Archives For PL SC 452 Islam and Politics


According to conventional wisdom, Hamas, Hizbullah and Al-Qaeda are all alike; they are all radical Islamist terrorist organizations. But are they? Are they all radical Islamist organizations? Are they all terrorist organizations? Are they all organizations? These labels are problematic. Al-Qaeda is arguably not even an organization. Regardless of whether one deems it so, it certainly stands in contradistinction to Hamas and Hizbullah. As for terrorism, it is a tactic, not an ideology. Each of these “organizations” variously employs this tactic. As for radical Islamism, each of these “organizations” varies in degree of radical Islamism both in theory and in praxis. Conflating these “organizations” is gross oversimplification. Hamas and Hizbullah differ from Al-Qaeda in tactics, strategy, and ideology.


Hamas (an acronym for Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamat al-Islāmiyyah or Islamic Resistance Movement) is a political party organized in response to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Hamas was founded in 1987 by the Palestinian arm of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood at the time of the First Intifada. Hamas used suicide bombings, IEDs and rocket attacks against Israel from 1993 to 2005, but tapered off these tactics between 2005 and 2006. In 2006, Hamas was democratically elected by the Palestinian people (including Christians) to represent and further their interests in Gaza. The defeated incumbent party, Fatah, consolidated its power in the West Bank and began making trouble for Hamas in Gaza. In 2006, when Fatah outlawed the militia arm of Hamas, Israel backed Fatah by imposing an economic blockade on Gaza. Hamas responded by launching border rocket attacks on Israel. Following a six-month ceasefire, the conflict resumed and escalated resulting in the 2008 Israeli invasion of Gaza. Although Hamas’s charter calls for the replacement of the State of Israel with an Islamic Palestinian state, Hamas’ prime minister said Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and offer Israel a truce. Hamas has emphasized that its conflict with Israel is political, not religious. While Hamas’s charter may in theory reflect a radical Islamist bent, Hamas is clearly pragmatic in praxis. While many consider Hamas a terrorist organization, eighty to ninety percent of Hamas’s revenues fund athletic, educational, daycare, healthcare and religious facilities, substituting for civil society.

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In his three-part BBC documentary, The Power of Nightmares, Adam Curtis compares the philosophies of Sayyid Qutb and Leo Strauss and their followers, radical Islamists and the American neoconservatives, respectively. Curtis argues that these two factions are, in essence, two sides of the same coin. Both fight against liberal individualism, which they perceive as a threat to society with their conservative ideologies. Each faction is motivated by its own ideology to exert itself in a nostalgic effort to change the world. At the same time, Curtis argues that the threat of radical Islamists, while real, looks nothing like the Bush/Blair rhetoric. These politicians of fear, he argues, have exaggerated the radical Islamist threat, in much the same way their predecessors did the threat of Communism, in order to consolidate their political power. There is no global network of radical Islamists called Al Qaeda or otherwise, argues Curtis. There is certainly no radical Islamist existential threat to the West.

In Part I: Baby It’s Cold Outside, Curtis begins by introducing Sayyid Qutb, the so-called philosopher of Islamic terror. Qutb was born in small village in Egypt and moved to Cairo, where he was educated. He became a man of letters and a literary critic in the Western tradition. Employed by the Egyptian Ministry of Education, he was sent to America to study its education system. There he completed a master’s degree at the Colorado State College of Education. During his stay in America, he wrote a scathing critique of the West entitled The America that I Saw, condemning its racism, materialism, and lack of morality. He also published his first major religious social critique, Social Justice in Islam, while in America. Upon his return to Egypt, he became politically active and rose to prominence in the Muslim Brotherhood, becoming a publicist for the Brotherhood. Imprisoned by Nasser, Qutb developed and wrote in Milestones his theory of jahiliyyah, an accusation of apostasy against Nasser and his supporters, which extended in theory to all so-called Muslims who failed to reject secularism and rise up against Egypt’s Western-tinged secular governments. In Milestones, he issued a call to a vanguard to put his ideas into action. After his execution by Nasser, Ayman Zawahiri answered Qutb’s call. Zawahiri’s organization, Islamic Jihad, assassinated Sadat.

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