While Gazans, their Hamas leadership and pro-Palestinian supporters around the world condemn Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, now turning into a ground invasion, it’s time Muslims examined the Other Occupation: the inexorable advance of political Islamism over Islam.
Increasingly, Islam has been usurped by political Islamism, manifest in the current Israel-Palestine conflict as a war between Hamas and Israel. Elsewhere, Islamism drives conflicts between ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and Iraqi government forces, the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistan army, the Afghani Taliban and would-be Afghani democratic leaders, Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists and the Nigerian government, the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Syrian regime, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Lebanon’s secular democrats, and until recently, the democratically elected but explicitly Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s secular politicians.
As political Islamism advances, Muslims everywhere, including Palestinian Muslims in Gaza, have been increasingly marginalized and oppressed by extreme Islamists. These Islamists subscribe not to Islam but to a totalitarian ideology disguised as religion. While Islamists may fervently believe they are Muslim subscribers to Islam, what they adopt is a totalitarian politicization of Islam.
Operation Protective Edge merely underlines this Other Occupation.
Heavy criticism has been leveled at Israel’s emphatic assault on Gazans and the Gaza Strip because of the escalating casualties. Less acknowledged is that Israel is combating not just an organization devoted to securing its territory in a conflict over land, but a totalitarian ideology that definitively leaves no room for Israel, Israelis or moderate Muslims to exist.
We learn more when we allow Hamas to do the talking. Its leaders leave us no doubt as to its central philosophy, core to which remains martyrdom and unremitting anti-Semitism. The Hamas charter opens with: “We cannot recognize Israel. The land of Palestine is ours and not for the Jews.”
Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, founder of Hamas, was unequivocal in the role of martyrdom in the Hamas mission:
“Love of martyrdom is something deep inside the heart. The only aim is to win Allah’s satisfaction. That can be done in the simplest and speediest manner by dying in the cause of Allah. And it is Allah that selects the martyrs.”
Both anti-Semitism and martyrdom are central to political Islamism. In contrast, neither has any role in pluralistic, mainstream Islam. Israel is not at war with Muslim Palestinians in Gaza but with their nihilistic Islamist leadership.
In the Muslim world we are familiar with the battle between Islam and Islamism, and we make no bones about the need for open combat against political Islamists. Muslim militaries are not held to global condemnation in the way the Israel Defense Forces must face — despite their targeted attacks, pre-strike warnings and efforts to contain civilian deaths.
The Pakistan military’s current offensive in the North West Frontier against the Pakistani Taliban is the most recent example.
To empower the military, the Pakistani government has authorized shoot-to-kill on suspicion of Taliban operatives, invited U.S. drones to conduct strikes on militant Taliban leaders on Pakistani territory, displaced many Pakistanis in the last month from their homes in the North West Frontier and commenced a massive aerial bombardment campaign.
But global condemnation doesn’t befall the Pakistani military or the Pakistani government. Global media reports barely cover the story. Israelis faced with the same problem are the only ones for whom such wholesale condemnation is reserved.
Public sentiment in favor of beleaguered Palestinians, however well intentioned, is rapidly translated into support for Hamas. Western sympathies, especially European sentiment, embolden Hamas (and similar radical Islamist groups) toward an incipient crime against humanity that truly threatens not only every Israeli and every Jew with extinction, but also moderate Muslims everywhere, particularly those within Hamas’ current purview — cue the decapitations and crucifixions now a daily occurrence in ISIS-controlled Iraq, and the escalating persecution of minorities, especially Christians in Iraq and the wider Islamist Middle East.
Because of the lack of nuance and context in the era of sound-bite “journalism” and the distracting images of Israeli military might, the reluctance to see the bigger picture remains entrenched.
Were reality to hit home, adult solutions for regional — and Israeli-Palestinian peace, in particular — would be seen as truly bleak. Israel is fighting an impossible battle, on one front with nihilist political Islamists who willingly lead their populations to slaughter in the interests of religionized war for fictionalized spiritual gain rather than true political solutions, and on another front with an international media reflecting an increasingly ignorant and biased public opinion. The sooner media commentary can be broadened to explain political Islamism, diplomatic and political powers globally can begin to plan the true long-term freedom of the Palestinians — freedom from the Other Occupation and a lasting liberation from the stranglehold of Hamas’ political Islamism.
Qanta Ahmed, author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom,” is a 2014 Ford Foundation public voices fellow with the OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @MissDiagnosis. This essay originally appeared in USA Today, reprinted with permission.