An Open Letter on my 82nd Birthday

13 Nov


            Exactly two years ago I wrote my first blog. Throughout this period it has been a bittersweet experience consisting of work, play, challenge, and occasional consternation. Many warm and generous responses have given me an appreciation of the distinctive satisfactions of cyber connectivity. Such pleasures have been somewhat offset by hostile commentary and related monitoring, not mainly for disagreements as to substance, but to find discrediting material, usually torn from context, that might induce me to resign or be dismissed from my unpaid UN position as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council. What is most distressing is not the attacks that are well known to come with this territory, but the degree to which important government officials in the United States and at the UN so easily become willing accomplices in such malicious campaigns of defamation, and do so without ‘due diligence.’


            Of course, someone more prudent than I, would have long ago abandoned the blogosphere, and more fully enjoyed the many serene satisfactions of southern California and the stimulating challenges of summers in Turkey. The magnetic appeal of this risky, still uncertain, medium of communication that was born in this century is both to reach others everywhere on the planet and to engage in a form of self-exploration and self-discovery that demonstrates almost daily that one is never too old to learn anew. These posts of mine have been mostly reflections of my experience around the world, interpretations of current global issues, and suggestions for a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.


            I have deeply appreciated the support and most of the reactions I have received from known and unknown persons throughout the planet. At the deepest level, it makes me realize that there exists a large invisible and informal community of shared faith in the healing power of love, and less grandly, of the gratifications of dialogue. It is as a charter member of this community that makes me feel that it is valuable to remain an active participant so long as my muse permits, perhaps at a reduced rate.


            At the start of this experience I felt that it was best to allow all comments to appear, including the most unsavory. Yet as the months went by I realized that there is a cyber analogue to Gresham’s Law: ‘bad comments drive out good!’ I received many personal messages outside the blogosphere decrying the toxic atmosphere. This prompted me to try my best to monitor comments, excluding those that were uncivil in tone, as well as those that consisted of personal. It was not easy. It is a fine line. I was criticized for straying across it, or using my discretion in a biased manner. I listened, and have tried to be sensitive to diverse viewpoints without denying my own passions.


            I realize that many online media outlets allow comments to appear with only minimal filtering, but I have come to feel that this diminishes the quality and benefits of the dialogic potential of a blog, especially one devoted often to issues being debated in public space. It has taught me that while freedom of expression is a vital human right, and integral to democracy, it must be limited by context. The world is now a crowded theater. Koran burning and bible burning are the 21st century equivalent of shouting ‘fire!’ and inducing panic and causing mayhem in distant places. The problem of a blog is, of course, different. The justification for limiting expression to establish the kind of decorum that facilitates dialogue and conversation.


            Among the side effects of my blog has been an opportunity to publish more widely. It was encouraging to be invited to become a regular contributor to Al Jazeera’s English online opinion section. I find this brilliantly edited source of news and commentary to be far more cosmopolitan in its orientation toward events of the day than the most authoritative mainstream Western media outlets. This post-colonial de-Westernization of information and interpretative assessment is integral to building a multi-civilizational world community dedicated to the principles of humane and sustainable governance at all levels of social interaction.


            As time passes, the political circumstances of the peoples of the world are undergoing a variety of severe stresses, some local, others global, some presently experienced, others threatened in the near and medium future. There are extremely dangerous underlying patterns of behavior emerging: Among the most disturbing is the deterritorialization of conflict epitomized by kill lists and drone technology that ignores the sovereignty of others and defies the moral and legal limits embodied in international humanitarian law.


