Fanaticism and Conflict in the Modern Age

By Matthew Hughes; Gaynor Johnson | Go to book overview

10

RELIGIOUS AND NATIONALIST FANATICISM

The case of Hamas

Meir Litvak

The Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya), known by its acronym Hamas, is a clear case of ideological fanaticism as far as its perception of the Middle Eastern conflict, demonisation of the enemy, its aspired end-goal and the means to achieve it are concerned. These are manifested in its commitment and advocacy totally to destroy the state of Israel by armed struggle and in the eschatological significance it gives to the eventual extermination of the Jews in addition to the glorification of martyrdom among its own fighters. Concurrently, due to political and military constraints under which it operates, Hamas is occasionally obliged to follow a somewhat more pragmatic policy, while making it clear that these tactical considerations by no mean undermine its maximalist strategic goals.

Hamas was established in December 1987, at the beginning of the Palestinian uprising (Intifada) against Israel, as the military wing of the Muslim Brothers' (MB) movement in Gaza. Ever since their emergence in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brothers called for the revival and rejuvenation of Islam, for return of the Muslim masses to Islam and for a more activist and politicised version of religion. The means to achieve these goals were religious propagation (da'wa) and the mobilisation of the Muslim masses for religio-political activity through a network of social and welfare institutions which the movement had set up. Thanks to this combination of grass-roots activism and ideology, the Muslim Brothers have become the most important popular religious movement in the modern Middle East with branches in most Arab countries.

The Muslim Brothers had always advocated an uncompromising stance against Zionism and the Jews. They solicited funds and aid to the 1936-9 Palestinian rebellion, and sent volunteers to help the Arab war effort in 1948. Following the 1948 Arab defeat by Israel, the Muslim Brothers viewed the loss of Palestine as a major symptom of the broader malaise of the Muslim world. Consequently, while they advocated the eventual destruction of Israel, they maintained that the spiritual preparation of the Muslim masses through the return to Islam was the essential

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