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Reasons of hope in Israel

WINDS OF change are sweeping across the world. Science, technology, democracy, and feminism are transforming our world at a rapid pace. We may look at our world and find cause for fear. We should take a closer look and find much cause for hope. A battle between tradition and modernity is being waged in the Middle East.

This battle is not a clash of civilizations. Rather, it is a clash within a civilization. It is the clash between those who offer only a past and those who call upon free people to seize the future and find their own route to liberty, prosperity, and peace. Witness the bombings and killings in the Middle East and you make think that change is only for the worse. But look at Turkey, Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt, even Syria, and a different story emerges.

Turkey is embarking on a promising path that will serve to consolidate its gains in liberalizing its society and economy following the recommendation of the European Commission to open negotiations with Turkey on its admittance to the European Union. What is more remarkable is that this process is being led by a Muslim political party, which is proving to the world that there is no inherent contradiction between Islam and modernity.

Libya, until recently a black hole in the Middle East, a country bent on sponsoring terrorism and acquiring nuclear weapons, has made a remarkable turnabout and is dismantling its weapons programs.

Afghanistan has experienced mostly calm elections and an enthusiastic electorate. Syria's president is speaking of peace, and Egypt is slowly searching for a path to modernity. Even in Iraq, recent small successes are suggesting the possibility of a different future.

Throughout the Middle East, voices calling for openness and democracy are slowly and tentatively being heard. These voices cannot but triumph. Terrorists and extremist fundamentalists have nothing to offer their people. There is no place in the future for countries that live almost exclusively on agriculture. There is no place for countries where women are oppressed, and there is no place for countries that stifle free scientific inquiry, thought, creativity, and speech.

The global economy is changing. Wealth is no longer coming from the land. It is coming from the mind. Human imagination and creativity are the sources of a country's future wealth and prosperity. It does not matter how much land and natural resources we own. It only matters that we can imagine and create. It does not matter what we know. It only matters what we will learn.

Science and technology are breaking down borders and categories and tearing down walls. Countries that fail to participate will only condemn their people to poverty and ignorance. Women are waking up to their freedom around the world. There is no greater achievement of the modern age than that of the liberation of women. A country cannot stand when half of its people are not free. Feminism remains the only ideology capable of revolutionary impact and transformation of societies and the human condition. Regimes and countries that oppress women cannot hope to stand and prosper. They will be brought down by the powerful idea of human liberty.

The liberation of the human mind and its infinite creative potential and imagination is an inexorable force. Boston, with its world-famous universities, prize-winning scientists, and diverse population, is the global factory of the postindustrial information age. Boston has become a flourishing global metropolis exporting superb education, scientific ideas, and technology to the world.

Israel, too, is refashioning and rebuilding itself, forging a new vision of a global metropolis exporting knowledge, science and technology to the world. Israel, a country no bigger than Greater Boston, is looking to build its future on the basis of knowledge, taking the fruits of the human mind to better the health and lives of people and societies. To do so we must extricate ourselves from the shackles of our past mistakes.

If we are to be a great country, we must become a smaller country. We must follow the road map to peace so that we can turn the creative energies of our people to that which is within Israel's borders. Israel has always been about serving the world from the uniqueness of our history and culture. In an age of a growing gap between our exponentially growing scientific and technological capabilities and our moral and ethical life, Israel is looking to make a contribution based on 4,000 years of tradition to forge new and innovative answers to the questions facing the world today. Like Boston, it is a vision for a place where space is small but thought infinite, where tradition is old and knowledge always new.

Shimon Peres is the former prime minister of Israel and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. 

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