Vol. 4 Num 297 Tue. March 30, 2004  

Why are Muslims so 'shocked and awed' by Yassin's assassination?

I have to admit that I've been taken aback with the level of anger surrounding the killing of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Muslims both inside and outside of Palestine seem genuinely shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- that Israel would dare to take out the spiritual head of Hamas in such a dramatic and bloody manner. And the loudest cries seem to be coming from those who are well aware of, and have no problem with, Yassin's ideology of the use of violence -- including suicide bombings against civilians -- as the "only way" to liberate Palestine. The very genuine grievances suffered by Palestinians seem to have nurtured an illogical expectation that both sides are bound to different rules of war, that somehow, if a Palestinian leader calls for young men to blow themselves up among Israeli civilians, a retaliation in kind against that leader is unacceptable. Of course, I'm told by friends that Israel should have instead arrested Yassin and given him a fair trial if they thought he had blood on his hands. I can only shake my head at the cognitive dissonance. Do these people think that the Muslims of old, after losing a battle, would protest indignantly to the victors? Yassin and Hamas declared war on Israel, an obviously stronger adversary, and they got war in return. Did they really expect a lawsuit instead?

The truth is, the death of Yassin must be a little bittersweet among Israeli strategists, for the cause of Zionism has had no better friend in the last two decades than Hamas. The two fed off each other in a love-hate relationship that brought out the worst in each other. In Hamas (which Israel touted at its inception as a counterweight to the popularity of the PLO), Israel has found everything from an incentive for hyper-militarisation to a poster boy for their "security wall". And each heavy-handed strike directed at Hamas sparked a recruiting drive whose success was directly proportional to the "collateral damage" Israel caused. And innocent Israelis and Palestinians -- most of whom are ready for a two-state solution if their leadership would ever get around to it -- get caught in the middle.

What surprises me most is that so many Muslims have backed Hamas' military strategy for securing Palestinian rights, even though the heavy weaponry is on the wrong side. The level of poverty and despair among the average Palestinian locked in Israel's occupation noose is at an all time low, while their Israeli counterparts basically complain about not being able to go clubbing in Tel Aviv on the weekend. Israeli pilots can take out Palestinians in the streets of Gaza as if they were playing a video game, while those seeking reprisals for those attacks run into a literal wall. Israelis may be hurting, but Palestinians are reaching the end of a frayed rope. It doesn't take a genius to see where this is heading -- most certainly not in the direction of Palestinian liberation.

Yassin's death (perhaps not coincidentally) overshadowed the one year anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie and fatal shooting of Tom Hurndall, both of whose non-violent tactics against the Israeli occupation contrasts sharply with that of Hamas. While Israeli officials cite Hamas often in their justifications for military and occupation activities, they would prefer that the world had never heard of Rachel or Tom. A strategy of non-violent action that focuses the world's attention squarely where it should be -- on the crimes of the occupation -- is something that Israel has little defence against. Yes, it will be harder for Palestinians to have the same impact as white Westerners, but large numbers of them working together with international supporters cannot be ignored for long.

The killing of Hamas' founder marks a turning point for Palestinians and an opportunity to re-evaluate their support for the group's military activities. Hamas had the potential to be so much more. Its social institutions have been lifesavers for Palestinians hardest hit by the occupation, and their reputation for avoiding corruption contrasts sharply with Yasser Arafat's ineffectual kleptocracy. But their nihilistic use of suicide bombing to achieve Palestinian rights has eroded their moral high ground, brought Israeli reprisals of increasing severity to more and more Palestinian civilians, and has consumed the lives of innocents on both sides. If real advancement is to be made for Palestinian rights, all who care about justice both inside and outside Palestine should embrace efforts that galvanise compassionate people all over the world to do the right thing, instead of repelling possible supporters with violent tactics and rhetoric.

Yassin's death makes it clear that violent opposition to the occupation will ultimately fail. The tactic of suicide bombing should be buried along with him. If we are to see real progress towards the restoration of Palestinian rights rather than a march towards self-destruction, then Palestine will need more Rachel Corries and fewer Sheikh Yassins.

Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of alt.muslim.