Saturday, January 28, 2006

More questions than answers

In Gaza the people have spoken. I think that's what they call democracy.
That's what we have been fighting for in the Middle East. Right?
Excuse me...the results are not what we expected? Dear me! What shall we do?

For starters, there are more questions than answers this morning. The Council on Foreign Relations publishes a spate of links illustrating the range of conflicted opinion about what might happen next.

The Islamic group Hamas' stunning electoral victory prompted Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and his entire cabinet to quit their posts and call for Hamas to form a new government.
Now Hamas faces a dilemma: Will it continue the moderating trend that led it to take part in the elections in the first place, or fracture under the pressure of living up to internationally expected norms of governance?
Writing in Foreign Affairs, which offers a sneak peek of its next edition here, Israeli General Michael Herzog sees
little likelihood of Hamas changing its stripes.
But CFR Fellow Henry Siegman, speaking to's Bernard Gwertzman, says
the unexpected position Hamas finds itself in may force it to abandon its radical ways.
David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy warns in Newsday that granting Hamas legitimacy before it commits to nonviolence would
undermine Palestinian moderates.
The Wall Street Journal says the win gives Hamas a chance to show
it has an agenda beyond terror.
One way or another, the regional and international implications of the results are enormous, as explained in this
CFR Background Q&A by's Esther Pan.

For Washington, the Hamas victory puts the Bush administration in an awkward place between its two biggest priorities: spreading democracy and fighting terrorism (BBC).
President Bush defended his emphasis on democracy-building and reiterated that
the United States will not deal with Hamas while it strives for the destruction of Israel (NY Times).
Europe is likely to break with the United States and
deal with Hamas, as Jonathan Steele urges in the Guardian.
World leaders
for Hamas to disarm (CNN)
as the Christian Science Monitor asks if democracy is empowering Islamists.
The Guardian says the Hamas victory, while full of risks,
could bring new possibilities for peace in the Middle East. Ben Fishman and Mohammad Yaghi of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy offer a brief on how to judge the election results.

As for Fatah, the once unassailable ruling party and successor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the result is a humiliation. President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's standard bearer, in now, in effect, in opposition. Fawaz Turki writes in Arab News that the party has been doomed for decades by
Yasir Arafat’s failure to crack down on corruption in its ranks. Arafat and Abbas also both failed to reform thePalestinian security forces, explained in this CFR Background Q&A, which Haaretz calls the first step toward establishing security in the beleaguered PA.

That oughta keep you busy for a few minutes...

That next to last background link by Esther Pan from last October is a study in how a rag-tag collection of poorly-organized -- I don't know what to call them...fighters, partisans, terrorists, trouble-makers, Palistinian advocates, whatever (oops, excuse the neuter slip) -- shows how unlikely a democratic win should have been this week. Pick a question, any question, and see how strange the events of the last two days really is.

Why were there so many branches?

They were a legacy of Arafat. The late PA president deliberately set up a labyrinthine system to pit the security units against each other, ensure the military would never grow strong enough to depose him, and make himself the sole official in control of the various forces. The Palestinian security forces continue to be a haphazard collection of units with varying levels of armament, says Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for Analysis of Global Security, a Washington-based nonprofit organization focusing on energy security, and author of Palestinian Security Forces: Between Police and Army.

Meantime, as the blogworld goes all agog over Hugh Hewett's (well-earned) evisceration of Joel Stein (whoever that is) and a pregnant silence rises from Washington as politicians wait to see which way the breeze might be blowing. Jimmy Carter, their favorite whipping boy, is in the thick of things in a non-thumotic effort to tip the scales in the direction of non-violence and a peace process. This from the Toronto Star, via the Palestine Media Center.

At 81, clear eyed and calm, the former U.S. president — who yesterday sanctified the Palestinian election as head of the 950-strong international observer mission — took the earthquake in stride.

With the debate turning to whether the Palestinians' major international benefactors, the European Union and the United States, should allow themselves to maintain contact with a government led by Hamas — a group that has not unequivocally abandoned its founding principle of the destruction of the state of Israel — Carter let us in on a fascinating anecdote he has never spoken of publicly.

