The Occupy movement raises questions of what we might owe to each other as well as what we might owe society in general.

Are obligations fulfilled with material and financial commitments or do we owe more? If we do owe more, how do we express that gratitude? Is gratitude strictly an emotional expression or does gratitude require a more physical manifestation?

Twenty years ago the noted political commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. published a short book, Gratitude, to promote his version of a plan for national public service. His proposal proved highly controversial, especially among conservatives, with some assailing it as a dangerous expansion of state power and others praising it as a way to rebuild patriotism. Views on the idea of national service at the time were already so firmly fixed, however, that few commentators bothered to consider Buckley’s novel justification for the program, which was encapsulated in the work’s title.

Buckley introduced his essay by recounting a touching short story by Anatole France, which drew on an old medieval legend. It describes a humble young monk who arrives as a postulant at a monastery possessing the one talent of juggling. Ashamed how this skill compared to the refined proficiencies of the other brothers, who excelled in singing, musical instrumentality, and poetic expression, the young monk slipped furtively into the sanctuary in the dead of night to perform his juggling act before the statue of Our Lady. This gift was all he could offer; but in its very simplicity and sincerity it represented “gratitude reified.”

Buckley then posed the question of how young Americans might display devotion to their heritage — not just to the country, but to its laws and practices that have given them their liberty. His answer? A term of public service that would include such nonheroic jobs as helping to care for the old and the sick: “By asking them to make sacrifices we are reminding them that they owe a debt, even as the juggler felt a debt to Our Lady.” And if these young citizens do not feel a need to repay this debt, or perhaps even acknowledge that they owe one, still, Buckley insisted, performing service is important, for “the failure to express gratitude . . . brings on the coarsening of the sensibilities, a drying out of the wellsprings of civic and personal virtue.” In the end, Buckley’s primary goal was less to provide the concrete benefits from service activities than to “shape the national ethos” of the citizenry by developing a capacity for gratitude.

Today, two decades removed from this proposal, little enthusiasm and no funds are available for a program of this kind. The whole idea has vanished from public discussion. What remains of interest, however, are the questions that Buckley introduced about gratitude and its role in political life. In what measure do public actors (or the state) have a stake in expressing or promoting gratitude? Is the virtue of gratitude diminishing in modern America, and if so, what are the sources or causes of its decline?


Gratitude is one of the most fundamental and complex of the virtues, overlapping with and undergirding many of the others. Cicero once characterized it as “the mother of all the virtues.” Although precision of definition in such matters is neither possible nor desirable — some things being better investigated by what Pascal called an esprit de finesse rather than an esprit de géométrie — there is need for at least a rough idea of gratitude’s meaning.

And where better to begin, at least in an American context, than by consulting our greatest lexicographer, Noah Webster? Webster commences his 1828 dictionary entry on gratitude as follows: “An emotion of the heart, excited by a favor or benefit received; a sentiment of kindness or good will towards a benefactor; thankfulness. Gratitude is an agreeable emotion, consisting in or accompanied with good will to a benefactor, and a disposition to make a suitable return of benefits or services, or when no return can be made, with a desire to see the benefactor prosperous and happy.”

The characterization of gratitude as an “emotion” or “sentiment” seems to identify it as a feeling that wells up spontaneously. Even so, it has been subjected to the strongest kind of moral judgment. An incapacity to experience gratitude is commonly regarded not just as unfortunate, but as evidence of a defective soul (or, in the case of a collectivity, of a defective community). At the same time, a capacity for gratitude can be developed, shaped, and trained. How often, for example, do we see earnest parents reminding their children to “say thank you” when receiving a gift? In so doing they are hoping not just to teach good manners — the outward performance of good behavior — but also to form a disposition of character.

Identifying gratitude as an emotion places it within the subject matter of the modern science of psychology.
To identify gratitude as an emotion places it squarely within the subject matter of the modern science of psychology, which until recently paid it surprisingly scant attention. Freudians ignored it, with the notable exception of Melanie Klein. In her Envy and Gratitude (1957), Klein got right down to basics, locating the source of gratitude in infancy: “A full gratification at the breast means that the infant feels he has received from his object a unique gift which he wants to keep. This is the basis of gratitude.” She goes on to observe that “the more often gratification at the breast is experienced and fully accepted, the more often enjoyment and gratitude, and accordingly the wish to return pleasure, are felt.”

