- December 25, 2005
- 5 minutes read
It’s the Societies, Stupid
If it weren’t for the same scene presented by countries that have not experienced Israeli occupation, one would blame the occupation and its harshness for what is taking place with the Palestinians, and their selection of Hamas. But we have just seen how Egypt voted in big numbers for the Muslim Brotherhood, and how Iran left behind the peaceful Islamism represented by President Mohammad Khatami for a rougher kind, represented by his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has revealed two radical Islamic currents, one Sunni and one Shiite, while in Syria, it’s said that the Islamists will take over from the Syrian Baath Party, if the regime falls.
This phenomenon is not just taking place with regimes, or higher political institutions. We also see it in the street, with clothing, behavior, and general appearance, in Islamic countries and in the diaspora.
When it comes to Palestine, the rise of Hamas in local elections (and probably in legislative elections in a few weeks’ time) and the decay of Fatah represent a transformation that appeared more than 3 decades ago. At the time, the control of Nasserism and the Arab regimes was lifted from the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which entered the ranks of fidayiin (freedom fighter) organizations, while Yasser Arafat took over from Ahmad Shuqairy.
However, this transformation took place in the context of the rise of Palestinian nationalism, unhappy with the tutelage of Arab regimes defeated in the 1967 war. After many incidents and changes along this way, this preliminary step was crowned by the call for an independent state, which was championed by various forces. Some of these groups were secular and atheist, and most prominent among them were those who believed that they stood for a separation between religion and politics. If it is true that they all had no objection to using religious symbols and slogans (Izz al-Din Qassam, the Aqsa Mosque), the nationalist goal remained the ultimate, strategic goal. Here, Palestinian nationalism resembled its Israeli counterpart regarding the use of religion, to one extent or another, in the service of religion.
It appears that the nationalist era is coming to an end, even if it manifests itself in the radical nationalism of Marwan Barghouti, who is a prisoner of the Israelis. Although the Palestinian nationalist movement and the Zionist movement resemble each other, the paths of the two phenomenon are differing. The political-temporal is losing out to religion, in the former movement and not the latter.
Under such conditions, we cannot limit our view to the struggle with Israel and ignore the doctrinal-ideological face and the selfishness of organizational structures of religious movements. The rise of Islam, over the long run, has taken winding paths; some of these paths have led to cooperation with the Israeli authorities against the PLO and its national project. A review of the services provided by the occupation to Muslim Brotherhood members, the licenses and facilities enjoyed by these institutions, ever since the establishment of the famous “Convention” to understand matters correctly. It’s a small replay of the experience of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and some of the currents influenced by it in the Islamic world, when they were sympathetic to western plans (for the region) or cooperated with these plans, against Abdel-Nasser and Soviet communism.
We can locate an unending number of reasons for the growing phenomenon of political Islam: occupation, unjust regimes, dependency on the west, and poverty, as well as wealth that stems from rents and commissions, the inability to merge into a foreign society, and the globalization and change that is taking place, as well as in the isolation, suppressing of freedoms, and explosion of freedoms. The phenomenon of political Islam is growing thanks to the frustrations of the defeat in 1967, after exaggerated promises of victory. Likewise, it grows thanks to the victories that were achieved in Afghanistan at the end of the 1980s, when more such victories were encouraged.
This phenomenon is not due to any presumed essence shared by the various experiments with political Islam. Rather, it has more to do with our societies and culture having in common an absence of constitutional legitimacy that could tackle the questions posed. As we face these contradictory challenges, we always go back to our reservoir, which is sufficient.
However, what is special about the Palestinian case is that it rejects the culture of the state before a state is formed. This is a crowning of the path of being cut off from politics. If Hezbollah, for example, wants to “resist,” without any territory to be liberated, imagining that there is something in common between this resistance and a given state, Hamas might win with its victory of total negation and absolute plunder. At that point, there will be no necessity for having a state, or having anything in common with it.
These facts require us to stop chanting American praises of democracy and elections. Instead, we should spend a little bit of time thinking about our societies and culture. Will people overlook the frightening truth that millions of people voted for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who displays an “explosion of ignorance” every time he opens his mouth. Perhaps disaster is now on the horizon?