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The global crisis of leadership

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Wednesday, 27 April 2016


A question often raised is: are leaders a reflection of their time, or are they individuals who rise to answer the call of the hour? History has shown that many have risen to the occasion out of strong moral conviction. The events and the circumstances at the time were such that acting or failing to act had colossal implications of such magnitude that changed the course of history.

We certainly are living in a period of unprecedented global trials. Violent extremism is spreading, poverty and despair are pervasive, fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness reign, and existential threats such as nuclear proliferation and ominous environmental disasters are looming.

But then we feel comfortably numb, oblivious to our own surroundings as if the gathering storm will dissipate on its own and somehow we will be spared and survive.

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We have yet to find any leader, and I challenge anyone to name one, who can rise to meet these awesome challenges we face today. A leader who stands above human frailty, shortcomings, and failings. Leaders with courage but who are not reckless, with vision but in tune with reality, undeterred by any obstacle, and who are willing to even die for a cause in which they believe.

Undeniably, we are witnessing a dearth of leadership reflecting our state of affairs and conditions nearly everywhere.

The complacent are resigned to the status quo, the indifferent do not care, the delusional keep fantasizing, the politicians are busy manipulating, and the power hungry lie and cheat to cling to their positions.

The young are restless, as exemplified by the Arab Spring and in so many other places, not knowing what the future holds. The old are despairing, counting their remaining days; the rich want to be richer, global wealth is controlled in the hands of the few, and the poor have no place left to go.

Religious authorities preach the gospel of morality that they don't practice. And the best and brightest, who could rise and lead, do not want to dirty their hands in political deeds.

Where are the leaders who must rise to answer the call at this critical juncture? As John Quincy Adams is attributed as saying: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

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Leaders like Prime Minister Churchill, who displayed an iron resolve, faced down Nazi Germany and won, and the whole world triumphed with him.

Yitzhak Rabin, who recognized the inevitability of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, was right 23 years ago and he would be right today. He extended his hand in peace and concluded the 1993 Oslo Accords, and died for what he believed in.

Egypt's President Anwar Sadat demonstrated a stately courage; he was the first Arab leader to recognize more than 40 years ago that Israel is here to stay and was killed for making peace. He was right then and he would be right again now.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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