Doing research, even the online variety, can be a frightening experience. Take, for instance, a recent foray into the dark underbelly of the human psyche we call the Middle East. Specifically, an attempt to get beyond the headlines surrounding the recent Palestinian election and the startling (to just about everybody) victory of Hamas.
Beyond the self-evident fact that the luckiest man in the whole region just might be Benjamin Netanyahu (whose major domestic opponent has a stroke and then whose major foreign opponent wins an election), beyond all the man-in-the-street interviews from Gaza about exactly why everyone seems to have voted for Hamas, and beyond all the pundits explaining how unready Hamas is to govern, and even going beyond the obviously improvised reactions of the various national spokesmen, beyond, in fact, just about everything you might get from our benighted national media, one might ask a very simple question: What exactly is Hamas, anyway?
This is what I have been researching, and large parts of the answer are pretty harrowing.
For the obvious part, Hamas is an Arabic acronym derived from “Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya,” literally “Islamic Resistance Movement.” Officially founded in 1987, it is actually an offshoot (one among many) of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (founded in 1928, outlawed in 1954). Only slightly less obvious is that although it has a highly motivated terrorist wing, which pursues the group’s stated objective of “destroying the Zionist entity that occupies Palestine,” it also has a much larger social wing that runs charities, schools, medical facilities, etc. Not obvious at all from our perspective, viewed locally they project an air of rather stern and uncompromising rectitude which has helped win them widespread support.
But exactly who are they? Or, to put it another way, what do they want?
To listen to the press reports and the comments of western governments, some minor changes, like abandoning terrorism as a tactic and accepting the state of Israel are all that is needed for the outside world to countenance their democratic victory and admit them to the embrace of civilized nations.
Okay, fine. But one has to ask the question as to how easily an organization with a reputation for fanatic zeal would be able to make even minor changes. And exactly how “minor” would those changes be? Another way of asking the same question is to ask exactly how deeply Anti-Zionism, Anti-Westernism, and Islamist fundamentalism are embedded in Hamas.
Fortunately, Hamas is quite willing to tell us. It has a public charter, issued in 1988 and still often referred to, that lists, in 36 Articles, exactly what they believe in, what they are fighting against, and what their eventual goals are.
It makes for chilling reading.
What can you say about an organization the preamble of whose Charter, quoting the founder of the Islamic Brotherhood says: Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.
Or how about this (Article 13): Initiatives and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement (i.e. Hamas). According to one translation, the next sentence should be read: For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith. A little later: There is no solution to the Palestinian question except through Jihad.
Their view of the rest of the world is neatly encapsulated in this, from Article 17: …their lackeys who are infiltrated through Zionist organizations under various names such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, espionage groups and others, which are nothing more than cells of subversion and saboteurs.
It turns out (Article 22), that the Jews are amazingly powerful: With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution and most of the revolutions we hear about…” Later: They were behind World War I…They were behind World War II. And later still: There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it.
And the Jews are, according to Article 28, also diabolical: They aim at undermining societies, destroying values, corrupting consciences, deteriorating character and annihilating Islam. It is behind the drug trade and alcoholism in all its forms…
If all sounds just a bit familiar, it should. Not because it was embodied in the propaganda of the Nazi party and all of its White Supremacist descendants to this day, but because these ideas come directly from the same source that Adolf Hitler used: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And lest you think I am being paranoid or slandering them for their ideas having a chance resemblance to the most notorious anti-Semitic forgery in history, the Charter actually cites
The Protocols (Article 32).
Okay, this is all pretty bad (and I encourage anyone who is curious to go read it for yourself), but what does it all mean?
I suggest that what it means is far worse than even the above quotations would indicate. Reading the whole thing, one realizes that it is essentially a document of inflexible fanaticism. The Hamas Charter sees its opposition to Israel, Zionism, Jews, and their American and European supporters as a religious necessity, ultimately beyond negotiation and incompatible with compromise.
We hear our leaders talking about “Islamic Fundamentalism” as if it were a problem separate from Islam as it exists among the population. As if it could be somehow compartmentalized, walled off from the rest of Islam, which naturally yearns for democracy and our “freedom.”
