Jihad in Sinai

Unlike moderate Arab states, Hamas continues to distinguish between "good" and "bad" terrorism.

dahab88ap (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
"Our government strongly condemns this criminal act which flouts our religion, shakes Palestinian national security and works against Arab interests." - Palestinian Authority spokesman on the triple bombing in Egyptian Sinai, April 24 "... A legal and natural reaction to the Israeli crimes." - Hamas spokesman reacting to the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, April 17 The official Palestinian condemnation of the horrific bombings at Dahab, a popular tourist destination on the southern Sinai coast, only makes the open Hamas endorsement of the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv more striking. Unlike Hamas, the more moderate Arab states, such as Egypt, have some time ago given up the attempt to distinguish between "good" terrorism against Jews and "bad" terrorism against Arabs. Egypt is even reportedly pressuring Hamas to take steps toward recognizing Israel's right to exist. But Monday's bombings in Sinai demonstrate the untenability of the continuing Arab attempt to straddle the worlds of radicalism and democracy, of war and peace. The tool of terrorism, whose use against Israel was once enthusiastically endorsed by the entire Arab world, has now been turned against Arabs themselves. Most of the casualties on Monday were Egyptians, none of those killed were Israelis. It can be fairly safely assumed that the terrorists, whether or not they were directly linked to al-Qaida, were Islamists of the sort who have launched attacks in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and regard any regime - even a conservative Muslim one - that is not at war with the West as a target. The response of these states to the Islamist challenge has been to use a heavy hand and full dictatorial powers to squash Islamist opposition while at the same time, particularly in the Saudi case, funding the Islamist's schools of indoctrination and allowing demonization of Israel, the common enemy of radicals and "moderates." Both strategies have reached the point of diminishing returns. The Hamas electoral victory is a classic example of how years of Western alliances with corrupt and dictatorial regimes can drive the people into the hands of the Islamists. Yet "pro-Western" Arab regimes cannot forever withstand the tide of demands for democracy and human rights. There is no going back. The Islamist cancer directs its hatred at the West, but threatens the Arab world no less. The goal of the Islamists is a Taliban-like regime stretching across the entire Arab world; a vast dictatorship bent on subduing the Arab peoples and the West as well. For the Arab governments, the best antidote to this threat is not further crackdowns and attempts to keep the embers of the Arab-Israeli conflict alive, but rather the opposite: domestic liberalization and full normalization with Israel. Arab governments, if they want to survive, need to offer their people peace and prosperity, not an iron fist and unending conflict. Arab regimes that become less dictatorial, less corrupt, and less diplomatically and economically isolated should have a chance to compete against those that only offer a return to the mores and wars of the 11th century. The old pattern of crush, appease and incite (against Israel and America) is bankrupt. It is what helped create al-Qaida and what will continue to fuel militant Islamism if it is not broken. The most concrete sign of breaking this pattern would be for other Arab states to join Egypt and Jordan in formally ending their war against Israel, and for Egypt and Jordan to make those peace treaties more of a living reality. The Arab war to destroy Israel is the most "mainstream" manifestation of al-Qaida-style megalomania in the world today. It is impossible to defeat militant Islamism without abandoning the fascist and genocidal notion that a Jewish state, simply because it is Jewish and located in the Middle East, has no right to exist. The jihad against Israel is, moreover, in principle and in practice inseparable from the jihad against America and the West. There is no neutral place for the Arab world in the militant Islamist war against the West; this is part of the message of the latest massacre in the Sinai. That jihad will either be defeated by Muslims themselves and the West, or it will engulf the Arab world and the West. Ultimately, Arabs, Israelis, Americans and Europeans must either join to defeat the Islamist jihad, or fall together.