Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Islamist vs. Islamist

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By Jonathan Kay


It says something about the politically pathologised state of Palestinian society that Hamas – itself a murderous Islamist terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction – found an even crazier group to fight with in mid-August.

On Aug. 16 – in one of those surreal battles in which you wish both sides would annihilate each other – Hamas forces attacked the followers of Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of the Partisans of God), an al-Qaeda inspired ultra-militant group led by a certain Sheikh Abu al-Nour al-Maqdessi. Their agenda is the creation of an Islamic emirate in Gaza and the total destruction of Israel. (It’s a platform the group shares with Hamas, but they complain Hamas isn’t pursuing it with enough gusto.)

Al-Maqdessi has now gone to his virgins: His house was blown up by Hamas security forces – this being after more than a dozen of al-Maqdessi’s followers were gunned down at their mosque in Rafah.

This showdown counts as good news, I suppose: After all, a fire-and-brimstone Islamist would-be terrorist leader has been removed from the Earth. I also note that in the firefight at the mosque, the killed-in-action list included a senior Hamas leader who’d masterminded abductions of Israelis – which counts as good news, too.

Then again, it seems odd to be cheering on Hamas in any context. Moreover, one is left with the lingering feeling that – rather than getting wiped out so quickly – the Soldiers of the Partisans of God might have done the world more good by doing some more soldiering and taking out a few more Hamas terrorists.

But putting aside the violent surrealism of the whole episode, there’s an important geopolitical lesson here. And it’s this: For all the Muslims out there who say they want a “pure” Islamic state governed by Sharia law, such a project is impossible – and not just because the Koran is an ancient religious document, not a blueprint for a modern, bureaucratic state.

The basic problem faced by groups such as Hamas, the Taliban, and Iran’s mullahs is that their claim to political power is based not on the promise of sound governance (which they never provide, except in the first honeymoon period of their rule), but on their fealty to God’s will, which is, of course, entirely unknowable. This means they’re vulnerable to every two-bit al-Maqdessi-style maniac who claims he’s got an even better, purer, less corrupt line on what God really wants.

Absolute power is an addictive drug – for Islamists as much as secularists. And so incumbents such as Hamas are never content to settle their differences with more-holy-than-thou religious dissidents by reasoned theological debate. Instead, they respond the way Stalin did when communists engaged in similarly divisive arguments about the needs of the workers: They slaughter everyone who disagrees with them. Thus the death of al-Maqdessi. Thus the uncounted Iranian protestors tortured to death in Teheran’s jails. Thus the murderous intra-Talbanic infighting in Pakistan.

In other words, the political slogan that “Islam is the answer” is not only ominous, but demonstrably wrong: A government that pledges itself to the implementation of Allah’s wishes will always either collapse or, under siege from more-pious-than-thou competitors, decay into just another nihilistic Iranian-style thugocracy. The sooner this is realised by ordinary Middle Eastern Muslims, the sooner the region can definitively reject the mingling of mosque and state.


Jonathan Kay is a visiting fellow with the Foundation for Defence of Democracies. © National Post (Canada), reprinted by permission of the author.