TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Nihilism and Illegality: A Critique of Gaza

While Kofi Annan tours Beirut, interest may in fact be returning to Gaza where, despite the Israeli withdrawal, a situation of chaos resists efforts to establish something like a stable Palestinian regime. We can count on the usual suspects to blame Israel—despite the withdrawal—for all the ills in Gaza, but at least domestically other, more rational voices are being raised. In an article published in the Palestinian Authority Daily al-Ayyam, PA Spokesman Ghazi Hamad criticizes the habit of avoiding all self-criticism:

” . . . I want to make a reckoning and own up to our mistakes. We are always afraid to speak honestly about our mistakes, as we have become accustomed to placing the blame on other factors. The anarchy, chaos, pointless murders, the plundering of lands, family feuds . . . what do all of these have to do with the occupation? We have always been accustomed to pinning our failures on others, and conspiratorial thinking is still widespread among us. . . . ”

Today’s NYT reports on the article but quickly moves on to other topics. Yet Hamad’s account is an important document for the development of a theoretical account of what is going on in Gaza, which in turns is a distinctive piece of the larger discussion about Islamic extremism and the hypothesis of “Islamic fascism.” In Arendt’s account of totalitarianism, a core argument involves the constellation of three different social types: the masses, who make up the bulk of a displaced population cast into unemployment by the economic crises of the 1930s; the elite, the traditional ruling class which tries to safeguard its wealth while also indulging in a fascination with its own demise, a love affair with thugs; and the “mob,” made up of extremists, fanatics, and criminals—the recruiting ground for the leadership of the totalitarian parties. This is where the question of crime and illegality overlaps with the discussion of totalitarianism. Familiar in the imagery of “street fighting” in the Weimar Republic, illegality is, on the one hand part of the toolbox of practices of the radical political parties; on the other, it is chosen precisely in order to undermine the rule of law, which is the ultimate goal. And while the attack on legality is typically defended with ideological (or theological) arguments, there is at least the suggestion that those arguments are merely pretexts that enable the working of criminal psychologies: brutal thugs like to break the law and only need a modicum of intelligence to find some ideological justification. Why is Gaza in chaos?

Close at hand is the standard debate around Brecht’s Arturo Ui, in which he caricatures Hitler’s rise through an analogical account of a criminal gang in Chicago: has he thereby trivialized the Nazis into mere local criminals, or has he uncovered the texture of the criminal mind in politicized disguise? The same question involves us today in the debate around the status of terrorists. Liberals tend, typically, to regard them as criminals, whom one should pursue with standard police work. The Bush administration views them as enemies in the political context of a war. The debates around security legislation and the extension of police power are a function of this altercation. The conservative complaint that the liberal portrayal of terrorists as criminals trivializes the issues at stake is compelling. Nonetheless, the criminal aspect needs thorough examination: not because it justifies a police, rather than a military response, but because it highlights the nihilistic component. The goal of a political opponent is an alternative disorder; the goal of radicalized crime may be absolute disorder, the absence of lawfulness. Facing Islamic extremism, we will have to sort out whether its goal is genuinely the establishment of a Shar’ia order or whether such assertions are ultimately only ideological masks that cover up alternative, criminal agenda.

Back to Gaza: the thrust of Hamad’s account seems to be that under the ideological mantle of supporting the resistance (“anti-Zionism” has been the ideological excuse for any political stupidity), armed youth engage in “gang-like” activity and prevent the development of Gazan society.

“I have asked myself: What does the resistance gain if the country is all chaos, replete with corruption, crime, and futile murder? Isn’t the building of the homeland part of resistance? Isn’t cleanliness, order, and respect for the law part of resistance? Isn’t strengthening social relations part of the policy of shortening the life of the occupation? We have lost the connection between the resistance and other aspects of life. There is an abyss between the resistance, politics and the people. That is why the people are scattered, with no unifying or organizing [hand].”

The political suggestion might be to expect the government to establish a rule of law by disarming the gangs (in order to prevent embarrassments like the kidnapping of the Fox journalists). Disarm? Aside from the parallel to Lebanon, there is irony in the history. In the past, the PA has been unable/unwilling to rein in militants and establish a rule of law; now Hamas, as de facto key to the government, faces the same challenge. Without the rule of the law, there is no state, or certainly no state that could be considered democratic (in the “liberal democratic” sense). What counteracts stabilization? The heroization of illegality, the meta-national reach of (as Arendt put it) “pan movements” (pan-Islamicism), the meddling of multiple other Arab governments (in the name of pan-Arabism) and, arguably, the cumulative impact of international organizations. The last point is the controversial one. Do not the UN and the panoply of NGOs want to support the emergence of a stable regime? Probably yes. The theoretical question, though, is whether international tutelage is truly an effective vehicle for national autonomy. It may in fact represent continued dependency. “To emancipate”: as a transitive verb, it maintains the hierarchy of master and slave.

