?

Not sure about all of you, but I would have suggested him to smoke cigars instead of cigarettes.

Perhaps he would have lived longer had that been the case.

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Here’s Christopher Hitchens on Freedom of Speech

Christopher Hitchens on Freedom of Speech, again