Little else was written about gratitude for the next 40 years, until a new school, known as “positive psychology,” made it a subject of sustained inquiry. Relying on empirical methods, scholars in this field developed quantitative scales for measuring subjects’ experience of gratitude and then proceeded to correlate that gratitude with other feelings and behaviors. Studies showed that people who experienced greater levels of gratitude also experienced more happiness, less stress, and more satisfaction in personal relationships. High gratitude scores even correlated with sleeping better. Gratitude, in short, can be an important factor in contributing to good mental health.

There are some obvious questions about this research. On one level, we may wonder whether the personality type that enables a subject to experience high levels of gratitude also accounts for the other positive results found to be associated with it. Gratitude, in the parlance of social science, would then be less an independent than an intervening variable. On another level, humanist-oriented thinkers might object to having a virtue so rudely measured and clinically dissected. Would the great Thomas Aquinas, who gave us one of the classic treatments of gratitude, ever have dreamed of employing a psychometric “ grat scale”? Humanists might also take exception to the idea that gratitude “pays.” They would argue that a virtue is a virtue because of its intrinsic beauty or nobility, not because of its utility. In fairness to the new science, however, only the most severe of moralists deny that virtue sometimes brings its own psychic rewards. Recall Webster’s description of gratitude as an “agreeable emotion,” probably meaning agreeable to the one who experiences it as well as to those who observe it.

Psychological investigation certainly provides insights, but gratitude is surely something more than just an emotion or feeling. It is an objective standard of behavior. Gratitude is generally made known through conduct — hence such well-known phrases as “displaying gratitude,” “showing gratitude,” “expressing gratitude,” or more strongly, “paying a debt (or the dues) of gratitude.” The dimension of “performance” is necessary if only for the practical reason that no one can see into the heart of another: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?” ( 1 Corinthians 2:11). Gratitude has a social aspect and is incomplete if it does not include the act of acknowledgment. The requirement of performance transforms gratitude from a mere feeling to a virtue, in the ordinary understanding of doing or practicing what is a good…

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It’s a simple question, really. In war, do we have the right- or obligation- to act preemptively or are we bound to deal with crimes and atrocities after the fact as we do in criminal cases?

The question is not academic or ethereal. As we leave Iraq, the last prisoner will be turned over to the Iraqis. That prisoner, a Hizbollah operative was responsible for the capture and summary execution of American soldiers and other civilians. 

The Iraqis are preparing to turn him loose and he is expected to head back to Beirut pick up where he left off.

Foreign Policy:

On a blustery winter afternoon last year, a colleague and I were driving around southeastern Lebanon, trying to imagine how the next round of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel would play out. We had the good fortune to have a mutual source — a midlevel Hezbollah commander — along with us on the trip, so we could pump him for insight into this seemingly inevitable conflict.

It was an interesting day, but our road-trip partner was hardly a source of pithy quotes. Keeping with Hezbollah’s reputation for taciturn observation, he told us almost nothing about the group. He did, however, help us understand the terrain and possible tactics both sides would use in another round of fighting, which everyone in the car assumed would be more widespread and nastier than the destructive monthlong war in the summer of 2006.

As we drove through the eastern Beqaa Valley, through the low mountain passes and craggy valleys, we eventually turned north to head back to Beirut and passed the tiny village of Majdal Anjar.

To close observers of Lebanon’s occasionally goofy, if deadly, sectarian violence, the rural outpost of Majdal Anjar is a famous emblem of something fairly rare in Lebanon: serious Sunni jihadists. Close to the main commercial crossing with Syria, it’s a noted smuggling center for everything from weapons to cheap diesel fuel as the local families and tribes cross back and forth over the border with near impunity, either bribing local officials or following smuggler tracks that have been in use since the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Majdal Anjar mixed smuggling and Sunni extremism to become one of Lebanon’s main thoroughfares for sending foreign fighters to fight U.S. soldiers in Iraq during the heyday of al Qaeda’s insurgency there. The village sent numerous young men to fight alongside al Qaeda commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from 2003 to 2006 and helped send scores more from other Lebanese Sunni enclaves such as Tripoli and the Palestinian refugee camp Ain al-Hilweh.

As we passed the village, frustrated by the little news I was getting out of sitting in a car for hours with a guy who knows enough for me to write a book or two on Hezbollah, I baited him with a loaded question.

“So, who sent more people to Iraq?” I playfully asked. “Dahiyeh [Hezbollah's southern Beirut stronghold] or Majdal Anjar?”