            There are also some latent opportunities that will come as surprises if acted upon. Perhaps, the reelected Barack Obama might surprise us by being willing to take steps to convince the world that he deserved the Nobel Peace Price that had been prematurely, and somewhat perversely, awarded to him in 2009. One sure way to do this would be to revive his Prague vision of a world without nuclear weapons. There will never be a better time in world politics to convene the nine governments whose states possess nuclear weapons. There is no raging geopolitical conflict, a mounting risk of a dangerous surge in the proliferation, and the many countries beset by financial crisis would welcome uplifting moves toward denuclearization. Nothing would more quickly restore America’s tarnished reputation as a benevolent force in the world than tabling a detailed proposal for phased and verified nuclear disarmament to be implemented within a decade. It is commonplace to applaud the vision but then immediately defer its realization to the distant future, which is to take back with one hand what was given with the other, raising expectations of those who are dedicated to abolishing the weaponry, and then reassuring nuclearists that they have nothing to worry about as nothing will actually happen. Now is the time for a genuine presidential initiative that is launched in Washington but negotiated under UN auspices to rid the world of the menace of nuclear weaponry, and to belatedly clear the conscience of humanity for its reliance on ‘security’ ever since1945 that rests on a genocidal doctrine of deterrence. Of course, the main responsibility for this reliance is not that of humanity, but of the governments that possess the weaponry and their supportive bureaucratic and economicmilitarized infrastructures. Even if the initiative should not succeed in achieving agreement, the effort would assure the Obama presidency of a memorable legacy.


            The other global challenge that presents the White House with an extraordinary opportunity for action is climate change. The world, including the United States, has ignored a multitude of wakeup calls, most recently super storm Sandy. It has also refused to take seriously the scientific consensus warning the world of the dire consequences of failing to curtail carbon emissions. Further delay is not neutral, causing a variety of effects that cumulatively disrupt the ecological balances that moderate weather, rainfall, and ocean levels to accommodate humans, plants, and animals. Inaction and denial is lavishly funded by the fossil fuel industries that have made climate skepticism so influential in the United States, and elsewhere. Nothing could do more to build the legacy of Obama’s second term than to tear down the high wall of silence that has been built to keep the dangers of global warming out of sight.


            It is in this spirit of concern, struggle, hope, and love that I commit myself to carry on with this journey of a still aspiring citizen pilgrim journeying ever so slowly toward that unseen yet real promised land.        

35 Responses to “An Open Letter on my 82nd Birthday”

  1. kenyatta2009 November 13, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    Excellent blog entry. I came to much the same conclusion regarding the need to keep out unsavory responses to my often brilliant writing. Especially with regard to local politics I found that people thought I was maintaining a democratic dialogue. Their blunders forced me to explain the limits of on-line democracy.

  2. deepaktripathi November 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    A very happy birthday again. Thank you for your reflections and may this journey continue.

  3. walker percy November 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Happy Birthday, Richard, and thanks for not giving up on us. I was bracing for the final paragraph, where I expected that you would say that you could no longer host the blog because of the highly charged nature of some comments. We understand that hosting this blog is not easy or painless for you, so I hope that I speak for all commenters when I say how grateful we are that you intend to persevere.
    Walker Percy

  4. Claudia Damon November 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Happy Birthday and may you have many more years of productive thought and musing! It’s your blog and I know you to be a fair human being and so I trust in your decisions about comments to publish or not. You are putting yourself out there by blogging and there is no reason to publish comments that do not further the dialogue you are enlisting. As for nuclear weapons and climate change, I just want to say GOBAMA!

  5. D White November 13, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    Dear Prof Falk,
    I was blown away the first time I found your blog – that I could sit and read the wisdom of a man who has dedicated his life and worked to understand incredibly complex international situations amazed me. I must express my gratitude for your courage in sharing your insights in a way that helps others to form their own opinions. It is surely a dangerous thing to let the young flounder in a wishy-washy or naive view of the world. I understand you were a teacher for part of your career – well, in my opinion you still are and, clearly, a lot more besides.
    Many happy returns on your birthday.

  6. Mike Rubbo November 13, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Glad you have kept going, Rickard, and think you are right that it’s now the moment to press Obama on his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Also, do keep pressing on Palestine. If a fair solution could be found for that ongoing injustice, it could do so much to defuse hatred and extremism all over the Middle east . Nothing energizes humans like injustice and the attendant humiliation

  7. Samuel Nichols November 13, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Your efforts to write and dialogue on this blog are valuable. Your thoughts and insights have served as an inspiration to develop my own thoughts on matters with which I am familiar and to explore those issues of which I am ignorant. It was a pleasure to hear you speak last year at Notre Dame, during Bob Johansen’s commemorative conference, and I look forward to continuing to engage with you (in some odd cyber sense) here in this space.

