How to Defeat Hamas -- Face Up to the Truth

Making Hamas into a unique demon is pure propaganda. But no form of Islamic extremism will end until moderate Muslims stand up for their religion.
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Here is my article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question: Hamas leaders claim that their understanding of Islam makes Israel's survival a theological and moral impossibility. What's your response to that? How should Israel respond? How should other Muslims respond?

To some extent we have all fallen prey to the overblown, semi-hysterical notion of a war on terror. As soon as ideology entered into the picture, truth suffered at the hands of the right-wing agenda. In the same vein, Hamas has become part of the competing agendas of Israel and the Arab world. The oil-producing countries could have alleviated the grinding poverty in Gaza and the West Bank using a fraction of their oil profits annually. Instead, the Palestinian conflict has been cynically used as a tool of anti-Semitism and a sop to the Arab street, which likes nothing better than an enemy to be inflamed against. For its part, Israel plays the card of being a beleaguered state threatened by remorseless enemies -- many commentators notice how well timed Israel's actions are with upcoming elections. A weak government in Tel Aviv likes nothing more than a show of force against the enemy to bring the nation to its side.

Several truths have been buried beneath these crisscrossing agendas.

1. Hamas has no power to destroy Israel. 2. Moderate Arabs and almost all Sunnis are opposed to Hamas's politics. 3. The deeper issue is about Iran and its desire to become a dominant force in the Middle East by backing Shia extremists. 4. The Palestinian question will ultimately be solved through politics and economics, not war. 5. Tolerating the intolerant is a chronic problem in every society and every age. It must be managed as best as society can, the way it deals with crime and drugs, the other chronic ills.

Making Hamas into a unique demon is pure propaganda. They owe their slim power to two things: the untold misery of life in the Palestinian territories, which fans rebellion at its most extreme, and the sufferance of Israel and the Arab world, together who could bypass Hamas and reach meaningful accords without them. If both parties, with the help of the U.S., went on with the business of peace, Hamas would prove manageable in the short run and would disappear in the long run.

But no form of Islamic extremism will end until moderate Muslims stand up for their religion. The rich Arab countries feel that they can afford to bribe the terrorists to leave them alone, or to suppress them with secret police and the army should they get out of hand. Poor Muslim countries have little ability to cure the endemic poverty and ignorance that is the seedbed of terrorism. The only solution is long-term and self-generated. No one can extirpate extremism from without. The U.S. and its global allies can only police the problem for the foreseeable future.

It's a sobering development in our own society that the religious right was able for almost thirty years to leverage its intolerance into power -- and a deep shame that so-called moderate Republicans enabled them. So we cannot afford to be self-righteous in this matter. The burden of a civilized society is to tolerate the intolerant. There are limits, of course, and Hamas pushes against those limits outrageously. The undeniable fact is that Israel is seen by the entire Arab world as an extension of European imperialism. The West created Israel by fiat in 1948 without consulting the Arabs. That insult fuels long-held resentments about their own colonial past in many countries. For this there is no outside cure, either. Islam is being used to justify eternal grudges, and not just by the extremists.

In the end, every religion must tend to its own beliefs. Thirty years ago the West was caught off guard when the Shah of Iran, a symbol of modernized, Western-facing progress, was overwhelmed by the tide of anti-modernist, Western-hating reactionaries. We have never recovered from that shock, nor have we remotely solved the problem. The West marches on. India and China join in. But Islam massively holds out for an anti-future, and it can back up its medieval delusions with oil riches and suicide martyrs. This is the prevailing situation that's being handled globally while we wait for Muslims to find their own tipping point in favor of a realistic tomorrow instead of fatal nostalgia for the past.

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