According to Jared Malsin in Foreign Policy, the recent murder of an Italian in Gaza has created some new scrutiny on Salafi (ultra-conservative literalist Islam-ism) Islam in Gaza. Fair enough.
Now try and guess what’s wrong here:
At the root of these dynamics is the Israeli and Western policy of isolating Gaza and ignoring Hamas. The crippling four-year-long blockade of Gaza has created the conditions of human misery and desperation in which a handful of people have turned to extremism.
Did you get it?
The premise here is that there was no extremism in Gaza before the blockade. So apparently, thousands of suicide bombers willing to end their own lives and kill room-fulls of civilians weren’t extreme. I guess they were just misunderstood.
Perhaps realizing that a heavy hand can create further radicalization, Hamas has also recently taken a more nuanced approach to the Salafis, including sending religious scholars into prisons in hopes of nurturing a more tolerant outlook among them.
So Hamas clerics are the moderate ones now? Let’s lok at something one of them said once:
[The Jews] want to present themselves to the world as if they have rights, but, in fact, they are foreign bacteria – a microbe unparalleled in the world. It’s not me who says this. The Koran itself says that they have no parallel: “You shall find the strongest men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews.”
May He annihilate this filthy people who have neither religion nor conscience. I condemn whoever believes in normalizing relations with them, whoever supports sitting down with them, and whoever believes that they are human beings. They are not human beings. They are not people. They have no religion, no conscience, and no moral values.
Sounds pretty moderate to me, right?
Ironically, Malsin did stumble across the point somewhere, but seemed to look past it and try to find it somewhere else.
This is the crux of Hamas’ dilemma: if it allows attacks on Israel, it risks massive retaliation from the Israelis; if it imposes too strict a ceasefire, it risks eroding its credibility among its political base in Gaza, particularly among its armed cadres. A U.N. diplomat, quoted anonymously by Crisis Group explained the problem: “How long can Hamas sustain a policy of not engaging in resistance, while this non-engagement doesn’t produce any results in terms of liberating Palestine, easing the blockade, or any other political goal for which the movement exists?”
Hamas here is reaping what it has sown. They have been spreading and practising this kind of extremism for years. The problem for them is that now they control Gaza, they have more responsibility than they had when they were just a militia and their policy determines what happens to the Gazans. If they continue to randomly target civilian populations, they will only escalate tensions and cause more harm to come to everyone – so they are finally beginning to realise that this is not an effective strategy, or finally starting to think at all strategically.
These Jihadi groups that they can’t control are Hamas’ legacy to the Palestinian people. Hamas paved the way for the extreme thought, the violent rhetoric, the weapons smuggling and the kidnapping of foreigners. They brought the idea of violence as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end, to Gaza.
To reign-in these groups, Hamas would have to cooperate with Israel to a degree – as the PA have done to reduce terror in the West Bank. This, however, will be a complete reversal of everything that Hamas stand for – so unfortunately, I can’t see it happening.