February 2, 2006
What Hamas Teaches

By David Warren

There is a new book by Efraim Karsh, just coming out from Yale, which everyone who feels entitled to an opinion about “the Middle East” may feel compelled to read. The book is entitled, Islamic Imperialism: A History, and supplies just what it promises with comprehensive scholarly footnotes. The topic is so large, that I don’t want to reduce it to a blurb. Some things require a book. And the authority of Prof. Karsh’s previous book, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923, is sufficient to promote the new one. The author, who heads a programme at the University of London’s King’s College, is among the few we may rank with Bernard Lewis as knowledgeable interpreters of Middle Eastern affairs, from the deep historical perspective.

But some things can be reduced to a sentence. The quest to establish “Allah’s empire on earth” is not something that began yesterday. Nor have the fundamental differences in outlook between the civilization founded on Christianity, and the civilization founded on Islam, recently emerged. Nor even the contrast in ideas about how war should be fought, and how victories should be consolidated.

The specific terrorist means used by fanatical “Islamist” secret societies are a product of our times, but it is profoundly naïve to look upon the ends which Osama bin Laden and others contemplate as in any way foreign to Islamic tradition. For in that tradition, the Prophet himself declared, “I was ordered to fight all men until they say, There is no god but Allah.” And the belief that every free-born adult Muslim male is called to advance the domain of Islam, by force wherever it will be effective, has been part of the teaching of all branches of Islam through 14 centuries. Any Muslim who denies this is denying the tenets of his own faith, and there is no shortage of Koranic texts with which to correct him.

And while it is true that wars have been fought at one time or another in history, to advance every known religion, including Buddhism, there is no other known religion (except arguably certain forms of ancient Persian Zoroastrianism, or early modern Japanese Shintoism) that preaches imposition of belief by force.

Now, the reader will recall that President George W. Bush of the United States is committed to spreading democracy through the Middle East -- beginning with Afghanistan and Iraq -- as the ultimate antidote to terror. Notwithstanding what you have read, most days in the mainstream media, those projects have gone surprisingly well. But this was under American direction, in two countries whose peoples were exhausted by long intervals of murderous totalitarian rule. Moreover, they were two of the most secularized countries in the Islamic world.

A large part of the shock of last week’s decisive electoral victory of Hamas in Palestine is being absorbed under the surface.

On the surface, we should now all be able to see that the “peace process” with Israel is dead. Even those who are in no diplomatic position to admit this, admit it by their acts. The Israeli, European, and North American donors upon whose financial support the Palestinian leadership have long depended, are now preparing to withdraw their subsidies. These will most likely be replaced by less visible funding from radical Saudi Arabian sheikhs, and Iran’s revolutionary ayatollahs (who in turn get their money from what we pay for oil). The additional co-operation that this will bring about between Shia and Sunni funding sources, for the common project of annihilating Israel, is worth a note in passing. That Israel’s enemies are our enemies becomes a little clearer, to those in the West for whom it was not already clear as daylight.

Hamas claims to be acting, not as the broker for its constituents’ interests, but as the popularly acclaimed voice of God. Its manifesto unambiguously proposes to advance a strictly Islamic political order, and an overwhelming majority of Palestinian Arabs believe that this is a legitimate cause. Even the losing Fatah factions agreed that Islam itself requires the “recovery” of Israel, the gradual “restoration” of a Sharia theocracy, and the imposition of Islamic authority upon subject Christians and Jews. The only disagreement was over the tactics by which results could be obtained.

This is what is more fundamentally shocking, specifically to the Bush administration and moderate observers throughout the West. Here was an election in the Arab world, done to Jimmy Carter standards, but not under American tutelage. And it comes a few weeks after a half-election in neighbouring Egypt brought a large harvest of new Assembly seats to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Democracy is not just voting. Democracy is a whole bourgeois way of life, and a method for resolving disputes peacefully. It is not essentially compatible with millenarian religious schemes. We ask, “Can Islam and democracy co-exist?” What if Hamas has given us the answer?

Copyright 2006 Ottawa Citizen

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