Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 13, 2007

“Hamas Is Not the IRA”

Last month, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, had an instructive piece in the International Herald Tribune. In it, he makes an argument that Israeli ambassadors to the Emerald Isle have likely long had to make to well-intentioned Irish observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict: “Hamas is not the IRA.” Evrony writes:

One of the main differences between Hamas and the IRA is the role played by religion in their ideologies. While most IRA members were Catholic and religion was a factor, its political platform and vision was the unification of the island of Ireland, not defined in religious terms. The religious beliefs of its members did not block the way to a political compromise.

By contrast, the ideology of Hamas is defined in absolutist religious terms, that of a radical version of Islam, which is not open to influence or change. The political vision and religious belief of Hamas are one and the same; therefore, change is unlikely.

Democratic engagement and disarmament—while taking decades to achieve—nonetheless eventually succeeded in Northern Ireland because neither the IRA nor the loyalist elements adhered to the type of fascist dogma which is an inherent feature of Islamism. While the IRA set as its ultimate goal an autonomous, united Ireland, and Hamas a “Palestine” without Israel, the former has made a good-faith effort to see that goal achieved through democratic processes, while Article 13 of the Hamas Charter states that such processes “are no more than a means to appoint the unbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam.” Moreover, a united Ireland would not expel its Protestants. The same cannot be said for the “bi-national” Palestinian state, where Jews would be left to the tender mercies of Hamas.

The burgeoning field of “conflict resolution studies,” taught at prestigious educational institutions around the world, seeks to apply the lessons of political and ethno-religious strife in one region—sometimes wholly devoid of cultural context or time period—to disputes in other parts of the world. Attempts to compare the Northern Ireland peace process (as well as the negotiated end to apartheid in South Africa) to the Arab-Israeli conflict are ultimately wrongheaded: they consciously downplay the existence of religious fanaticism. And such fanaticism, though it played next to no role in The Troubles or in South Africa, is the the central feature of the Muslim world’s long rejection of Jews in its midst.

Last month, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, had an instructive piece in the International Herald Tribune. In it, he makes an argument that Israeli ambassadors to the Emerald Isle have likely long had to make to well-intentioned Irish observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict: “Hamas is not the IRA.” Evrony writes:

One of the main differences between Hamas and the IRA is the role played by religion in their ideologies. While most IRA members were Catholic and religion was a factor, its political platform and vision was the unification of the island of Ireland, not defined in religious terms. The religious beliefs of its members did not block the way to a political compromise.

By contrast, the ideology of Hamas is defined in absolutist religious terms, that of a radical version of Islam, which is not open to influence or change. The political vision and religious belief of Hamas are one and the same; therefore, change is unlikely.

Democratic engagement and disarmament—while taking decades to achieve—nonetheless eventually succeeded in Northern Ireland because neither the IRA nor the loyalist elements adhered to the type of fascist dogma which is an inherent feature of Islamism. While the IRA set as its ultimate goal an autonomous, united Ireland, and Hamas a “Palestine” without Israel, the former has made a good-faith effort to see that goal achieved through democratic processes, while Article 13 of the Hamas Charter states that such processes “are no more than a means to appoint the unbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam.” Moreover, a united Ireland would not expel its Protestants. The same cannot be said for the “bi-national” Palestinian state, where Jews would be left to the tender mercies of Hamas.

The burgeoning field of “conflict resolution studies,” taught at prestigious educational institutions around the world, seeks to apply the lessons of political and ethno-religious strife in one region—sometimes wholly devoid of cultural context or time period—to disputes in other parts of the world. Attempts to compare the Northern Ireland peace process (as well as the negotiated end to apartheid in South Africa) to the Arab-Israeli conflict are ultimately wrongheaded: they consciously downplay the existence of religious fanaticism. And such fanaticism, though it played next to no role in The Troubles or in South Africa, is the the central feature of the Muslim world’s long rejection of Jews in its midst.

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Ambiguity in Iraq

A new BBC/ABC News poll of Iraq attitudes does indeed make for “grim reading,” as the BBC headline has it. Two of the main findings:

- between 67 and 70 percent of Iraqis, or more than two-thirds, say the surge has made things worse.

- Since the last BBC/ABC News poll in February, the number of Iraqis who think that US-led coalition forces should leave immediately has risen sharply, from 35 to 47 percent, although that does mean that a small majority–53 percent—still says the forces should stay until security has improved.

I have cited polls from Iraq in the past. Everyone who writes on the subject has. But we should be careful in doing so: Iraq, after all, is a country where, for many decades, no one has been encouraged to speak his mind without fearing the consequences. If you were an Iraqi who thought that the surge was going very well and that attacks on American forces were not justified, would you say so to a stranger when you knew that if some terrorist group found out your views they would be likely to kill you and your entire family?

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A new BBC/ABC News poll of Iraq attitudes does indeed make for “grim reading,” as the BBC headline has it. Two of the main findings:

- between 67 and 70 percent of Iraqis, or more than two-thirds, say the surge has made things worse.

- Since the last BBC/ABC News poll in February, the number of Iraqis who think that US-led coalition forces should leave immediately has risen sharply, from 35 to 47 percent, although that does mean that a small majority–53 percent—still says the forces should stay until security has improved.

