Monday, March 10, 2008

Muqawama, Rationalism, and the Cycle of Violence

Ehud Yaari, a scholar and journalist who has spent every day of his professional life these past 40 years listening and watching the Arab world, has for a while now been propagating the idea that what the West faces is a new theological-political development in the Muslim world, which he calls (or rather, they call) the Muqawama Doctrine. Here's a description of the concept, applied to Hezbullah shortly after the doctrine received a boost in the 2nd Lebanon War of summer 2006.

My understanding of the doctrine, in a nutshell, is that the Islamists will fight against the West until it breaks, even if it takes generations; since the greater staying power is on the side of the Islamists, they cannot be beaten as long as they are capable of inflicting pain, which means that no matter how great their losses, they win as long as someone remains to pick up the killing again. I have heard Yaari tell that this is deeply rooted in important scriptures, and is not merely some fad or PR ploy to make a military defeat look better.

Now go read Avi Issacharoff and Amos Har'el on the present lull in violence in and around Gaza. I don't know what they think about the Muqawama concept - I can't remember them having used the word. Their description, however, fits well.
1. There is no cycle of violence, but rather an ongoing process of Hamas decision-making, sometimes to be more violent, sometimes less.
2. Last week's round of violence was harsher than Hamas wants to continue at, so they stopped; since they stopped, so did Israel (this is the true cycle of violence: when the Palestinians start, the Israelis respond; when the Palestinians stop, so do the Israelis).
3. This process of ongoing decision-making clearly demonstrates the fallacy of the usual explanations about despair, anger at harsh Israeli measures, etc. etc. ad nauseum. It's rather the opposite. The intention is to hit Israel, especially Israeli citizens. However, Hamas understands full well that it could take things too far, and the ensuing suffering of the Palestinian populace could tip into anger against themselves, so they don't go that far. When the pain on their side gets too high, they lower it by lowering the pressure on Israel.
4. All of which shows that Hamas (or Hezbullah, and probably even their Iranian masters) are quite rational in their tactics, if not perhaps in strategy. When enough force is applied to them, they make tactical adaptations. After all, their goals are long-term goals, and they must find the long-term balance between causing pain to Israel (or the West in general) and loosing their own people's backing or at least acquiescence. (Which raises some interesting thoughts about Al-Qaida and it's war against other Muslims, but that's a topic for another day).
5. Of course, as Issacharoff and Har'el note, the present calm will most likely continue only for as long as Hamas decides it's convenient for them, and in the meantime all sides will prepare for the inevitable next rounds.
6. How many of you have ever heard of Ahmed Jabari? After all, if they're right, he's only the most important person in the story at the moment, so why tell about him?


Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Israel didn't stop violence as Hamas stopped it.

On the contrary, Israel announced it will build 750 new homes for the haredim in the occupied territories and outside its internationally recognized borders.

Although the measure isn't as spectacular as the launching of a rocket, it has longer-lasting consequences. The injection of yet another 5,000 people into Palestinian land will make peace prospects ever more difficult, since the Israeli settlements hinder the contiguity of the proposed Palestinian state.

When you grab someone else's land, that's violence even if you don't kill the owner. I will believe the only violence comes from Hamas the day Israel stops its forcible appropiation of Palestinian property.

Yaacov said...

Dear Mr. Ibn Yusuf -


You raise a serious question, and I'll respond ti it within a few days in a separate post.