I suggest to you that this is nonsense.
Islam exists as an isolated and largely coherent whole. Its population is intellectually cut off from the Western world, both by its language but still more by its feelings of historical victimization and contemporary attack. Setting aside the low level of education of the vast majority of its citizens and their consequent dependence on the mosque as the major source of information, they are insulated by the fact of their total mistrust of all external sources of information. But beyond the contiguous world of the Islamic nations, we can see the degree of that isolation in the recruits the terrorists are able to find in European Muslim populations.
If I can be forgiven the example, one can see similar problems in our own African-American community. Although still discriminated against to some degree from the outside, it pales into insignificance beside the self-isolation they have inflicted upon themselves. According to a recent study released by the Rand Corporation and the University of Oregon, almost half of all African-Americans believe that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is man-made, more than a quarter believe it was produced in a government laboratory and one in eight think it was created and spread by the CIA, and 15% believe AIDS is a form of genocide against black people. Most disturbingly, the responses barely fluctuated according to age, income, gender or education level. Given the plethora of media information to the contrary, that belief could only prevail in a population that had isolated itself, finding internal rumors inherently more credible than any outside information.
More recently, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has been telling his followers that the levees in New Orleans were deliberately “blown up” to kill the city’s black population. Early surveys suggest that a substantial number of African-Americans, particularly the New Orleans locals, believe the charge.
The point here, of course, is not to pick on the African-Americans. You can see the same effect inside virtually every country during wartime. Cut off from outside information, the majority believe whatever “official” sources of information are available. Both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China are famous for controlling the news. The only difference is that in both of the latter cases the people mistrust the government news only slightly less than they mistrust outside sources.
Pundits and government officials have been saying that Hamas needs to “accept the existence of the state of Israel” and “renounce terrorism,” as if those were two simple steps that would somehow make it all better. Having read their Charter, I don’t think so. One of the most disturbing aspects of it is that a group with such a Charter could gain widespread public acceptance. Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, and anti-Westernism pervade every line. So, too, does the insistence upon viewing the Palestinian problem as simply one aspect of a larger religious issue. If Islam is truly under siege from a world controlled by forces that wish to corrupt and destroy it, then no real compromise is possible without the loss of one’s soul.
It is possible, of course, that, faced with the burdens of office and the need for international funding, some part of Hamas will reject its own Charter, publically at least tolerate Israel and declare that it is opposed to terrorism. In short, we may find ourselves dealing with what looks to be a respectable and responsible “partner.” That would be a good thing and should be supported.
It is possible, too, that, given the propensity of many of these fanatics to attack their own “apostates” in preference to us, we (and Israel) might manage to survive the current crop of fanatics. One could argue that once we do that, the aging population of terrorists will be less of a threat.
Maybe, but I don’t think so. It seems to me that the Hamas Charter is merely a measure of the level of isolation, bigotry, and ignorance that pervades much of the Muslim world. The International Crisis Group recently said the Pakistan government had “allowed religious organizations, jihadi groups and the madrassas that provide them with an endless stream of recruits to flourish.” It suggests 10-15% of the madrassas in Pakistan are radical.
But those schools are for the poor and ignorant. Surely we can depend on the eventual growth of a middle class to act as a moderating force against that kind of ignorance and fanaticism?
Maybe. But maybe not.
The people who were responsible for 9-11 were largely educated, middle-class people. But a strong bias in the intellectual climate of contemporary Islam encourages people of all classes to sequester themselves in a closed mental system pervaded by a purely medieval Muslim world view. I think the 9-11 people were representatives of a radicalized middle-class that sees the world precisely as the Hamas Charter sees it: divided absolutely in an eternal war between the faithful of Allah and the eternal Infidel.
And that, my friends, is truly scary.
Note: There are two English translations of the Charter commonly available on the web. Except for part of article 13 (noted there), the citations are from the somewhat less inflammatory version on the Yale University site: www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/hamas.htm
The other can be found at: www.palestinecenter.org/cpap/documents/charter.html (Periods left off deliberately so as not to confuse the computers.)