The Islamists and the Progressives

LAST WEEK, FOUR DEMOCRAT members of the US Congress, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, attempted to remove a $US1 billion support package for Israel’s Iron Dome defence system from a stopgap spending act in the House of Representatives. They failed due to the overwhelming opposition of 420 of their colleagues.

Did these ‘Progressive Democrats’, members of “the Squad”, consider that the elimination of such a non-offensive system which protected civilians would give Palestinian militants in Gaza a carte blanche to fire missiles at population centres — shopping malls, kindergartens, office blocks, synagogues and mosques — and kill both Jew and Arab?

While there would be a modicum of political sense in advocating a US ban on selling F-35 fighters to Israel by these pro-Palestinian activists, this move reflects a decaying morality on the part of these politicians.

It also represents a broader symbolic failure of large parts of the international Left to actually expound a coherent, progressive viewpoint. Its adherents prefer a polarisation into Israelis against Palestinians — and to propagate a shallow, simplistic understanding of this tortuous conflict.

The Palestinians are never actually defined in ideological terms since any anti-colonial struggle imposes an obligation of unity — that no distinction should be made between nationalists and Islamists. Outside the Middle East, it rationalises an alliance between progressives and Islamists. In the UK, for example, it has meant an ongoing cooperation between the Socialist Workers Party and various fronts of the Muslim Brotherhood, following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

What matters to the far Left is, first and foremost, “resistance”, regardless of who carries it out. And Hamas is the acronym of Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah or Islamic Resistance Movement.

In 1988, Hamas emerged from the shadows of the Muslim Brotherhood during the first Intifada and its leadership was highly influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who had been hanged in Cairo in 1966 on the instructions of President Nasser, then the acknowledged leader of Arab nationalism.

Qutb depicted Jews as being wicked and devious in everything they do. They were the carriers of the plague of foreign influence, pledged to erode the teachings of Islam and to destroy Muslim identity. The Muslim Brotherhood defined the four horsemen of the apocalypse as “Jews, crusaders, communists and secularists”. This poisonous weed, accordingly, had no place in Palestine.

Qutb was the father of a modern Islamised antisemitism in his transposing of European dislike of the Jews to the Middle East. He was an avid reader of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and therefore it was no surprise that the original Hamas charter depicted Jews as “the brothers of monkeys, the murderers of prophets, the bloodsuckers, the war agitators”.

In early Islamist tracts, Jews were discovered to be behind the French Revolution while Trotsky was transformed into the Zionist agent who brought about the October Revolution in Tsarist Russia.

Qutb believed that Jews had plotted against Islam and its adherents since the genesis of the faith. The Syrian-born academic, Bassam Tibi, noted in a 2010 academic paper that according to Qutb, Muslims have no real choice in the matter but to fight the Jews — as the Jews themselves had launched this terrible conflict with the birth of Islam.

The contemporary Palestinian disciples of Qutb argue that the Jews of 2021 are the same Jews of seventh century Arabia. The slogan of Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual mentor of Hamas, during the first Intifada was “Khaybar, Khaybar — O Jews, the Army of Mohammed will return”.

Khaybar in Arabia is the site of battle in 628 when the Prophet and his supporters defeated the forces of the Jewish tribes. The struggle against Zionism was therefore always an inherently religious one.

Today’s Islamists extrapolate the Prophet’s actions, directed at the Jewish tribes of Medina all those centuries ago, to deal with Israel today — to defeat it, enslave its citizens and expel the recalcitrants who wish to remain.

Hamas has periodically sought to project a more palatable image in the West in this cosmic war against the Jews. It has strived to convince progressives that it is a national liberation movement, opposed to the occupation of Palestinian lands and is not hostile to Jews per se.

However, it is significant that while Hamas wishes to engage with progressives in the West such as the “the Squad”, it adamantly refuses to do so with the Israeli peace camp – even through back channels.

In contrast to the nationalist Fatah, which like the Zionist movement, has been influenced by European nationalism and pragmatic politics, Hamas is predicated upon an interpretation of faith.

There are occasional suggestions of a tahadiya (a calming period) or a hudna (truce) lasting decades, but no renunciation of the “phased liberation” of Palestine. Moreover, any truce would be conditional on an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In May 2017, Hamas produced a declaration of principles which implied an interim Palestinian state — a temporary measure until all of Palestine is liberated.

The Sunni Hamas, however, has located support in terms of arms and funding from a remarkable source — the Shi’ite Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, was never averse to coating Jews with the same veneer as did his Sunni theological opponents: “The Jews have been a nuisance to the Islamic Movement from its beginning. They were the first to spread anti-Islamic propaganda and devise ideological plots.” (The Rule of the Jurisprudent: Islamic Government, 1989)

Khomeini further believed that the Jews toppled the Qajar dynasty in Iran in 1925 and replaced it with the Pahlavis in order to literally be the power behind the throne. The last Shah was therefore depicted as little more than a puppet of the Jews. All too many Iranians subsequently took their cue from Khomeini in understanding “the impure character of the Jews”.

When demonstrators against the Shah were fired upon on September 8, 1978, the conspiracy theorists alleged that the perpetrators of the massacre were actually Jews disguised as Iranian troops.

When Khomeini took power, Jewish schools were nationalised and its pupils required to attend on Shabbat and on Jewish holidays — as did children in Muslim schools. Jewish leaders such as Habib Elqaniyan were executed. Khomeini’s successor, the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, described the Shoah as “a story of no certain authenticity” in a speech in January 2002.

When the Tehran Times published The Auschwitz Lie at the beginning of 2001, it relied heavily upon the works of the pariah pseudo-historians, David Irving and Robert Faurisson.

Holocaust denial became the hallmark of the country which hosted the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world.

All through this, the international far Left maintained a studied silence. In addition, no word was uttered about the wholesale slaughter of the Iranian Left by the Khomeini Islamists during the 1980s. All this did not prevent leading figures on the British far Left, Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone, from being regular paid contributors to Press TV, the mouthpiece of the Iranian regime.

In Israel, there are supporters of the peace camp who blame successive right-wing governments solely for the lack of direct negotiations with Hamas. In the case of this attempt to remove funding for the Iron Dome, they rightly point to the antagonism caused by Netanyahu’s decade-long snubbing of the US Democrats and his obsequious fawning over Trump.

Even so, is this also not a case of reacting to the reactionaries rather than reacting to the issue? Is it not possible to call to account both the inanities of the Israeli Right and the virulence of the Palestinian Islamists?

At present, it seems to be wishful thinking to imagine that Hamas would ever sign a peace accord with Israel — replicating the courageous attempt of both Rabin and Arafat to locate a better future for both peoples.

Perhaps the only way forward is to find a theological argument that will allow the Islamists to coexist with Israel without recognising the Jewish state. Even so, this may prove to be only a short-term solution. The future therefore remains uncertain and unpredictable.

Plus61j 1 October 2021

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