Thursday, January 21, 2010

More Fun in Denials

We already saw one walkback of what had seemed to be a breakthrough between Israel and one of its more implacable foes when the Iranian government denied one of its ministers shook hands with his Israeli counterpart at a conference. Today, we saw a similar dynamic with Hamas. The Jerusalem Post had a report claiming that Hamas' top West Bank representative signaled his willingness to nullify Hamas' anti-Semitic charter and recognize Israel's existence:
During the meeting in Hebron, [Aziz] Dwaik stressed that other Hamas leaders, including Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaal and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, have voiced support for the idea of establishing an independent Palestinian state within the pre-1967 boundaries.

"The [Hamas] charter was drafted more than 20 years ago," Dwaik noted, adding that his movement would even be prepared to "nullify" the document.

"No one wants to throw anyone into the sea," he said.

That would be good news. Unfortunately, Hamas immediately issued a furious denial, so who knows what's going on. A mistaken report by the JPost? A misunderstanding by Mr. Dwaik's interlocutor? A Hamas official who got too far ahead of himself and was slapped back into line? An example of double-speak -- one set of words for western audiences, and another for domestic consumption? So much ambiguity, so little time.


N. Friedman said...

You have let yourself be drawn into a debate about the number of angels on the end of a pin.

Were Hamas to accept Israel by deleting the goal calling for Israel's destruction from the group's covenant, that would mean the end of Hamas. That is not going to happen. And, if someone reported that Hamas was considering a change tp its covenant - which makes Israel's destruction a religious cause (no easy thing to change) and which has been reported back in 2006 by naive and gullible fools -, one can say that the reporter was not using his or her head.

And, were Hamas to accept Israel, that would mean a new group would replace it.

At some point, Israel's friends ought to deal with the world that is and consider that Hamas actually believes its covenant and that the position taken by Hamas has a lot of historical precedents in which parties asserting some seemingly outlandish political position, asserted as God's will, fought on for centuries and really meant the position taken.

Come on, David. This is all nonsense that is based on spending too little time thinking about how a group could pose another group's destruction as a religious, not a political, cause.

joe said...

There's an even longer line of precedents of God's will being asserted to serve realpolitik.

And if you don't see the problem with labeling one particular group--in this case Palestinians--so irrational (in a way that goes far and above the irrationality of anyone else in the world) that they simply cannot be reasoned with, then I will have to find a way to characterize your beliefs without mentioning the concept of racism, since of course everyone always hits the wall when that topic comes up.

N. Friedman said...


You are welcome to call me anything you like.

However, identifying an ideological movement, one that justifies its position by means of religion, is not racism. One can say, for example, about Jews that they have, over the centuries felt strong attachment to the idea of Zion. And, there have been repeated attempts to return to Zion. And, there is an irrationality in that position. But, it is not racist to point that out.

In the case of Hamas, it hold that it has adopted a religious justification for its obstinacy and to imagine that it can be bargained away is naive. That is not a statement about Arabs or Palestinian Arabs as a race. It is a statement about the power of ideas, most especially religious ideas.

To confuse ideas with racism is nonsense, in the philosophical sense of the word.

joe said...

I don't think it's as simple as waving a hand and saying it's just about religion. To use an analogy, it seems problematic to issue a blanket criticism of African Americans and then say "well it's not about race, it's just their culture." (David can jump in here if he thinks I'm wrong and racism isn't in the mix in that kind of statement.)

And again, you are severely discounting realpolitik if you treat it as less than universal.

N. Friedman said...


I have said nothing racist. I have said nothing about all Palestinian Arabs or any inherent characteristics. I made a comment about Hamas, an ideological movement that justifies its position by reference to religion. I also did not say here that it was all about religion, at least not the way you interpret my words.

I said that the position taken by Hamas is one justified by religion and that, for that reason, it is not going to be negotiated away. The Hamas position - which is the position of the Ikwani movement over the years - is unwilling to compromise with Jews to reach a permanent settlement. That has been their position from day one and it will remain their position to this day. It was the position of the the predecessors to Hamas. And, their (i.e. the Ikwani) position on the dispute has not changed one iota since around 1920.

History is filled with movements that have held positions that were not subject to negotiation. Recognizing movements that that can't be appeased - e.g. the National Socialist movement that arose in Germany, being a prime example (See, The Gathering Storm, by Winston Churchill, for an excellent discussion of the Nazi movement) - is not always easy. But, such movements have existed.

Take, for example, the Antisemitic movement. It has been a persistent ideological movement. No one, thus far, has found a real cure for it. Pointing out that such position has afflicted Christians over the centuries is not racist.

