The Region: Radicalism and isolation

Forces that use terrorism, preach a totalitarian ideology and have genocidal goals are responsible for conflict in the Middle East.

In this era, the most common way of dealing with radicalism, repression, terrorism, and such things in the Third World is to blame it on democratic states so often victimized by such things.
The latest contribution to this genre comes from British ambassador to Israel Tom Phillips who said Israel’s sanctions’ regime on the Gaza Strip “was breeding radicalism.”
He claimed it had driven “Gaza into a Hamas-controlled tunnel economy, and the Palestinian Gaza private sector has been almost completely destroyed….Young boys on the streets [have had] no role models apart from the Hamas guy in the black shiny uniform on the street corner... creating, in psychological terms, another generation of people that are not going to feel that friendly about Israel.”
The message is that the problem is completely due to “us.” The other side doesn’t actually exist. It has no history, no worldview, no ideology, and no goals. The “other side” is merely a blank screen or mirror, reflecting back what we do.
This is, of course, a racist and imperialist vision. It denies the other any cultural or historical mentality of its own.
If one is only a victim always, one has no volition, higher intelligence, or ability to affect history.
Yet let’s look at the events. For instance, Islamist Iran is not radical because it has been isolated; rather, it has been isolated because of its radical behavior.
In the case of the Gaza Strip, the publicly known facts should be recalled.
Let’s count the number of times Hamas was treated generously.
The participation of Hamas in Palestinian elections was clearly illegal, since that group did not accept the Oslo Accords, recognize Israel, or cease using terrorism.
Yet despite all of this, the United States actually urged, and Israel accepted, its participation. (1) When Hamas won the elections, neither the United States nor Israel tried to intervene or reverse the results. Again, they didn’t “drive” Hamas into radicalism. (2) True, the Palestinian Authority tried for a while to hang on, but in the end it signed a power-sharing agreement with Hamas. (3) Hamas then staged a coup, killed fellow Palestinians, and seized power. Yet even then there was no move by Israel or the United States to unseat the new regime. (4) After repeated Hamas attacks on Israel and Israeli retaliation, a ceasefire was signed.
There were restrictions on supplies but they regularly flowed into Gaza. (5) There was, for example, a border industrial area that provided jobs for Gazans from Israeli companies until Hamas attacked it. Finally, near the end of 2008, Hamas tore up the ceasefire and launched a massive attack on Israel. Israel defended itself and after the resulting war the sanctions’ regime we have seen until recently went into effect by both Egypt (which feared Hamas’s revolutionary Islamism and status as an Iranian client) and Israel.
This is not a picture of Gazans being driven to radicalism, it is a story of how the consequences of a radical policy unfolded, forcing Israel to react.
THERE’S MORE. Ambassador Phillips, and the many others who speak about events around the world in similar terms, simply fail to comprehend how a dictatorship works. They think that if you engage hardline ideological revolutionaries, they will moderate. If you offer to trade with them, a process of materialism will set in so that the once fire-breathing radicals will be transformed into luxury-loving bourgeois.
Suppose Gaza didn’t have a “Hamascontrolled tunnel economy” but merely a Hamas-controlled economy, would that be better? And why should one believe that the economy wouldn’t be controlled by the dictatorship, because Western governments or companies were doing business there? But that is equally true of Syria, Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and ideological dictatorships in other parts of the world. Has this turned them toward love and moderation? This Phillips-Pogo view also ignores the political mechanisms of ideological dictatorships. Hamas doesn’t wait for young boys to see its cadre as role models.
Here’s what it does: • Pays people with the money obtainable, including that siphoned off from aid and trade, to recruit them and make them the arms of the regime.
• Arrests and intimidates opponents so they cannot provide alternative role models. (In the Gaza Strip there aren’t that many moderate role models any way. Wealthy businessmen? These are the corrupt figures who were in good with Fatah and against whom people voted for Hamas. Fatah gunmen? Maybe the dedicated UNRWA teacher offers an alternative role model?) • Control of all institutions including mosques, media, youth organizations and schools which all actively and intensively preach the same message.
The regime isn’t going to let external institutions or countries that oppose its Islamist radicalism have an influence in its territory. Hamas would rather sacrifice benefits to its people than give up authority to those it knows want to overthrow the regime.
Phillips’ line that it is Israel’s policy which is creating “another generation of people that are not going to feel that friendly about Israel” is rather ludicrous in light of this reality. After all, the same thing is happening in the West Bank where there is no sanctions’ regime in place, Western aid flows lavishly, and supposed moderates are in control.
Here’s the truth: revolutionary forces that use terrorism, preach a totalitarian ideology, create dictatorships, and have genocidal goals are responsible for war and conflict in the Middle East.
No matter how intensely Western democracies flagellate themselves, no matter how much they appease and concede, that basic and deadly fact will not change. No, let me correct the end of that sentence: the cost will become more dangerous, bloody, and deadly.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at