In classical Greek mythology, Pandora is given a wedding gift of a beautiful jar – subsequently, by way of mistranslation, depicted as a box – and instructed not to open it on any account. Consumed by curiosity she disobeys, upon which every evil known to mankind flies out and spreads over the earth to cause misery and anguish. Only one thing remains behind: the Spirit of Hope.
In one rendering of the story, “It then fluttered from the box like a beautiful dragonfly, touching the wounds created by the evil and healing them. Even though pain and suffering had been unleashed upon the world, Hope followed.”
It’s a beautiful description, and there’s no question that hope is a gift to humanity, evincing a remarkable capacity for resurgence despite its fragility. Springing up again and again like those wooden toys with weighted, rounded bases that just won’t stay down, hope has the ability to help the sad, the solitary and the sick stay afloat in the face of adversity.
It helped a 27-year-old cancer sufferer overcome her fear of “what chemo would be like, my fear of pain and needles, my fear of losing my hair. Hope made me stronger physically, knowing that the pain would end at some point; it made me stronger mentally, and more positive so I could beat the cancer.”
Hope opened up a way for her to plan for the future: “the next day... my baby’s first birthday, my 10th wedding anniversary, my sister’s wedding.” And it helped keep her family together, focused on her return to health.
WITH THE advent of positive psychology, the scientific study of hope has become a serious endeavor. Shane J. Lopez of the University of Kansas, author of Making Hope Happen and recognized as the world’s leading researcher of hope, believes that hope is as essential to man as oxygen for breathing. In his view, hope is more than just an emotion; it is an essential life tool emphasizing the role of goal-directed thinking as a psychological “vehicle” leading to a healthy, successful, happy and productive life.
One psychologist compared hopeful people to “the little engine that could, because they keep telling themselves: ‘I think I can, I think I can.’” IN OUR own personal development, then, as individuals, hope has the power to put us on the road to happiness and success. But what about a political philosophy that seems to rely on hope? That has always struck me as dicey if not downright dangerous, especially in our own rough neighborhood of the Middle East.
When I edited The Jerusalem Post’s opinion pages in the ’90s, we regularly ran translations of columns by Uri Avnery, founder of the far-left Peace Bloc (Gush Shalom) and the first Israeli ever to meet Yasser Arafat, in 1982. In his writing, Avnery came across as so sanguine about the PA chairman’s positive intent toward Israel and about the viability of peace between Israelis and Palestinians that I was intrigued.
Speaking to him one day on the telephone, I asked what made him so certain of his convictions. What facts on the ground did he base them on? His answer was brief, and short on substance.
“I’ve always been an optimist,” he told me cheerfully, “ever since I was a boy.”
TODAY, MANY well-meaning, left-leaning pundits and policymakers, Israelis and others, seem too willing to rely on hope – hope that Iran will back away from its nuclear ambitions; hope that the Palestinian Authority will stop its incitement against Israelis; hope that Palestinian leaders will condemn Arab terrorism and stop hailing terrorists as heroes; hope that Mahmoud Abbas will finally start preparing his people for a real peace with Israel, the kind that is based on good will and involves genuine compromise; hope that Hamas will somehow go along with it all.
They know that this reality is far off, but they hope that it will come about. And, somehow, that hope turns into the expectation that it will happen.
When I hear yet another assertion that the Palestinians “need to” do this, that, or the other – in other words, that the speaker hopes they will – I say to myself: All very well, but who’s going to make them? Hope is fine and necessary when partnered with realism rather than wishful thinking. Its rightful place in our “process” with the Palestinians is when a mutual desire for peace and an end to the conflict has been proven, and not before.
I COULDN’T help thinking about dashed hopes when I saw the sad, strained face of Paula Kassig, the mother of Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig. She was photographed back in October attending a prayer service at the Islamic Society of North America mosque in Plainfield, Indiana.
Standing at the microphone, Kassig honored her son’s humanitarian work in Syria as a way of pleading for his life and freedom from his Islamic State captors.
In a video released this week, IS named Kassig as the fifth Western hostage beheaded by the group.
The fact that Peter Kassig had become a Muslim meant nothing to those terrorists, who regularly kill their co-religionists. To IS, Kassig was first, foremost and probably solely the symbol of a loathed civilization, ripe for elimination as a demonstration of radical Muslim power.
As was American-Israeli Steven Sotloff, IS’s second victim. On August 27, his mother, Shirley Sotloff, directed an emotional address to IS’s leader and self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: “As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over....” She said Steven “traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hand of tyrants,” describing him as “a loyal and generous son, brother and grandson, an honorable man who has always tried to help the weak.” She ended her appeal by referring to Islam’s injunction to protect “The People of the Book” (Jews and Christians).
I couldn’t help visualizing the Spirit of Hope – that “beautiful dragonfly” remaining in Pandora’s Box – crushed to a pulp by the irony in these heart-rending, understandable pleas by two mothers doing whatever they could to get their kidnapped sons released.
Like the other three Western hostages beheaded by the terrorist group, their sons identified with Muslims and went to Syria to either document Muslim suffering or carry on welfare work in that perilous terrain.
Shirley Sotloff appealed to her son’s captors on the basis of mercy, honor, “Muslim suffering at the hands of tyrants,” and the human imperative to help the weak. She was pleading with ruthless and immoral tyrants whose raison d’etre is to abuse and kill those weaker than themselves.
Poor, doomed hope.
IT WAS with a chill of recognition that I read these sentences in The Story of the Malakand Field Force, Winston Churchill’s first published work of non-fiction.
It details an 1897 military campaign on the Northwest Frontier, now part of Pakistan. Churchill participated in the campaign as a second lieutenant in the cavalry.
“Civilization is confronted with militant Mahommedanism,” Churchill wrote. “The forces of progress clash with those of reaction. The religion of blood and war is face to face with that of peace.”
Those who still believe that an accommodation can be found with today’s “forces of reaction” are laboring under a dangerous illusion and a false hope.