I have cited polls from Iraq in the past. Everyone who writes on the subject has. But we should be careful in doing so: Iraq, after all, is a country where, for many decades, no one has been encouraged to speak his mind without fearing the consequences. If you were an Iraqi who thought that the surge was going very well and that attacks on American forces were not justified, would you say so to a stranger when you knew that if some terrorist group found out your views they would be likely to kill you and your entire family?

There is also a complexity to Iraqi thinking that is hard to capture in polls but is well summed up by this New York Times interview:

A city employee in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, vividly described his ambivalence.

“The withdrawal of the occupation forces is a must because they have caused the destruction of Iraq, they committed massacres against the innocents, they have double-crossed the Iraqis with dreams,” said the worker, Ahmad Umar al Esawi, a Sunni. “I want them to withdraw all their troops in one day.”

Dropping his voice, he continued: “There is something that I want to say although I hate to say it. The American forces, which are an ugly occupation force, have become something important to us, the Sunnis. We are a minority and we do not have a force to face the militias. If the Americans leave, it will mean a total elimination of the Sunnis in Iraq.”

Mr. Esawi added, “I know I said I want them to leave, but if we think about it, then I have to say I want them to stay for a while until we end all the suspicions we have of each other and have a strong national government.”

That’s been my own experience with Iraqis—they all want America to leave someday; just not yet. That type of ambivalence is hard to capture in polls.

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“Throw the Jew down the Well”

Comedy fans with strong stomachs may chuckle when Borat Sagdiyev, the faux-Kazakh journalist played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, sings the pseudo-folksong “In My Country There Is Problem”: “Throw the Jew down the well/ So my country can be free/ You must grab him by his horns/ Then we have a big party.” The song, praised by Slate as “hilarious” and “catchy,” raised concerns from the Anti-Defamation League last September: “One serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.”

This precise worry has become tragically current. In Kazakhstan’s neighbor Uzbekistan it is now clear that Jews are still being lynched. As Ynetnews reports, last week the noted Jewish-Uzbek stage director Mark Weil was stabbed to death outside his Tashkent home. “Uzbek police suspect the murder was an anti-Semitic attack,” according to Ynetnews. Last April, the 55-year-old theater director, founder in 1976 of the Ilkhom Theater (one of the oldest independent theaters in the former USSR), had hosted a festival in Tashkent of Contemporary Israeli Literature and Drama. Weil was stabbed to death by two men, “possibly due to his Jewish identity,” as the director was well known for his close ties to the local Jewish community. Despite U. S. State Department warnings, Weil had assured friends and colleagues that his theater “had no enemies,” although its avant-garde subject matter on occasion included gay love, which in the Central Asian Muslim country of Uzbekistan is still punishable by a prison sentence.

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Comedy fans with strong stomachs may chuckle when Borat Sagdiyev, the faux-Kazakh journalist played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, sings the pseudo-folksong “In My Country There Is Problem”: “Throw the Jew down the well/ So my country can be free/ You must grab him by his horns/ Then we have a big party.” The song, praised by Slate as “hilarious” and “catchy,” raised concerns from the Anti-Defamation League last September: “One serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.”

This precise worry has become tragically current. In Kazakhstan’s neighbor Uzbekistan it is now clear that Jews are still being lynched. As Ynetnews reports, last week the noted Jewish-Uzbek stage director Mark Weil was stabbed to death outside his Tashkent home. “Uzbek police suspect the murder was an anti-Semitic attack,” according to Ynetnews. Last April, the 55-year-old theater director, founder in 1976 of the Ilkhom Theater (one of the oldest independent theaters in the former USSR), had hosted a festival in Tashkent of Contemporary Israeli Literature and Drama. Weil was stabbed to death by two men, “possibly due to his Jewish identity,” as the director was well known for his close ties to the local Jewish community. Despite U. S. State Department warnings, Weil had assured friends and colleagues that his theater “had no enemies,” although its avant-garde subject matter on occasion included gay love, which in the Central Asian Muslim country of Uzbekistan is still punishable by a prison sentence.

Weil, who is survived by a wife and two daughters, is scarcely the first victim of recent anti-Semitic violence in Uzbekistan. Last year, 33-year-old Avraham Hakohen Yagudayev, a Jewish leader, died of cranial injuries in Tashkent after what local authorities called a traffic accident, but what local Hillel director asserted “was no accident,” pointing to overt anti-Semitism as the motive. (In 2000, his synagogue had been gutted by a fire that authorities pooh-poohed, claiming it was caused by a short circuit.) Since 1989, some 83,000 Uzbeki Jews have fled to Israel, with only around 17,000 remaining. As the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress explains, anti-Semitic violence in Uzbekistan is prevalent and a matter of ongoing concern.

During the filming of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 The Great Dictator (a satire about Europe’s evolving historical tragedies), Chaplin realized that “Hitler [was] a horrible menace to civilization rather than someone to laugh at.” As the death toll of Central Asian Jews continues to increase, cinema audiences may wish to reconsider whether it is really timely to laugh at Borat, a character from a region of the world where (at least for Jews) the laughs have dried up entirely.

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