January 30, 2006


How To Civilize Hamas: Will Wednesday's winners be too busy fixing potholes to wage jihad? (Scott MacMillan, Jan. 27, 2006, Slate)

Never before confronted with the prospect of actually governing, Hamas asked Fatah to enter into a coalition. Fatah refused. The outgoing party is probably secretly relieved that Hamas is inheriting a government Fatah brought to the brink of insolvency with its corruption and mismanagement. Ziyad Abu Ein, a Fatah official, summed up the defeated faction's attitude on Thursday: "Let Hamas alone bear its responsibilities," he said, "if it can."

A sound—albeit limited—body of historical evidence supports the pothole theory. Scholars who study political Islam have long noted a tendency for Islamist movements to become more pragmatic and less violent the closer they come to gaining power. Speaking to London's Financial Times earlier this month, an anonymous senior official in the Bush administration cited two French scholars, Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel, who have long noted that political Islam becomes less caustic the less it is repressed. (That the Bush administration is using the work of French academics to justify its foreign policy is an irony too rich to ignore.) In Egypt, the banned Muslim Brotherhood has donned democratic garb since President Hosni Mubarak began tolerating the group in the mid-1980s. The movement now speaks of pluralism and civil liberties, although its supporters still hate Jews, call the Holocaust "a myth," and dismiss al-Qaida as "an illusion." A similar shift took place in Tunisia between 1975 and 1990, when the national Islamist movement adopted more liberal positions on women's rights and democratic reforms as the government temporarily relaxed its repression.

Critics dismiss Islamists' talk of democracy as mere window dressing that would be discarded if they ever came to power. Now we shall see: Some commentators worry that Hamas will create a Taliban-like fundamentalist enclave—"Hamastan," as the latest lingo has it—in the West Bank and Gaza and that Iran will step in to finance the Palestinian Authority as funding from the European Union, the United States, and Israel evaporates.

This is not what the Palestinians signed up for. As in the case of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood—which made huge gains in November's elections, despite being attacked at polling stations by government-hired goons—it is unlikely that most Hamas voters are in tune with the party's fundamentalist religious program, especially in the largely secular West Bank. Hamas won by pitching itself as the party that would clean house and bring an end to Fatah's corruption. Whether Hamas will ever give Palestinians a chance to vote it out of power is something we may not know for another four years, when the next elections are scheduled.

From a cynically Realist position a Hamastan would be a good deal for Israel because it would mean the Palestinian population was completely controlled. Hard to see what's in it for Palestinians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 30, 2006 7:41 AM

Not only did the Nazis fill potholes, they built the autobahn.

Posted by: bplus at January 30, 2006 8:18 AM

Wishful thinking. Puerile; no--infantile.

The feeling that comes across is very much like all the wishful thinking about "Herr Hitler" in the late 30's.

This blindness is what the peace-creep mentality does to people. Hate is love, war is peace, and it is springtime for Hamas in Palestine.

Fools! If you desire peace, prepare for war, wherein the moral is to the material as ten is to one. Fawning over Hamas is supposed to tame them. All it does is the encourage them, to let them think that they have taken our measure and that we are little worms.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 30, 2006 10:21 AM

The difference being that Hitler had no Israel to force him to normalize his politics. To paraphrase Johnson: an existential threat from a neighbor tends to concentrate the mind.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2006 10:37 AM

Let's say Hamas does not "normalize" their behavior. What fraction of Israel would still just want to pretend that things are going to be OK if they don't act provocatively? 30-40% at a minimum? And what countries would actually support Israel's move to annihilate Hamas if Hamas can claim to be a legitimate gov't? No one but the US.

Posted by: b at January 30, 2006 11:07 AM

Hamas doesn't have the resources to be much threat to Israel as a rival, bellicose state.

It can't pass itself off as a protest movement or live up to its' rhetoric now that it holds the reins of power in the PA.

It'll probably do something crazy since there aren't many pothole-fillers in its' ranks.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at January 30, 2006 11:11 AM


Closer to 60% of Israelis will be fine with Hamas if it becomes a normal political party. Who else matters but us and Israel on this issue?

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2006 12:51 PM

The one thing that could distract them from waging jihad is a power struggle with Hamas. Sooner or later there will be a bloodbath, a Night of the Long Knives.

They want to fill potholes all right. With the bones of Israelis.

OJ, you don't think that Hitler had opponents who wished him to normalize? Nonsense! He was just good at fooling them into thinking that he had normalized. We shouldn't let ourselves be so easily fooled.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 30, 2006 1:07 PM

One of their active mentors in University stated they/he/Hamas never expected or wanted to win; they preferred to remain the opposition. If so, Condi wasn't the only one as surprised as they were to be holding the tiger by the tail. Methinks Iran may also have been surprised as they've inherited a piece of the tail as well.

Posted by: Genecis at January 30, 2006 3:13 PM


No, Hitler had no neighbors who threatened the existence of the German state. Had he been content to run Germany it might still be Nazi. Only bringing the USSR and US into the war doomed his regime.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2006 3:46 PM


Yes, it's a problem that Condi didn't know better than some Hamas university student.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2006 3:47 PM

Today, I am betting that Hamas never takes office. I think the whole thing devolves into a shooting war between factions. Eventually, the Israelis call in the Jordainians on the West Bank and the Egyptians in Gaza to take over civil administration. From there it goes on to a full settlement. The Palestinians don't want their own country.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 30, 2006 5:35 PM


Which is why the Israselis should give it to them today...and release Barghouti.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2006 8:01 PM

OJ: They will not be able to take it, even though it is at hand. The civil war is begining.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 30, 2006 10:14 PM

Yes, so don't give them a choice.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2006 10:20 PM