“Majdal Anjar, of course,” he responded with a glint of minor irritation at the stupidity of the question. “We didn’t send boys to Iraq.”

Maybe not, but the Americans would beg to differ. The case of Ali Musa Daqduq — who was the last prisoner in U.S. custody in Iraq before being transferred to Baghdad’s control on Dec. 16 — has been a prime example used by the United States of Hezbollah’s influence in Iraq, and a major headache for President Barack Obama.

The U.S. military has accused Daqduq, a Shiite Lebanese national, of being a Hezbollah operative sent to Iraq by Iran to help run a cell of insurgents dubbed the “Special Groups.” These insurgents, American military officials claim, conducted very professional attacks on U.S. forces on behalf of Shiite groups and orchestrated mayhem directly on behalf of handlers in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

As the United States prepares to wrap up its nightmarish experience in Iraq by the end of the year, Daqduq’s fate has posed a particularly nasty problem for the White House. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said that the United States has held discussions about his fate “at the highest levels,” and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes.

While the terms of the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement gave the Obama administration few options other than to turn Iraqi prisoners over to their government, there is good reason to believe that Iraq’s Shiite leaders will set Daqduq free. He is, after all, a Shiite Lebanese national with apparent ties to a militant group that enjoys a close ideological relationship with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party.

It’s pretty clear Daqduq will quickly make his way back to Beirut — never seeing the inside of an Iraqi courtroom. And after fighting for more than eight hard years in Iraq, what sort of victory can the United States claim if the government it installed is willing to set free a man with American blood on his hands?

Daqduq either consulted with or led a secretive group of Shiite militants that conducted a series of extremely effective attacks on U.S. troops in 2006 and 2007, including a brazen infiltration of a U.S. base in Karbala by commandos dressed as U.S. troops. In that January 2007 attack, the insurgents kidnapped and eventually executed five U.S. soldiers. Captured by U.S. Special Forces in southern Iraq on May 20, 2007, alongside two Iraqi brothers, Qais and Laith al-Khazali, Daqduq played deaf and mute for months under interrogation before finally admitting he was Lebanese and, according to U.S. officials, a senior Hezbollah commander. All three were considered the ringleaders of the Karbala attack. U.S. officials also blamed their group, the “League of Righteousness,” for a series of other attacks, bombings, and kidnappings throughout southern Iraq and Baghdad.

The fate of the two Khazali brothers loomed large over the Obama administration’s decision-making regarding Daqduq. After being transferred to Iraqi custody in the summer of 2009, they were quickly released by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated security forces and judiciary and have since disappeared. If history repeats itself with Daqduq, it would mark a particularly sour note for the Iraq war to end on — and seeing him return home to a hero’s welcome might be more than the Obama administration can bear in the run-up to an election year.

Some members of the military and U.S. intelligence services described Daqduq as a hardened terrorist who needed to be transferred to a military tribunal — or even the ultimate bugbear of the “war on terror”: Guantánamo Bay. Shutting down the infamous prison camp is already one of Obama’s failed campaign promises, though, and adding a Lebanese Shiite captured in Iraq to that already tainted and embarrassing mix hardly would have look good…

Read it all.

Why would we believe the Arab Spring meant the same thing to all Arabs? We didn’t believe each of the former Communist nations had the same agenda, save for ridding themselves of the yoke of tyranny as the Iron Curtain fell. Twenty plus years later each of those Eastern European nations have developed very differently. Their relationships with each other and with western Europe and the rest of the world are all consistent in their uniqueness with their political, cultural and even religious expressions defining their nations.

The only thing the Arab Spring will yield with any certainty is a brave new world.

Foreign Policy:

“Why does every nation on Earth move to change their conditions except for us? Why do we always submit to the batons of the rulers and their repression? How long will Arabs wait for foreign saviors?” That is how the inflammatory Al Jazeera talk-show host Faisal al-Qassem opened his program in December 2003. On another Al Jazeera program around that same time, Egyptian intellectuals Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Fahmy Howeidy debated whether it would take American intervention to force change in the Arab world. Almost exactly seven years later, Tunisians erupted in a revolution that spread across the entire region, finally answering Qassem’s challenge and proving that Arabs themselves could take control of their destiny.