Asserting that discussion of people's ideology is racist is foolish. Try considering it with reference to the Nazi movement, to see my point. On your view, to say that the Nazi movement was a foul, Antisemitic movement intent on elimination of enemies and with which peace is impossible - as Nazi opponents said at the time - is not racist. It was true.

joe said...

When you say "it has adopted a religious justification for its obstinacy and to imagine that it can be bargained away is naive," you are saying it is all about religion because you're saying that the goal is an article of religious faith.

But that still doesn't prove your point that Hamas's charter is immutable. Religions often negotiate away articles of faith for political ends. The mainline Mormon Church's abandonment of polygamy, for example.

N. Friedman said...


Hamas is not a religion. Hence, the comparison to Mormonism confuses apples with pomegranates.

Hamas is a group that holds to an ideology. That ideology, according to the group, requires Israel's destruction. That is not an aside but, instead, the main course - the very reason for the group's existence. Which is to say, for Hamas to accept Israel would be akin - were Hamas a religion - to the Mormon Church rejecting the Book of Mormon.

Hamas is an ideological movement/group. It justifies its position on the basis of religion. It religious position, that non-Islamic polities, including Israel, are anathema to Allah, is the position of classical Islam, held by most of the famed Islamic theologians and by all four of the major Sunni schools of law. That religio/ideological position, after all, is the draw that Hamas can use to assert its position that what you and I call Israel should really be an Islamic waqf (i.e. land that is supposed to be held in trust for the benefit of Muslims).

joe said...

I think you are the one putting angels atop the pin when it comes to classifying a group as religious or ideological.
(Religions themselves justify their positions on the basis of religion, so I don't know what distinction you're drawing. And let's not minimize things. Polygamy was considered a directive from God by the Mormon Church. It was a founding principle and a huge political sore point with the US government.) But that's ultimately not important.

First, let me be clear that I am not calling you a racist. I believe literally everyone is racist to one degree or another so it's generally not productive to assign it as a label for individuals. It is important for the sake of progress, however, to point out racism in specific beliefs or statements.

Implicit in your statement is the belief that Palestinians who support Hamas (which holds a parliamentary majority, after all) hold to this ideology, or religion, or whatever you want to call it, that renders them uniquely irrational. As opposed to other political parties that change their platforms dramatically when motivated. That's where "it's their culture" racism comes into play.

Now, if you were just to say Hamas's policies are immoral you'd get no objection from me. If you were to say there will always be radicals committed to Israel's destruction I would agree. But you're not saying there would be a splinter group if Hamas changed its charter. You're saying that Hamas would end, that it would be replaced. By extension, all those Palestinians that made Hamas the majority party would be abandoning it and must be religiously committed to the ideology you describe, with no hope of negotiation (and that in turn raises some very serious and troubling questions).

Perhaps I misunderstood your meaning, but that's what I got from your initial post.

N. Friedman said...


You certainly misunderstand my view. If Hamas changed its covenant, it would split up. In other words, another group that held to Hamas's traditional meaning would spring up.

I am not splitting hairs when I distinguish a group from a religion. There is a very big difference, even if the group justifies its ideology by means of religion.

Again, the Hamas group justifies itself by means of religion. Its position is well justified in traditional Islam. But, that does not mean that Hamas is the same thing as Islam.

The Hamas group will not change its stripes. You are fooling yourself if you think otherwise. And, its position, since it is based on religion, is deeply irrational, as are all positions that find their justification in religion. That is a statement about religion that applies to all human being, since human beings are, by and large, an irrational, not a rational, species.

joe said...

You're dodging the issue. If Hamas is fundamentally, irrevocably, and irrationally committed to its goal, what does that say about the Palestinians. The people who, to reiterate, made it the majority party.

And when you say Hamas justifies itself by means of religion you're not drawing a meaningful distinction because religions also justify themselves by means of religion. No Hamas is not Islam, but it might as well be a fundamentalist denomination followed by most Palestinians under your definition.

joe said...

Or, to put it another way, if Hamas justifies its policy goals by means of religious belief, don't you have a big problem with the religious belief? It seems like the policy goal would collapse without it, right?

N. Friedman said...


You write: "If Hamas is fundamentally, irrevocably, and irrationally committed to its goal, what does that say about the Palestinians."

It says that Palestinian Arabs include a substantial group that is committed to an irrational position. That is nothing unusual in the history of the world. And, it is certainly not racist to point it out.

The rest of your comment does not make sense. Hamas does not claim to be a religion. Hamas is not a religion. It is a position that deeply religious people hold, which is a different matter.

Your second post makes more sense. I think I said that I find religion to be a deeply irrational thing. I do not consider that necessarily always a problem. But, that religion is an irrational thing I think is beyond question.