Here are extensive excerpts from Hamad’s text:

Scathing Self-Criticism by the Hamas Government Spokesman [1]

The Reality in Gaza is Miserable, Wretched, and a Failure in Every Sense of the Word

“. . . I want to make a reckoning and own up to our mistakes. We are always afraid to speak honestly about our mistakes, as we have become accustomed to placing the blame on other factors. The anarchy, chaos, pointless murders, the plundering of lands, family feuds . . . what do all of these have to do with the occupation? We have always been accustomed to pinning our failures on others, and conspiratorial thinking is still widespread among us. . . . 

“We exhausted our people time after time with errors in which everyone played a role. . . . 

“The question is: Why did we not keep Gaza’s freedom? In the past we said, time and again, that we are in favor of the liberation of every inch of land. Today we have thousands of inches—365 square kilometers—and nonetheless we have not succeeded in keeping this great blessing, and we have begun to lose it. . . . 

“A simple statistical calculation shows that since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, 500 Palestinians have been killed and over 3,000 wounded. There are 200 handicapped, and more than 150 homes have been demolished—and this in addition to the destruction of the infrastructure, the bridges, and the electric power plants. The number of Israelis killed by [Palestinian] rockets is no more than three or four. . . . Would it not have been possible to limit our losses and maximize our achievements, if we had only used our minds? . . . 

“When you walk around in Gaza, you cannot help but avert your eyes from what you see: indescribable anarchy, policemen that nobody cares about, youth proudly carrying weapons, mourning tents set up in the middle of main streets, and from time to time you hear that so-and-so was murdered in the middle of the night, and the response comes quickly the next morning. Large families carry weapons in tribal wars against other families. Gaza has turned into a garbage dump, there is a stench, and sewage flows [in the streets].

“The government cannot do anything, the opposition [Fatah] looks on from the sidelines, engaged in internal bickering, and the president has no power. . . . We are walking aimlessly in the streets. The reality in which we are living in Gaza can only be described as miserable and wretched, and as a failure in every sense of the word. We applauded the elections and the unique democratic experience, but in reality there has been a great step backwards. We spoke of national consensus, [but] it turned out to be like a leaf blowing in the wind. . . . ”

What Does the Resistance Gain if the Country is All Chaos, Replete With Corruption, Crime, and Futile Murder?

“With all my respect for the resistance and its courageous achievements, which we salute with admiration and appreciation, it too has made many mistakes, including gang-like and divisive [activities]. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. In the absence of a political [goal] that complements the resistance, the resistance sometimes becomes a kind of competition between the factions in publicizing announcements, in taking responsibility [for operations], and competing in military parades. We have never acted or thought in a unified manner. Even when mistakes were made, we were afraid to talk about them, for fear that it would be said that so-and-so is opposed to the resistance. Therefore, everybody covered up these mistakes.

“It is strange that when a great effort was made to reopen the Rafah Crossing in order to make [life] easier for the residents, somebody fires a missile towards the crossing, or that when there is talk about the need for tahdiah [“calm”], somebody fires another missile…

“I have asked myself: What does the resistance gain if the country is all chaos, replete with corruption, crime, and futile murder? Isn’t the building of the homeland part of resistance? Isn’t cleanliness, order, and respect for the law part of resistance? Isn’t strengthening social relations part of the policy of shortening the life of the occupation? We have lost the connection between the resistance and other aspects of life. There is an abyss between the resistance, politics and the people. That is why the people are scattered, with no unifying or organizing [hand].

“The kidnapping of foreign journalists has become a desirable trade for gaining minor, trivial profits, and it is no longer of importance that the Palestinian cause is being harmed, or that its image has been damaged in the eyes of the world, so long as a certain faction gains first place in the media, is in the spotlight of the cameras, and on the news.

” . . . Sometimes we laugh at ourselves when we see all these conferences and meetings and announcements, while there is no trace of any of that in reality. We talk unclearly, spin our wheels, steal our people’s blood, and deprive it of even a moment of peace. So many families are tormented and slaughtered, and so many families are in distress because of their miserable lives. So many shout [in despair], but nobody hears.

“Have mercy on Gaza. Have mercy on it, [and save it] from your rule of the streets, from your chaos, from your futile weapons, and from your gangsters. Have mercy on it, [and save it] from your bitter quarrels and your verbal extremism. . . . Have mercy on it by giving precedence to the homeland over a party or faction. . . . ”

Avoiding a Reckoning Will Add Pain Upon Our Pain and Wounds Upon Our Wounds

“Many will accept my words, and some will not accept them, or will not want to hear them. Some will look for flaws, and may find what they want, but Allah is my witness that I write these words only out of concern for Gaza and its citizens (out of concern for my homeland), and out of a persistent desire to give hope to our people, and to give it a strong sense that we [stand] alongside it.

“None of what I wrote refutes what has been said about the occupation. . . . But this time I ask that we judge ourselves justly, appointing our people’s conscience and interests as judges. Avoiding [the need for] a reckoning or so-called self-flagellation will add pain upon our pain and wounds upon our wounds. Let us have a little courage to say with honesty: Here we hit the target, and here we missed. This is the only way the countenance of Gaza and of the homeland will change.”

[1] Al-Ayyam (PA), August 27, 2006.

(Source: The Middle East Media Research Institute, Special Dispatch Series – No. 1268, August 29, 2006.)

Comments are closed.