Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Is Hamas Irrational?

(Barry's effort to make peace notwithstanding, I wrote most of this last night and am going to post it anyway. Try a roadmap next time, buddy.)

Dave, obviously your information is different from mine. Your position is certainly a valid one. I will freely admit there may be things I do not know. It is difficult to find relatively unbiased and well-researched material on the subject, and it is not one I have invested any great time in. What I know comes from links, the likes of these: Hamas Overview, Hamas & Fatah, and the BBC. I will acknowledge that it is entirely possible that behind the scenes this group is just a virulent and single-minded as the day they were founded. I, however, will continue to operate under the knowledge that is available to me, and as such will wait for Hamas to prove through their actions that they are other than they make themselves out to be, that being aggressive, ruthless, and violent, but ultimately rational. I just have a couple final points by which I support my position:

1. This is a dangerously naive view, and one that ignores history. Was Hitler monumentally stupid? How about Stalin? Tojo? History is filled with intelligent, capable people who have subscribed to an ideology committed to the inferiority of one group of people compared to another--and a desire to eliminate the undesirables. ... In fact, Hamas' leadership are both
intelligent and fanatical.

But were they irrational? (Hitler in the later days was arguable both insane and monumentally stupid, but the others?) My reading of history says that it is generally more dangerous to assume fanatacism and irrationality in an adversary than to assume rationality, even when their actions are difficult to understand. The former frees you from the need to try to understand your opponent or even treat them as a human being, since clearly there nothing that can be done with them short of total obliteration. It also generally leaves you misjudging and underestimating your opponent. Many of the most awful acts of history have been carried out by people who saw their targets as less than human, or somehow less human than they themselves are (including those examples you listed). Unless there is overwhelming evidence to prove that this group of people is essentially insane (or tightly under the grip of insane leadership), I will always assume the opposite. After our own isolated encounter with terrorism I had sit by and listen to more discussions of turning "the Middle-East into a parking lot" and other sordid idiocy than I can count out here in suburbia. While we have done our share of stupid things, we have not turned the Middle East into a parking lot, nor do I think we intend to. That the Palestinians, after 30 years of violence and oppression, have developed a culture where similar remarks are commonly made about Israel hardly surprises me, nor, I think, does much to condemn them. East, west, north, south, people are people.

2. Hamas has grown in stature and their role in the Palestinian community has changed over time. It would seem strange to me if their leadership and values did not reflect this. Hamas is not the small militant group that it was in the late 80's and early 90's. They, according to many commentators, now surpass Arafat's Fatah in power and popularity. With growth generally comes mainstreaming. The "Hamas & Fatah" link above brings this out in particular. In the "Impact of Oslo" section it discusses divisions within Hamas as to how to deal with the follow-ups to Oslo, and divisions with regards to how to deal with the elections for the PA, and it suggests that Hamas took it easy on Netanyahu, all indicating they have already at times contemplated softening their hard line to play for mainstream power. In fact, that article (which I had never seen until today) pretty neatly covers my views on the group, particularly their analysis of the present conflict and Hamas' prospects in it at the end of the article. This is why when Nassin and other Hamas leaders make statements about accepting a 2-state solutions, and perform actions of goodwill in order to facilitate negotiations, I tend to take them at face value. They are becoming the dominant political power in Palestine, and there is a certain level of pragmatism that often goes with that. All of the evidence available to me suggests that this is the case. If there is some critical information out there, hidden from me, I could be totally wrong. But I don't think I am being unreasonable in thinking as I do. If by their words and actions they can continue to fool me for some long period of time, so be it. If by all observable actions they counterfeit, over a period of years, the appearance of a more moderate organization, interested in peace, the results may eventually be the same as if they were, in fact, that. If they walk like a duck, and quack like a duck...

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