  8. monalisa November 13, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Dear Richard,

    Happy Birthday and many, many returns in good health !

    I thought that you might go to close your blog and I am thankful that you will still maintain it!

    As with nuclear disarmament we just can hope and the same goes with climate change !

    Maybe President Obama will show some greatness – but he will have to tackle the immense power of the Pentagon (I think far too many people underestimate it!) as well as several Secret Service departments while the influence of affiliates with the FED and lobbies and individuals behind not to forget. It will be an extremely difficult task/job.

    I do hope for the US citizen that replacing of old infrastructures will finally take place especially where it concerns the coastal areas and its power plants within.

    Dear Richard, I still admire you for your withstanding of tidings !

    Take care of yourself


  9. Miss Costello November 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Many happy returns Richard. Thank you so much for providing a blog with standards – and all you do to bring about justice for the Palestinian people. God Bless, xx

  10. Scott Matthews November 13, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Happy Birthday, Doc!

    Best wishes for many happy returns of the day.

    Thanks for all that you do.

  11. Paul Wapner November 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    Happy Birthday, world friend.
    Please know that many of us who benefit from your blog rarely comment. But, we’re listening,
    and loving it.
    Thank you!

    • Richard Falk November 14, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      Paul, your greeting and encouragement are most valuable for me, and I will
      do my best not to disappoint. I hope all is fine in your life!


  12. rick sterling November 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Thanks for all the sincere, informative and helpful blog entries.
    I join with others who greatly appreciate your work and commitment.
    Don’t stop. And don’t let the bastards get you down!
    Cheers and Feliz Cumpleanos,

  13. farhadrezaeii November 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    Happy birthday and wish you the best of luck and hope your journey continue

  14. Francis Oeser November 14, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    I (continue) to agree with you – I stopped commenting in the atmosphere of contempt on your site (and on others). But Nothing diminishes the need for compassion, understanding and shared action. Yes, there is a segment of the world in sympathy with the view you represent. It is vital to stay the course of amplifying that. Best wishes,
    Francis Oeser

    • Richard Falk November 14, 2012 at 7:38 am #

      Thanks for this greeting, and its sentiments. I have tried to restore
      the atmosphere of civility at this site, but it require continuous vigilance.

  15. Björn Lindgren November 14, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    Dear Richard Falk,

    My warm congratulations!

    Elder people should be models for younger people; younger people should be models for elder people. You fulfil both of these ideals!

    Often I send other people your articles “Is this a Global Gandian Moment?” and
    “Anarchism without Anarchism,” two texts expressing a positive and open mind. They are inspirational in content and perspective, indeed. In a world much devoid of visions and perspectives.

    In the end of your Birthday Letter, you write, “pilgrim journeying ever so slowly toward that unseen yet real promised land.”

    Well, be careful here: This is the Promised Land! Seen and real!

    The meaning of my comment is clear:

    “This is heaven, but people don´t see it” (Rabbi Yeshua in Luk.); “All beings of the universe are Tahtagata (just so). It is only their delusions and attachments which keep them from acknowleging the fact!” (Buddha Sakyamuni); we don´t have to wait; it is right here; it requires no next life (for our children or grandchildren to clean up the mess); we are fullly resposible; no one will come and save us; we are already saved; complete – nothing is lacking, nothing spills over; no special belief is necessary – except faith in our inner and outer peace and equity.

    Let´s go to places, values, and goals of intrisic value, let´s protect, enhance, and fight for them by realizing them.

    A big menu, easy to read, think, and say – takes all our life to realize.

    In other words: Richard, happy birthday!