Throughout this year of tumult, Arabs have debated the meaning of the great wave of popular mobilization that has swept their world as vigorously as have anxious foreigners. There is no single Arab idea about what has happened. To many young activists, it is a revolution that will not stop until it has swept away every remnant of the old order. To worried elites, it represents a protest movement to be met with limited economic and political reforms. Some see a great Islamic Awakening, while others argue for an emerging cosmopolitan, secular, democratic generation of engaged citizens. For prominent liberals such as Egypt’s Amr Hamzawy, these really have been revolutions for democracy. But whatever the ultimate goal, most would agree with Syrian intellectual Burhan Ghalyoun, who eloquently argued in March that the Arab world was witnessing “an awakening of the people who have been crushed by despotic regimes.”

In March, Egyptian writer Hassan Hanafi declared that the spread of the revolutions demonstrated finally that “Arab unity” — long a distant ideal in a region better known for its fragmentation and ideological bickering — “is an objective reality.” This unified narrative of change, and the rise of a new, popular pan-Arabism directed against regimes, is perhaps the greatest revelation of the uprisings. Not since the 1950s has a single slogan — back then Arab unity, today “The People Want to Overthrow the Regime” — been sounded so powerfully from North Africa to the Gulf. This identification with a shared fate feels natural to a generation that came of age watching satellite TV coverage of Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon over the previous decade. Al Jazeera, since its rise to prominence in the late 1990s, has unified the regional agenda through its explicitly Arabist coverage — and its embrace of raucous political debates on the most sensitive issues.

That pan-Arab popular identification extended to the democracy movements that multiplied across the region — whether Egypt’s tenacious street protesters, Bahraini human rights activists, or Yemenis (including this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman) protesting President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s nepotism and corruption. A decade-long, media-fueled narrative of change is why Arabs immediately recognized each national protest as part of their own struggle. As Wadah Khanfar, the network’s recently departed director-general, put it, “That was Al Jazeera’s role: liberating the Arab mind. We created the idea in the Arab mind that when you have a right, you should fight for it.”

So while the Arab uprisings generated a marvelous range of innovative tactics (uploading mobile-camera videos to social media like Facebook and Twitter, seizing and holding public squares), they did not introduce any particularly new ideas. The relentless critique of the status quo, the generational desire for political change, the yearning for democratic freedoms, the intense pan-Arab identification — these had all been in circulation for more than a decade. What changed with the fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia was the recognition that even the worst tyrants could be toppled. It shattered the wall of fear. That is why hundreds of thousands of Egyptians came into the streets on Jan. 25. It’s why protests broke out in Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, and Jordan. It’s why Syrians and Libyans took unfathomable personal risks to rise up against seemingly untouchable despots despite the near certainty of arrest, torture, murder, and reprisals against their families.

The uprisings came in the wake of years of institutional and political decay diagnosed acutely by Arab intellectuals such as Egyptian jurist Tariq al-Bishri, by the prescient 2002 Arab Human Development Report, and by nascent political leaders like former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei. Beneath the edifice of stability, they warned, state institutions were crumbling, their legitimacy faded in the relentless drift of corruption, nepotism, casual brutality, and indifference toward their people. Elections became ever more fraudulent (with the Egyptian and Jordanian elections of late 2010 among the worst), security services more abusive, graft more flagrant.

All this greatly contributed to the economic underpinnings of this year’s discontent. The previous decade saw neoliberal economic reforms that privatized industries to the benefit of a small number of well-connected elites and produced impressive rates of GDP growth. But, as ruthlessly dissected by Arab economists like Egypt’s Galal Amin, the chasm between the rich and poor grew and few meaningful jobs awaited a massive youth bulge. For many leftist activists, the uprisings were a direct rejection of this neoliberalism — and those ideas and the technocrats who advanced them have likely been driven from power for the foreseeable future.

But the uprisings were not only about jobs and bread; as Sudanese intellectual Abdelwahab El-Affendi wrote in January, echoing a famous slogan of the 1950s, the revolutions were needed so that the people would deserve bread. The theme of restoring the dignity of the people pervaded the Arab uprisings. The police abuse that drove Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation and killed the young Egyptian Khaled Said struck a chord with populations who experienced daily the depredations of uncaring states. The gross corruption of Ben Ali’s in-laws and Hosni Mubarak’s efforts to groom his son for the presidency simply insulted many Tunisians and Egyptians — and they were ever less afraid to say so. A fiercely independent and articulate rising generation would no longer tolerate brazen corruption, abusive police, indifferent bureaucracy, a stagnant economy, and stage-managed politics…

Read it all.

Via Newsday

There Goes The GOP Christmas

December 19, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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