The Hamas election victory in January 2006 has led to an increased interest in the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hitherto little had been understood of Hamas’ history, political and social strategy and tactics. Rather rumors and cheap prejudice against Hamas have been rampant across the political spectrum in the West. Regrettably, progressives in the West have largely dodged the challenges of internationalism and anti-racism in the context of neo-colonialism’s racist campaign focused on Muslims and Islam, of which the maligning and criminalisation of Hamas is a component. Democrat-minded and progressive people who challenge the criminalisation of Hamas by the West, in so doing confront the Eurocentric idea that legitimacy is only bestowed upon those that the West consider democratic rather then what the people in the given country have chosen. This article seeks to demonstrate that Hamas’ ideology has as much claim to the values and practices of democracy and human rights as those political movements in the West. The difference is that these values are inspired and rooted in their own religious, cultural and social contexts.
Hamas withheld from participating in the presidential and national elections due to their opposition to
Those interested in a more detailed analysis of Hamas’ election campaign should read Khaled Hroub’s study ‘A New Hamas through its New Documents’. Hroub states that documents issued at the time of the 2006 election campaign revealed that Hamas showed a greater commitment to unity of all Palestinian movements, a desire for a national government and a de-emphasis on Islamic rhetoric. In no way should this be interpreted meaning that Hamas abandoned its objectives of an Islamic state as the best solution for Palestinian society and liberation, but a recognition by Hamas that they must operate in a spirit of democratic tolerance and respect for other secular factions and the Palestinian electorate. Hroub also argues that these developments and documents of have been largely ignored in the West. This study is particularly pertinent at this time of national discord between Hamas and Fatah, with many portraying Hamas as ‘coupists’, Hroub’s study shows on the contrary that Hamas have for some time been calling for strategic unity amongst patriotic Palestinian ranks.
Hamas have their own Islamic strategic objectives, but they promote these by democratic and civil means. They have always maintained that the Palestinian people are the ones who have the final say on these issues by means of democratic elections. Dr Salah Bardawil leader of Hamas in southern
Hamas’ commitment to democracy is nothing new. Ever since its inception Hamas has expressed its commitment to the democratic will of the people no matter what their decision. The paraplegic leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin who was killed by an Israeli air strike in March 2004 stated back in 1989 in the Arabic language daily Al-Nahar: ”I want a multiparty democratic state, and I want whomever wins those elections to assume power.” When asked by the interviewer if this would still be the case if the Communist Party were to win the elections Sheikh Yassin replied “I would respect the wishes of the Palestinian people even if the Communist Party won.”
Tensions did exist between Hamas and other factions, and one should not cover-up or forget the political and cultural nature of the internal tensions that have always existed within the Palestinian national camp. There have been many cases of violent clashes between Hamas, Fatah and other factions such as the Popular Front and Democratic Front. These tensions are not always a simple case of over-zealous Islamist youth attacking those whose only crime is that they are secularists as the following anecdote illustrates.
A Palestinian political leader of a Marxist faction was often seen drunk in the streets in
Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, which the West and
Back in 2006 after winning the elections Hamas requested Fatah and other factions to join them in a unity government. Hamas leader Mesh’al was quoted on the Palestinian Information Centre website when he addressed Fatah; “Be with us, and don't abandon political partnership. Our hearts are open for you; our hands are extended to you. Let us turn a new page, and work together for the best of our people based on mutual respect and cooperation. We are one people, united in the resistance, and must unite in the political arena as well.”
The English-language Al-Jazeera website reported that newly elected Palestinian Prime Minister and Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah emphasized Hamas’ desire for unity in the Palestinian patriotic camp, again highlighting Hamas’ aspirations of unity with the other largest Palestinian movement; "Hamas ran in the race on the basis of political multiplicity. We don't deal with the political issues based on one party coming into power and another leaving. We want to come and work with each other because the challenges in front of Palestinians are so big and the war with the occupation still going on."
Even now after Hamas’ takeover of
Some who thought Hamas were going to enact an intolerant and stereotypical religious fundamentalist society have been disappointed by events in
During the time of the Palestinian elections in January 2006 the Hamas aligned PIC website stated, “The Palestinian woman must assume her real role. It is high time that society appreciated the extent of her sacrifices and jihad.” The article went on to explain that Hamas will give women their role in the Legislative Council be side by side with men in the struggle against the occupation. The article continued: “Hamas will seek to pass legislation to protect women and their rights. Hamas will resist any attempts to marginalize the role of women.”
After Hamas’ election victory The Guardian in 2006 ran two articles, one written by Hamas MP Jameela al-Shanti writing from Beit Hanoun in
The writer has met one female
These positions of Hamas on the role of women in society and struggle also distinguishes the movement from the radical Islamist movements who are affiliated or openly sympathetic to Al-Qaeda who do not expound any social role for women in society and in the struggle for independence, but rather encourage women to withdraw from society. This perhaps can be understood in some instances as being more a result of the influence of tribal culture such as in
Hamas’ political ideology and practice is one that shares many principles with Western democratic and progressive ideas. Instead of being inspired by the secular democratic, bourgeois and socialist traditions of the Western context, Hamas is inspired by similar principles in the cultural context and traditions of Arab and Islamic history. One should bear in mind that the political ideologies which are leading the struggle for independence and progress in the Middle East are doing so in the context of more than a century of brutal colonial and neo-colonial oppression, whereas the democratic and left-wing ideas in the West have developed out of a privileged intellectual atmosphere on the basis of a society which has stolen all of the America’s gold, exterminated indigenous populations on two continents, and ‘turned Africa into a warren for the hunting of black skins’.
We in the West must accept that secularism is not going to become a leading political force in the
*Sukant Chandan is a London-based freelance journalist, researcher and political analyst. He runs two websites: http://ouraim.blogspot.com/ & http://sonsofmalcolm.blogspot.com/ and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org