An Islamic predicament

There is, of course, an immediate link to be made between the war in Iraq and Palestine; that both are wars of liberation against foreign occupying powers, the US and Israel respectively. Correspondingly, Islamic organizations across the region, but especially in Palestine, have been unanimous and vocal in their opposition to the US occupation of Iraq and in support of the resistance.

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have both called on Iraqis to, in the words of assassinated Hamas leader Abdel Asis Rantisi , form an army of "martyrdom fighters" to resist the US occupation, a resistance that has been termed "a duty, to which all energies must be directed".

In addition, the war in Iraq is seen by Palestinian Islamic movements first and foremost as a war against Islamic ideology, civilization, beliefs and values. As such, it is not only Iraqis, but Muslims in general who are invoked to resist the occupation.

However, events in Iraq have unfolded in a less straightforward way. The increasing number of civilian deaths at the hands of the resistance and the abductions of Arabs and foreigners, from aid workers to ambassadors, have had a significant impact on the Islamist position.

Specifically, Islamic leaderships across the region are voicing their discontent with the rise of extremists in Iraq and the tactics they employ, which people more and more are dissociating themselves from as not representative of the true image of Islam and its guiding principles of moderation and justice. While none are revoking their support for the resistance, nor their opposition to those who cooperate with the occupation, many are appalled by the massacring of hostages and the targeting of Arab diplomats, mosques and civilians.

In addition, the increasing tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites are rejected by Palestinian Islamic groups who hold that Islam is one religion under which differences between sects should be marginal. In this reading, divisions among Muslims and the extreme tactics employed undermine both the Iraqi resistance and support for it in the Islamic world. There is also a fear that this could negatively affect support for the Palestinian resistance.

Thus, from the perspective of Islamists, a dangerous turn of events is taking place in Iraq. Increasingly, Muslims are fighting Muslims rather than a foreign occupation, and this can only lead to a further dilution of Islamic strength at a time when Islam is seen to be under attack from the outside.

The Islamist answer is that only a united Muslim front against foreign occupation can be effective. Yet there is also a clear understanding that the many different interests in Iraq make this a distant reality. Nevertheless, that is the message Islamic groups in Palestine are trying to convey vis-a-vis Iraq. Divisions weaken and only unity is strength.

Yet, for all the reservations, there continues to be clear support for the resistance in Iraq and an almost sanguine conviction that the resistance will eventually be successful and the occupation ended. Nor is there any doubt that the present Iraqi government, seen as a collaborationist regime, will eventually be replaced. This is a conviction that is strengthened as American public opinion increasingly turns against the war.

The concern among Islamic groups is how much bloodshed this will take and how many innocent lives will be lost in the process. If the tactics remain extreme and the resistance claims too many innocent lives, the eventual success of the Iraqi resistance may be seen as having come about not because of, but in spite of the Islamic groups.