Ten years ago, Carter himself sat down with Hamas in an attempt to bridge the gap between PLO chief Yasser Arafat and the then-fledgling militant Islamic group.

As a personal favour to the late Palestinian leader, and in the spirit of the newly minted Oslo Accords, Carter went hunting for Hamas, to lasso them into the political process.

"Arafat asked me if I would contact Hamas and see if they would accept the new government with him as president, and to find out what their demands might be," Carter said.

A series of meetings ensued with various Hamas leaders in the Israeli-occupied territories, and Carter initially found himself confounded by the multi-headed hydra of leadership, Hamas-style. But some of those he spoke to showed interest.

Even 10 years ago, there were indications Hamas might be ready to make the great leap forward into reason and rationality — and perhaps even to accept Israel as its legitimate partner in a future that would become two states living side by side.

Finally, a secret summit was arranged for Cairo involving every voice that mattered to Hamas. And just as Carter was preparing for the flight to Egypt, Hamas called it off.

"They cancelled the meeting. Either they decided no, or they decided I wasn't the right person. But they cancelled," said Carter.

"That's the way it was then. Clearly there was no discernable person who could speak on behalf of Hamas and I'm not sure there is yet."

Carter didn't rule out modern-day disaster in the 17 minutes and 29 seconds he gave the Star yesterday. But he would like everyone to take a deep breath and consider an opposite scenario. To his way of thinking, any notion of peace was already a political fiction long before Hamas came calling. Maybe, just maybe, confronted with the reality of responsibility, Hamas will be the one to awaken it.

Did you catch that?

No, not the Carter story.
That word I snuck in up there: Thumotic.

That's my new word for today. Thumotic. I rather like it. Very descriptive and subtle, but I first had to look it up because it wasn't in my vocabulary.
I didn't find it in Merriam-Webster Online. I had to do a Google search, and even then I had to surmise the definition and inference by context.

It's a gender thing, this thumotic quality. It apparently doesn't affect females. According to a certain taxonomy, there can be two extremes in the development of young men that make them into wimps or barbarians, depeding on circumstances. But all is not lost, because out of these two unpromising extremes there can arise the thumotic male.

If barbarians suffer from a misdirected manliness, wimps suffer from a want of manly spirit altogether. They lack what the ancient Greeks called thumos, the part of the soul that contains the assertive passions: pugnacity, enterprise, ambition, anger. Thumos compels a man to defend proximate goods: himself, his honor, his lady, his country; as well as universal goods: truth, beauty, goodness, justice. Without thumotic men to combat the cruel, the malevolent, and the unjust, goodness and honor hardly have a chance in our precarious world. But two conditions must be present for thumos to fulfill its mission. First, the soul must be properly ordered. Besides thumos, symbolized by the chest, the soul is composed of reason and appetites, symbolized by the head on the one hand and the stomach and loins on the other. Reason has the capacity to discern right from wrong, but it lacks the strength to act. Appetites, while necessary to keep the body healthy, pull the individual toward pleasures of a lower order. In the well-ordered soul, as C.S. Lewis put it, "the head rules the belly through the chest." In the souls of today's barbarians, clearly thumos has allied itself with the unbridled appetites, and reason has been thrown out the window.

The second condition that must be present is a sufficient level of thumos to enable the man to rise to the defense of honor or goodness when required. Modern education and culture, however, have conspired to turn modern males into what C. S. Lewis called "men without chests," that is, wimps. The chest of the wimp has atrophied from want of early training. The wimp is therefore unable to live up to his duties as a man: We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

A list of attributes follows which will guide the aspiring thumotic male in the right direction. I imagine that is what James Dobson and others had in mind when discussing the signs and symptoms of boy children that might be an indication of a tendency to sissiness.

I'm not one to jump to conclusions, so I want to reserve judgement whether I like this new word or not. It is clearly not anything that I want to be whipped with if I fail to give it due respect. Something tells me it is not far removed from the Latino quality of machismo. As I think more about thumos I keep hearing the words atavism and throwback drumming in the background.

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