Saturday, December 23, 2006

The ideological differences between Fatah, Hamas and Al-Qaeda

I dislike the "islamo-fascism" label used by the Right for a number of reasons. One is that it mistakenly implies that Islamic extremism has parallels with early 20th-century nationalism, probably more in an effort to paint people with the Hitler/Mussolini brush than to help illuminate details of the ideologies involved. Another is that it misleadingly gives the impression that all strands of Islamic extremism are identical. They aren't. Comments by Al-qaeda criticising Hamas, and the armed conflict that has been starting to occur between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine, may be useful in scoping out the differences.

I've previously used the catch-all term "jihadist" to get past the false comparison with Italy and Germany pre-World War II. I think I need to expand my definitions to highlight the different strands of extremism within the Islamic world. Fatah, Hamas and Al-Qaeda are representatives of three different strands.

1. Fatah. I would call their ideology "traditionalist Islam", or perhaps "conservative Islam". It isn't a group that defines itself by its upholding of Islamic tenets, but its members all adhere to Islam. It's not really extremist I think, although it is illiberal to a great degree. Their political agitation is not caught up in the rhetoric of "Holy War" to my knowledge, focusing more on dealing with immediate non-religious problems in a way that is pragmatic rather than visionary.

2.Hamas. The word here I think is "Islamism". Islamism is a political ideology which expressly states that all politics and political process must occur in the way dictated by the religion of Islam. Or by the Islamist's particular interpretation of Islam, anyway. It is more idealistic and visionary than Islamic traditionalism: Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel, while Fatah sees this as an unobtainable goal.

3, Al-qaeda. Jihadist. The goal is similar to Islamism - a way of life that is Islamic - but the method of bringing it about is through violence. It's not clear to me if their specific goals actually extend beyond that call to engage in violence against the enemies of Islam.

In terms of how each group functions, there's going to be some overlap - Hamas is willing to engage in terrorist strikes, which is jihadist rather than Islamist - but I think those are the core ideologies of each of those three groups.

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