Hamas Victory

Opinion and Editorial - February 04, 2006
Arif Maftuhin, Seattle, WA

Hamas' landslide victory has shocked the world, especially Israel and the US. By the day, Hamas has proved its dominance in these polls.

Pessimists take the view that Hamas is purely a terrorist organization rather than political party, and argue that nothing can be hoped from an organization whose sole strategy is violence. Since Hamas prefers violence, their win implies that Palestinians want to continue to wage war.

Optimists compare Hamas to the political wing of IRA, Sinn Fein, and believe that Hamas will change their violence strategy. Hamas is no longer a militia; it is a government whose responsibilities are not only killing enemies and creating terror, but also providing shelter, food and education for their citizens. Naturally, they are forced to become more realistic and make some compromises.

Those taking a more cautious attitude are waiting for further developments. While the optimists and pessimists focus on Hamas, the indifferent see Hamas as just one of several other equally important determinants. Many and complicated factors can influence Palestine's future.

Those who adopt a cautious position have strong reasons for taking such an attitude.

First, Hamas could become more moderate or it could remain radical. Hamas is not Sinn Fein; it has its own history and context.
Second, Hamas' position also depends on external factors, especially the U.S. and its allies. While acknowledging the result, President George W Bush has warned that U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority might be cut unless Hamas renounced violence and stopped calling for Israel's destruction. An isolating policy such as this could potentially lead to a radicalization of Hamas, rather than moderating them.
Third, there is the internal Palestinian political context. Turmoil and unrest, immediately after the parliamentary election, indicated negative developments. It is still not clear how Hamas, an anti compromise organization, can achieve a compromise with Fatah while the youth wing of Fatah rejects coalition with Hamas.
Fourth, there is the radicalization of Fatah. Many people say that Hamas will become more moderate, but forget another possibility of Fatah becoming more radical.

The moderate leaders of Fatah have lost their credibility. The succession will bring a younger and more radical generation of Fatah to the leadership.

While we don't know what will happen, the Palestinian election has given a lesson to the world, especially to radical Muslim movements.

After the successful Iraqi elections, President George W Bush repeatedly boasted that democracy in Iraq would spread throughout the Middle East and bring peace to that region. If he really meant what he promoted, he should be happy: Palestinians have practiced well the democracy class he taught in Iraq.

Sad to say, Palestinians also gave him a bitter lesson: democracy and terrorism are not as black and white as he thinks, with the "terrorist" Hamas winning a huge majority in a democratic election. A newspaper cartoonist in Seattle depicted democracy as an "all size" t-shirt that even a Hamas terrorist could fit into.

On the other hand, Hamas has given radical Muslim movements a good lesson, "You can not defeat Bush militarily, but you can defeat him using democracy and freedom".
Islam in a more fundamentalist form remains powerful in the Middle East. This is true not only for Hamas. Recent elections in Egypt also showed a similar trend with fundamentalist Muslims gaining significant support from the public.
The failure of existing regimes in the Middle East has opened the way for fundamentalist Muslims to pledge a change.

The writer is a student at the school of international studies at the University of Washington, and is a lecturer at UIN Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta. He can be reached at arif_maftuh@yahoo.com.
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