Shortly after Yusra Azzami, 20, strolled with her fiancé and her sister on the beach in Gaza last week, the vigilantes from Hamas formed suspicions that she was engaged in "immoral behavior." They followed her, shot her dead as she sat in her fiancé's car, dragged her corpse out and mutilated it savagely with clubs and iron bars.
This atrocity follows on Hamas having murdered over four hundred Israelis going about their daily business since 2000. Unsurprisingly, the American and other governments consider Hamas as a terrorist organization.
But how do they deal with such an organization? Two very different approaches exist, and President George W. Bush has articulated them both. In June 2003, he stated that "the free world, those who love freedom and peace, must deal harshly with Hamas" and specified that "Hamas must be dismantled." Last month, however, he offered Hezbollah a chance to prove it's not a terrorist organization and redeem itself "by laying down arms and not threatening peace."
This alarming second view builds on an outlook with growing support within the U.S. government. Many diplomats and intelligence officials believe, for example, that engaging the Muslim Brethren in Egypt (in the Washington Post's description) "offers an opportunity for political engagement that could help isolate violent jihadists." And Arabic-language news sources report that American officials in Egypt recently met with Muslim Brethren leaders.
To forward this wrong-headed idea, an organization called the Conflicts Forum was founded in December 2004. It has the immodest goal of not just changing policy toward radical Islamic terrorist groups, but changing how Westerners see radical Islam itself. Conflicts Forum wants to challenge "the prevailing western orthodoxy that perceives Islamism as an ideology that is hostile to the agenda for global democracy and good governance."
Conflicts Forum has several advantages, starting with the fact that what it terms the "prevailing Western orthodoxy" is – as noted above – quite soft. The group's founder and leader, Alastair Crooke, 55, was a ranking figure in both British intelligence and European Union diplomacy, someone who hobnobs with insiders, gives upbeat speeches at premier venues ("It is Essential to Negotiate with Terrorists" at the London School of Economics," "Can Hamas Be A Political Partner?" at the Council on Foreign Relations), and enjoys a fawning press.
But Crooke's true identity came out in a clandestine meeting he held with the Hamas leadership in June 2002, at a time when he still represented the European Union. We have an account of the meeting prepared by Hamas (which Crooke claims is inaccurate). It deserves reading in full for an insight into Crooke's amoral, craven, appeasing, and dhimmi-like mentality.
- He recounts to Hamas having insisted to two high-ranking European politicians that "the status of Europe in the eyes of the Palestinians has started to deteriorate" because Europe did not adequately support the Palestinians.
- "The main problem [in the Middle East] is the Israeli occupation," which is music to Hamas ears.
- "As for terrorism, I hate that word," he tells leaders of a leading terrorist organization, going on to imply that he instead sees Hamas operatives as "freedom fighters."
This last fits Crooke's routine public dismissal of terrorism as a threat. The West, he says, faces not "terrorism" (his quote marks) but a distinctly less nasty "sophisticated, asymmetrical, broad-based and irregular insurgency." And his Conflicts Forum, dubbed by journalist Patrick Seale "a club of disaffected diplomats and intelligence officers," engages in a pleasant form of personal diplomacy that diminishes the horror of Islamist terrorism.
Thus, at a Conflicts Forum meeting last month in Beirut with the leadership of four Islamist terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hizbullah, the mood and the food were too good to allow this inconvenient subject to intrude. Stephen Grey, a journalist covering the event, later reflected on it: "Invited to dinner with the participants in the Beirut talks, and sharing jokes with the Hamas men over tiger prawns, avocado, pasta and cherry tomatoes, I wondered privately how one would explain all this intimacy to the mother of a child killed by a suicide bomber."
Conflicts Forum offers a seductive alternative to the hard business of waging and winning a war. Unfortunately, its wrong-headed, defeatist, and doomed approach amounts to preemptively losing the war. Its counsel deserves a round rejection.
Official Response From Conflicts Forum
May 3, 2005
As a director of Conflicts Forum and its partner organization here in America -- Alliance for Security -- I welcome the comments on our work and on Hamas made in your newspaper by Mr. Daniel Pipes. Mr. Pipes is certainly known for his support for democracy, and has been an outspoken advocate for our nation's war on terrorism. We join him in this and in his seeming support for our work to spread democracy in the region.
But we must take exception with his often breathless desire to raise unsubstantiated fears about Hamas's goals. The simple truth is that while the U.S. lists Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization, the group has never -- not once -- attacked or killed any Americans. Has the organization attacked and killed Israelis? Yes, unfortunately it has. And many of their operations have been reprehensible, killing and maiming innocent people. But as the directors of our organization, who have spent years working on the ground in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel will confirm, there is certainly enough blood to go around, including that of innocent Palestinians needlessly caught in the crossfire of a complex conflict.
How can we stop this? How can we Americans build security for our nation and promote democracy in the Middle East? When it comes to Hamas it seems to me that we have three choices: we can bomb the organization and attempt to kill its members, we can ignore it, or we can engage it in a dialogue that might, just might, lead to a better chance for peace.
Hamas is now putting forward candidates for legislative elections to be held in the West Bank and Gaza in July. The prospects are that they will win a substantial number of seats. Should we deny them their chance at democracy? Should we now criticize them for confirming the democratic values that we hold dear? It seems to us at both Conflicts Forum and the Alliance for Security that we, as Americans, must do everything in our power to support those in the Middle East who have opted to build their societies on those values that we hold dear -- of justice and peace, of accountability and transparency. Hamas has made this historic choice. We can take council of our fears, and condemn them, or we can open an exchange with their leadership that would put an end to the loss of innocent life that we all abhor.
Daniel Pipes responds:
I thank Mark Perry for his reasoned response. The key point he makes is that Hamas "has never -- not once -- attacked or killed any Americans." He is wrong; Hamas has killed a number of Americans in Israel. Further, he ignores the threat that its infrastructure in the United States poses, a topic I addressed the very day of his response, in "Hamas vs. America."
Apr. 26, 2005 update: I document how Conflicts Forum's arguments are gaining favor in "The West Accepts Hamas."
July 14, 2006 update: Hugh Fitzgerald argues for Alastair Crooke's being criminally charged at "Follow the money trail."