Inside Hamas: How To Understand the Global Jihadist Threat

In-depth reporting by the Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Casey and Adam Entous takes us inside Gaza, into the minds, indoctrination and support system of Hamas. The report is here (but behind the paper’s subscriber wall).

It will be a tough one to refute for the willful blindness crowd – i.e., the bipartisan Beltway ruling class and its cooperative mainstream media – who insist that Islam is innately a religion of peace. The report illuminates the reality that Islamic study is the basic pathway to jihadist militancy and that, for members of Hamas, the jihad against Israel is not a parochial political affair but part and parcel of a global ideological movement that is very much driven by a perception of divine directive.

To observe what Hamas members and their supporters believe, and to learn that even non-adherents of Hamas respect the organization’s tenets as an entirely legitimate construction of Islam, is to elucidate the stubborn stupidity of the claim that “true” Islam is unconnected to terrorism committed by Muslims – and that we should regard such Muslims as irrational “violent extremists” rather than jihadists.

The report introduces us first to Abu Thoraya, a Hamas jihadist killed in the recent fighting:

[He was] in some respects a typical young man in his 20s. He was unmarried, worked a clerical job and lived with his parents, whom he and his brother supported. He took long morning runs down the Gaza Strip toward Egypt. He had a pious side which drew him to Hamas. He made connections to the group at the Abu Salim Mosque, an old stone prayer hall down the street from his home.

We learn from his brother that family members “didn’t share the same views” as Abu Thoraya, but it quickly becomes clear that the narrow disagreement is about jihadist aggression. The report explains that the brother is an “Islamist.” This means (although the report does not go into it) that he is an Islamic-supremacist: a supporter of sharia government – i.e., imposition of Islam’s societal framework and legal code. That is Hamas’s goal as well. The only real difference is that the brother belongs to an Islamic supremacist faction, the Dawa movement, that does not have a military wing.

Why is it so important to understand the ideological sympathies, rather than narrow disagreements about tactics that Western leaders obsess over? Because it shows that even dissenters from Hamas respect the terrorist organization’s beliefs and goals. Despite their differences, the report explains, “the family accepted and supported Mr. Abu Thoraya's decision to plumb the world of Hamas through Islamic study and religious training.”

And, whether we choose to see it or not, fundamentalist Islamic religion includes the call to violent jihad and the veneration of it as the highest service to Allah – the surest path to paradise. The Obama administration can try to erase this incontestable fact out of the materials used to train the intelligence, law-enforcement and military personnel charged with protecting us. It will not, however, be erased from the scripture-based materials used to educate and indoctrinate Islamic supremacists. As the report relates Abu Thoraya’s seamless transition from education to indoctrination to terror:

At some point, religious study transitioned into fighting. "You start as a fan of Hamas, then eventually, if they trust you, you join the armed movement," said his brother.

Of course, besides the Palestinian families that may disagree with Hamas’s tactics but “accept and support” their sons’ decision to join the jihad are the families that are with Hamas all the way. Such was the family of 39-year-old Abdullah Al Masri, also killed in the recent fighting. The report recounts:

He worked as a police officer in the Hamas-run city bureaucracy and was known as the most devout of a strongly Muslim family. "We were almost brought up at the Abu Salim Mosque," said his brother, also named Mohammed. Following Friday prayers, Mr. Al Masri would spend the afternoon lecturing children on the virtues of Islam.

He joined Hamas more than a decade ago and told his family about the decision a few years ago, his brother said. "We were absolutely OK with this. There was an Israeli occupation that he needed to fight against," his brother said, citing the justification many Palestinians give for attacking Israel. The Israeli government considers any attacks for political purposes to be terrorism.

While the enthusiasm of Al Masri’s brother for the Islamic-supremacist cause is so common as to be unremarkable, his mother’s incitements are chilling, even though they, too, are ubiquitous in Gaza. The report describes the lead-up to the battle that led to Al Masri’s death:

Mr. Al Masri's mother, Latifa, was with him in the living room during the daytime Ramadan fast when they heard the sound of tank shelling outside Deir Al-Balah. "Are you afraid of it?" she said her son asked. "Because I'm not. What better thing than to be a martyr during Ramadan."

Toward the conclusion of the report, we are left with the mother’s response to her son’s death in the jihad:

"God be praised," she said. "We knew he was part of the resistance and we knew the day would come that he would die."

It is a global jihad. Like the Israelis, the United States and the West are up against an ideologically driven enemy that believes, based on Islamic teachings that are mainstream in the Middle East, it is under a command from Allah to conquer non-Muslims. Its jihadists are willing to die to carry out the mission – having been indoctrinated to believe that that death in the cause is better than life on earth.

We will never design an effective global strategy to defeat the threat unless and until we finally open our eyes and understand it.

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image thumbnail illustration via shutterstock / Saida Shigapova