Hamas in Power

By Klein, Menachem | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Hamas in Power


Klein, Menachem, The Middle East Journal


This article challenges the static approach to Hamas as a simple fundamentalist organization by analyzing its political documents. It shows that Hamas' Islamist ideology has not prevented it from moving from fundamentalism to radicalism. Hamas has innovated ways of allowing its leaders to declare or acquiesce in political positions that contradict its fundamentalist creed. Hamas accomplished this change in the course of a domestic debate. The international boycott of its government did not create the change - Hamas began to talk in two voices before winning the 2006 elections.

In his new book How to Cure a Fanatic, Amos Oz creates a dichotomy between fanaticism on the one hand and pluralism and tolerance on the other. Fanatics, Oz writes, believe that a sacred or Utopian end justifies all means. Zealous, simple-minded, and self-righteous, "very often the fanatic can only count up to one, two is too big a figure for him or her."1 Citing his childhood in Jerusalem and labeling himself a recovered fanatic, Oz claims expertise in comparative fanaticism. Fanatics lack imagination and humor, he maintains. Both these skills require relativism, the ability to see oneself as others do, not only as one sees oneself. Instead, the fanatic imposes conformity and uniformity. Fanaticism, Oz argues, is the desire to force other people to change.

Hamas was established as a typical fundamentalist movement and, by definition, fundamentalists are fanatics. They are uncomplicated and despise diplomatic gimmicks. The Islamic Charter of 1988,2 Hamas' founding document, which calls for the destruction of Israel, is a fundamentalist document. The Charter, and the horrific suicide bombings that Hamas has perpetrated, have solidified the movement's fanatical image.

Since it entered the political arena, winning 76 of 1 32 seats in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas has given numerous indications that, in practice, it has ceased to be a fanatic and fundamentalist organization, unable to distinguish between principle and practice. It has demonstrated a willingness to change its positions on fundamental issues and even to take public stands in contradiction of its Islamic Charter. This does not mean that Hamas has become a moderate force. It has not revoked the Islamic Charter, and its leaders continue to speak the language of fanaticism, alongside that of pragmatism. Such a dichotomy can be manifested in a single day by a single person, as was the case with the newly-elected Hamas Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud al-Zahar, on April 27, 2006. First, he declared that Israel would forever remain "our" enemy. On the other hand, he also said that he is not opposed to negotiating with Israel, if the talks can lead to satisfactory results. Neither does he object to third-party mediation on the terms of opening peace talks that have as their goal the achievement of justice for the Palestinians.3

According to Martin Seliger, a fundamental ideology is comprised of a cluster of principles of belief and absolute goals, as well as a perceived means of achieving them. An operative ideology, on the other hand, involves a justification appended to a policy that is being implemented - a policy whose political effects contradict or significantly deviate from the overall vision. The two types of ideology also differ in their time dimension. The dominant time range in fundamental ideology is long-term, whereas operative ideology focuses upon the immediate past and future. The fundamentalist seeks far-reaching visionary ends, and sets policy accordingly, whereas the pragmatist minimizes the overall vision in his or her attempt to respond to the constraints of contemporary circumstances. Instead, the pragmatist hopes to bring about improvements in the present reality, while confronting the political and social pressures in the context of which the organization operates.4

Seliger concludes that the tension between fundamental and operative ideologies is especially evident in national movements. …

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