    Warm regards, Björn Lindgren

    • Richard Falk November 14, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      Thanks, Bjorn: I so much appreciate your words of greetings and encouragement, and especially your ecumenical openness to the great spiritual traditions that point us in the right directions!!

      • Rabbi Ira Youdovin November 14, 2012 at 11:59 am #

        Happy birthday, Richard. Your birthday post was moving, especially the personal note toward the end in which you cite love as one of the primary influences motivating you. May I invite you to apply this principle to how one might approach the Palestinian/Israel conflict?

        It would be woefully unrealistic to hope that Israelis and Palestinians will come to love one another anytime soon. But in the absence of love, reconciliation is still possible, even if it’s no more than grudging mutual recognition of one another, along with mutual acceptance that there’s at least some validity in the other’s position. With this, a conflict can be resolved through compromise, and the parties can live in peace.

        Regrettably, the perspective that informs your posts on this blog militates against reconcilliation. Condemning everything Israel does while ignoring Palestinian transgressions, or even mistakes—what you call “constructive imbalance”—is inherently and inevitably polarizing. I won’t use this occasion to argue over whether or not applying constructive imbalance is fair; we’ve argued over this before and will never agree. However, I will assert that it does not promote reconciliation, which, it seems, should be the primary objective of an approach driven by love.

        I might add that your posts may be long on righteous indignation, but they are short on a quest for understanding. This, in turn, influences the tone of readers’ commentary, much of which is hostile and, in some cases, slinks toward anti-Semitism. As a case in point, check Walker Percy’s last comment on your previous post (on Obama’s election). You and I have differed on where to draw the elusive line between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. But Percy’s post leaves no doubt. He clearly crosses the line with a distorted view of Judaism—not Israeli policy but the Jewish religion; Jewish history, and the Jewish psyche. Indeed, his application of Social Darwinism repeats a tactic used by the Nazis.

        A moderator cannot be held responsible for everything that appears on his blog. But Percy has posted repeatedly with similar material. He has been welcomed and, at times, congratulated and thanked.

        The issue here is not whether you now hasten to remove the post, or post a notice disassociating yourself from Percy’s libel. The key question is what is it about your blog that encourages someone with Walker Percy’s extreme and obvious bias to believe he is welcome here. Where love prevails, defamation knows that it is unwelcome.


    • Björn Lindgren November 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

      Dear Richard,

      Thanks for your response. You are very kind.

      Even though I have many doubts about Barck Obama, if your hopes are realized, I´d surely wecome an nuclear disarmament. I think that Michail Gorbatjov had a good sense of the dynamics of real disarmament: unilateral disarmament. Presumably, a great part of the military would join such a peacewagon.

      Only due to luck and a few virtuous individuals, we still exist today.

      Thank you for your presence.

      Cheers, Björn

      Erratum: Rabbi Yeshua is more likely to have said something like this,
      “Heaven is here on earth, but people don´t see it.” Children and old worthies know this.

  16. monalisa November 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    To Rabbi Ira Youdovin:

    What kind is such a birthday congratulation when at the same time you make no efforts to refrain from denouncing and accusing ??

    Is that the civility of a rabbi you are expressing ?

    Are you unable to respect other opinions ?

    Are you unable to respect the birthday of a very extraordinary person like Prof. Falk ?

    For a rabbi you could have it handled better I think !

    Denouncing and accusing is that the only way showing being a rabbi ???


  17. mariepierrewarren November 15, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Happy Birthday Mr. Falk,

    I recently find out about your blog and I find your analyze of the international relations very enlightning. I think your opinions offer a much needed balance. As much as Israel has a right to exist it can’t deny the existence of the palestinian population and its struggle. I will continue to look up to your articles with great interest.

    Marie Pierre Warren

  18. Brittney Robinson November 15, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Dear Mr. Falk,
    I see your proposal for a world capital. How could you convince the world that it needs to unite under one goverment? There would be much protest. I appreciate any comments you may have.

