All Islamic groups are allied with al Qaeda, right?
That has certainly been the wisdom accepted by so many in the post 9/11 years.
And though I am an American-Palestinian Christian, it is assumed that I am Muslim and therefore a Hamas supporter. This was made clear to me by a Detroit-area talk show host earlier this year when he chastised me for not knowing the names of the Hamas leadership. The producer later told me that it “was just hard to believe you didn’t know the names.”
I resented the implication but my guess was that they were not the only people to make this assumption. So I’d like to answer by default . . . no, not all Islamic groups share al Qaeda’s vision or tactics.
When Hamas ruthlessly shut down an al Qaeda-inspired faction in Gaza recently, you can bet that most Palestinians were content with this result. Even when Hamas was elected in 2006, they won because the people wanted to punish the ruling Fatah for their corruption, not because they embraced a Taliban-like atmosphere.
I’m not saying there aren’t pangs of religious zealousness by Hamas. There are and it alarms the secular majority. The silver lining is that Hamas keeps tabs on the people’s pulse and has reversed itself, on occasion. An example of this was when Hamas tried to ban a Palestinian book of folktales, “Speak Bird, Speak Again” in 2007 for “sexual expression.” Palestinians were outraged and the ban was reversed after “re-examining” the book. And now there is the recent "urging" of Muslim women to wear headscarves. This has now been greeted with concern. It is safe to say that al Qaeda would disregard public opinion.
So why are there al Qaeda-inspired players now in Gaza?
The phrase “Oppression breeds extremism” is not psycho-babble. It’s the reality. As the vice keeps tightening on Gaza and as the alienation from the rest of the world increases, so does the desperation and turning toward religious extremists. This happens everywhere; Gaza is no exception.
Supporters of Israel who have been gleeful at the Palestinian internal chaos ought to consider two points.
One, Hamas’ earliest support came from Israel in an effort to counter the secular and nationalist PLO. According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, "the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism."
"The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer. They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it," he said.
Second, mischief does not lead to good things and with al Qaeda growing in influence in Gaza, Israel needs to do some serious soul-searching. Using humanitarian goods against 1.5 million Gazans as a weapon, be it food or fuel, is unconscionable and illegal. If “security” is the name of the game, how does it help having al Qaeda next door in Gaza?
And what can we do as the superpower of the world?
Well, it would help if we leave the two powerful Palestinian factions (Fatah and Hamas) alone to work out a national unity government, which the Palestinian public and Diaspora have demanded. The factions actually agree on the principle of forming a state side by side Israel on the 1967 Green Line.
Yet, unity has remained elusive. There is a bizarre notion that marginalizing Hamas and discouraging Palestinian unity somehow works in our interests or those of the regions.
It obviously doesn’t.
Finally, I’d like to end on a hopeful note. People understandably tire of the Mideast conflict. Nobody can “ditto” that more than family and friends. But with the increased “oomph” to solving the Palestine v. Israel conflict, we are also one step closer to removing the biggest rallying cry for al Qaeda-like extremist groups. These groups often use the Palestinian cause to increase their memberships and then threaten the world.
Think about It.
What better way to serve US and world interests than by eliminating that rallying cry?