Commentary: Exposing the real Hamas
It's a pity that Israel, while substantially loosening its grip on Gaza, will continue to enforce a blockade when, with just a little imagination, it could insist on a deal with the activists once again steaming its way: You can proceed to Gaza if, once you get there, you demand that Hamas cease the persecution of women, institute freedom of religion, halt the continuing rocketing of Israel, release an Israeli hostage, ban torture and rescind an official charter that could have made soothing bedtime reading for Adolf Hitler. This may take some time.
In fact, these demands would never be met. Gaza is a mean and brutal place with a totalitarian government steeped in a cult of violence and death. This hardly means that the government does not have a measure of popular support and did not, as some of the activists naively point out, come to power by democratic means. So did the Nazis.
The term Islamic fascism gets thrown around a lot. I initially recoiled from it because I prefer to reserve fascism for fascists. The term is too loosely employed -- New York City cops were called fascists by Vietnam-era peace demonstrators -- but Paul Berman, in his new book "The Flight of the Intellectuals," makes a solid case that it can, with justice, be applied to Hamas.
Berman traces Hamas' intellectual pedigree to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, whose founder, Hassan al-Banna, greatly admired Hitler, and to Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who spent much of World War II in Germany cozying up to Hitler, organizing a Muslim SS unit and, on occasion, remonstrating with the Nazis for not killing enough Jews. (See also Robert S. Wistrich's recent book, "A Lethal Obsession.") It's appalling not only that Husseini was granted sanctuary in Arab countries after the war, but that he continues to be revered as a Palestinian patriot.
The successor to both Banna and Husseini was Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), an Egyptian intellectual of uncontested importance whose influence can be found in the writing of the Hamas charter. Qutb was an indefatigable author (more than 20 books, some written while in an Egyptian prison where he was tortured), but the article that should interest the pro-Hamas activists the most is called "Our Struggle with the Jews." It is a shocking and repellent work of anti-Semitism that, among other things, says the "Jews will be satisfied only with the destruction" of Islam. Qutb cites that hoary anti-Semitic forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" for substantiation -- suggesting that his status as an intellectual is somewhat due to heroic grade inflation.
The extremely useful term "useful idiots" was originally coined to describe Soviet sympathizers in Western countries. But there is no reason it cannot be applied to so-called activists who wish to break the blockade, which is an increasingly untenable exercise that Israel, bit by bit, is loosening. That's a good thing. But if Israel is expected to release its grip on Gaza, it's entitled to a bit of reciprocity -- at the very least the release of the hostage Gilad Shalit, who was not captured in Gaza but was abducted on the Israel side of the border. He has been held for four years now and has never once been visited by an outsider. How about maybe one ship in the approaching flotilla just for him?
Now is the time, I suppose, to say that Israel is not exactly perfect either. It continues to overreact, uses too much force and has often trampled on the rights of Palestinians. Still, Israel is Thomas Jefferson's idea of heaven compared to Gaza, which could serve as a seaside Club Med for Jew-haters. One country is consonant with the Enlightenment; the other is a dark place of religious intolerance where the firmest principles of anti-Semitism -- not anti-Zionism or pro-Palestinianism -- are embedded in the Hamas charter.
The irony is that Israel is often called a colonialist power. In some sense, the charge is true. But the ones with the true colonialist mentality are those who think that Arabs cannot be held to Western standards of decency. So, for this reason, Hamas is apparently forgiven for its treatment of women, its anti-Semitism, its hostility to all other religions, its fervid embrace of a dark (non-Muslim) medievalism and its absolute insistence that Israel has no right to exist. Maybe the blockade ought to end -- but so, too, should anyone's dreamy idea of Hamas. It's not just a threat to Israel. It's a threat to the eventual Palestine.
Richard Cohen's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.