    Brittney Robinson

    • Richard Falk November 16, 2012 at 7:34 am #

      Dear Brittney:

      I was not clear enough. I didn’t mean a world capital in the same sense as a
      national capital. It would be more symbolic than substantive, more a meeting place that was receptive to the world’s great civilizations, and touching the West but also part of the non-West. I conceived as a world capital as a place where moral, spiritual, and cultural globalization could be pursued in an atmosphere of overall pluralism.
      There are problems with such a proposal as I tried to acknowledge. It would be unacceptable to Armenians and Kurds, and to the dissenting Kemalists in Turkey itself. That was why I tried to situate the proposal in the near future.
      Thanks for your comment that made me think further. Your reactions would be welcome.

      Best wishes, Richard

      • Brittney Robinson November 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

        I believe that there will be an attempt at a global government one day. There is so much discourse in the world, not only there, but here in the US. Times are changing so rapidly and billions of people feel so differently on a variety of issues in life. I think there is bound to be someone to try and unite every one. As far as your view on Instanbul, I understand now what you mean. I am 28 years old and I have yet to travel and experience the culture of the world. Traveling and seeing the other cultures of the world is something I am passionate about. I hope this is something I can do in the near future. Thanks for replying to me and I look forward to conversing with you again. I love conversations on human rights and politics.


      • Richard Falk November 17, 2012 at 7:18 am #


        Do follow the arc of your dreams, as Thoreau advised almost 200 years ago! And travel is especially crucial for Americans, learning to see the world and ourselves as others see us..

  19. Miriam Lowi November 17, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    How wonderful to open your blog today — in search for your wisdom in making sense of alot of the madness around us — and read about your birthday!! I’m sorry I’m a few days late, but I wish you Happy happy birthday! You make the world a better place. I send you much love and warm thoughts and the best of wish

    • Richard Falk November 18, 2012 at 10:47 am #

      Thanks, dear Miriam, we miss you!! With much love.

  20. Barry Meridian November 17, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    Mr Falk in your world, will the Kurds have a state?

  21. Ghassan November 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Dear Richard Falk,

    My warm congratulations! Happy and productive year and years. Simply and frankly I want to tell you that what you are doing and you have done are informative, ethical and inspiring, not only for me but for many people of the world who are seeking just peace and freedom.Be proud.

    • Richard Falk November 18, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

      Thanks, Ghassan, your words of encouragement are most appreciated!!

  22. sudhan November 21, 2012 at 3:44 am #

    Dear Dr Richard Falk

    Only today I became aware of your last birthday. Therefore, I am extending my warm greetings a bit late on your birthday anniversary.

    It is a great pleasure to know you as an American academic and activist who is deeply involved in the struggle for human rights, respect for international law and particularly the rights of the captive Palestinian people at the hands of brutal Zionist oppressive system. I understand the sort of pressure you are subjected to from to time at the hands of vulgar people who think that by insulting you and distorting what you say they are doing something meritorious for Israel. But such views are no service to anyone except the oppressive system and policies of Israel.

    However, all politically conscious and conscientious people in the world respect your standpoint and your work. Those who stand for justice for oppressed and marginalised people face all sorts of hardships. In that respect, you have to take your share! And it is most gratifying to see that you stand your ground and never let these falsifiers of truth dampen your spirit.

    Finally, a verse for your long life. Ghalib, a famous Urdu poet of the 19th century, puts it this way:

    Tum jeo hazar bars
    Aur har bars ke hon din pachas hazar.

    [I wish you to live for one thousand years
    Every year having fifty thousand days.]

    From: Nasir Khan

  23. Diamond Draw (@dredging68) November 25, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    I wish you the best, birthday or no birthday. Let me say, that I worry much less about the nuclear proliferation or danger of nuclear wars -as a child I did indeed, very much – than I do the threat of governments who claim to be fighting terrorism, the “war on terror”, or the likelihood that drones will soon be everywhere in the skies. As a muslim and as a blogger I am happy to share cyberspace with you, as so many others do.


  1. Middle East Mess and I « elcidharth - December 6, 2012

    […] An Open Letter on my 82nd Birthday […]

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