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Is Hamas Revaluating the Use of Terrorism?


On the background of the many threats by Hamas to avenge the killing of the Awadallah brothers on September 11th and to renew its terrorist activity in Israel, it is of interest to note some conflicting voices in the Islamic movement. On September 8th, two days before the Awadallah incident, one of the leading ideologues of Hamas, Munir Shafiq, published an article in the weekly Al-Sabeel (the organ of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood) calling for a reevaluation of the movement’s use of terrorism.

Shafiq is himself an interesting character and is highly respected in Islamic circles throughout the Arab world. Once a Christian Marxist from Jerusalem, he was at one time an active member of Naif Hawatmeh’s Democratic People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DPFLP). In 1980-81 he converted to Islam under the influence of both the Islamic revolution in Iran and of the French philosopher Roger Garaudy, a fellow Marxist and one of the veteran leaders of the French Communist Party. In the 1980s Shafiq was the head of the Fath Planning Center in Tunisia, as well as an active member of one of the factions of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and in recent years a member of Hamas. He is one of the few Palestinian Islamists who publish ideological material, and therefore he is both influential and respected by many of the Islamic movements. He has a permanent column in Al-Sabeel and Filastin al-Muslimah.

In his weekly article on September 8th, he closely examined the Islamist policy of terrorism. The article is important and we quote it here in full translation:


“Terrorism and the means of change”


Munir Shafiq 

Military operations that lead to the killing of civilians unconnected to the events on the battlefield itself are improper. 

From the 1960s onward, it would have been preferable not to commit hijackings of airplanes and assassinations. Nor should the battle have been extended to the rest of the world. This is true for a variety of reasons. To begin with, there is insufficient reason to use terrorism against those who merely indirectly support and aid the enemy. Then there is the retaliation of the enemy–killing of innocents and assassinations, in which the whole world becomes the battleground for his actions and for the attacks against his enemies. 

We should admit here that this last reason is the strongest. Retaliation for a terror attack often uses the same means as the attack, justified as self-defense or pre-emptive action. This is the reaction of the security forces of most of the countries in the world, especially the super powers like the United States and the former Soviet Union. 

Naturally, in the history of the Jewish State, the “Mossad” and the “Shin Bet” exhibit–much more than any other country–such violent operations against civilians, as well as assassinations. But, for those whose cause is just–those who fight against foreign occupation or those who promote an ideological and civilized mission as a political alternative to the unjust and arbitrary policies of most of the world–it is vital to reexamine those motivations. They sometimes must relinquish those means that tend to turn active and widespread terrorism into a tool in the hands of the strong and the stronger. For the result is that the weak or the oppressed use this method against their own interests without real affect or results. 

This is because the fundamental power of those with an ideological and civilized mission–mainly the Islamists with faith in Allah–is the power of persuasion and the ability to become a popular force composed of millions. And this is due to the characteristics and nature of that mission. The aggressors or the racists have no route to the heart of the people–the multitude–and therefore they must use power, violence and terrorism. But, those who confront them with a just and alternative mission have no way to power but through the hearts of the people. And when they make their move and display their wishes, they gain the upper hand, resulting in a revolution in all dimensions of life, including in military matters and the real balance of power in the conflict. 

Terrorism–with the exception of resistance to occupation–is the activity against civilian institutions or directly against individuals, assassinations, hijacking or taking hostages. It is classified as terrorist according to an American “ideological terrorism,” especially when it comes to operations considered by the United States to be terrorist ones. Analyzing the issue of terrorism; the exaggeration in its condemnation; the attempt to be seen as pure and politically correct, due to the fear of being seen as indifferent to terrorism–all these do not serve the cause but will result in encouraging terrorism. This is due to the fact that whatever is based on fear or done under pressure, can be erased by courage. It can be dealt with the same way as we deal with the state-sponsored terrorism of the United States or other super power–a kind of terrorism based on manipulating phrases and words, under the influence of the American ideological and propaganda terrorism. This does not serve the cause either, because it negates the fear that had brought about this arrogance in the first place. 

The best way is to deal with the subject of terrorism directly, on the one hand without ambivalence, and on the other hand with courage. The disapproval of the methods that legally, principally and politically, come under the term terrorism, is inappropriate to those who live in glass houses while perpetrating acts of terrorism. 

The means of change should deal with the goals, the principles and the values of the cause. They should consider also the balance of power and the general and special circumstances of the subject. They should not be the result of reaction or being pushed to the corner. 

Commentary by Reuven Paz

Munir Shafiq’s article is extraordinary, and is unique in the worldview of Hamas or other radical Islamists, both Palestinians and other Arabs. It actually calls for a different look at terrorism on one hand, and for a “cleaner” struggle without being contaminated by the “filth” of terrorism as perceived by Western culture. We can sum up what Shafiq says in plain words: Terrorism is the weapon of the aggressor, the super powers whose ideals are arbitrary and unjust. The Islamists, charged with the divine mission of social justice should not adopt the means of terrorism. Moreover, Hamas as a movement that confronts occupation, should use guerrilla warfare rather than terrorism–fighting against military personnel and not civilians. (See also the relevant chapter in Defining Terrorism, by Boaz Ganor)

Shafiq may reflect here a possible change in Hamas since the return of Sheikh Yassin to Gaza on October 1997, a change not yet recognized by observers of the Islamic movement. The change is in the direction of the institutionalization of the movement while adjusting to the undoubted rule of the Palestinian Authority. Sheikh Yassin two-month tour of in the Arab world may be another factor in a process. The leadership of the movement under Yassin as free man living in Gaza under Arafat’s rule, is leaning toward a more political attitude, or at least taking the political situation into consideration to a greater extent in its decisions. The tone of Yassin’s speeches concerning Israel has not changed at all. However, in a number of recent pamphlets and statements of the movement–especially those who originating in Gaza rather than in Jordan–he places the responsibility for confronting Israel on the Palestinian Authority and not on Hamas’ fighters.

The Islamic movement of Hamas is certainly not going to abandon terrorism in the near future. However it might change the methods of terrorism to conform more to those appropriate to an institutionalized movement confronting Israel in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority. This means that its terrorism may be “limited” to those means and targets acceptable to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian public– mainly soldiers and Jewish settlers. Terrorism against soldiers and particularly against settlers still has the moral support of many Palestinians. Such terrorist acts were not condemned in the past year by Arafat or his officials. This gives these acts an official legitimacy on the part of the Palestinian public, which may encourage Hamas to use them while fashioning of new image for a movement as a political–rather than a terrorist–movement.