March 25, 2011 | Middle East Quarterly

Review: Hamas in Politics

Gunning, a lecturer at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, lived in the Gaza Strip for nine months in 1998. This book, completed nine years later, is the culmination of his studies about the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

Unfortunately for Gunning, he completed his manuscript before the civil war between the rival Hamas and Fatah factions in 2007; presumably, he regrets discounting the possibility of that conflict. Gunning erroneously predicted that in its struggle with Fatah, “Hamas is more likely to employ symbolic rather than actual violence.” He even postulated that Hamas would not carry out violence “against … civilian government institutions.” In all this, he could not have been more wrong. In the battle for Gaza, Hamas stormed government buildings and brutalized Palestinian Authority forces in a battle that killed 161 Palestinians and wounded some 700.[1] Gunning's analysis, therefore, is proven to be both naive and spectacularly wrong.

To make matters worse, Gunning apologizes for Hamas, starting with his repetitious use of “resistance” instead of “terrorism” when referring to attacks on Israeli civilians or his repeated insistence that “political conditions” imposed by Israel drove Hamas to suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Gunning expends the entirety of his chapter on “Hamas' Political Philosophy” trying to explain away the group's xenophobic and violent political philosophy through the works of John Locke, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Isaiah Berlin, and Pierre Bourdie. A delusional Gunning claims that these great thinkers “have all helped to sharpen our understanding of Hamas.” Need one point out that it strains credulity to assert that Hamas had these philosophers in mind when drafting its 1988 charter, which states that there is “no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad”?

Admittedly, at odd moments, the author recognizes that Hamas is a violent and dangerous organization. He also occasionally concedes that Hamas's interpretation of Islam reinforces its thinking and actions. In the end, however, Gunning's book is sadly representative of Middle East studies specialists around the world who obfuscate the basics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

[1] “Black Pages in the Absence of Justice: Report on Bloody Fighting in the Gaza Strip from 7 to 14 June 2007,” Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Oct. 1, 2007, p. 6.