Yassin: the Palestinians’ worst enemy
Christians and Muslims are defending themselves with the very same measures and moral values as Israelis
“Blood will have blood” is the grim observation Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Macbeth. Unlike that character, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin did not kill in person, but he organized murder, a great deal of it. He strove all his life to make a reality of the mind-set of the Muslim Brotherhood, in which good Muslims everywhere at last assert their deserved supremacy over irredeemably bad Christians and Jews. Compromise is excluded. The only available options are victory or martyrdom.
An unlikely figure with several severe physical disabilities, wheelchair bound all his adult years, Yassin nonetheless founded Hamas and thereby gave himself responsibility for the Palestine sector of the wider Islamist struggle. Palestine, he believed, was a land exclusively reserved by God for Muslims. With a consistency that has to be acknowledged, he rejected the existence of Israel in any shape or form and led jihad to eliminate it. His specialty was the recruiting and dispatching of suicide bombers. He wanted to kill Jews and didn’t mind how many Muslims died in the process. Israel, he prophesied in a recent interview, would finally collapse in 2007. For him, then, peace meant war, and so he was the victim of his own violence. Blood will have blood.
Far and wide, from Morocco to Indonesia and Nigeria, personalities exactly in his mould are struggling in their sectors to implement the Muslim Brotherhood mind-set. For the likes of Osama bin-Laden, Ayman Zawahiri, and al-Qaida, compromise also means surrender, and peace means war.
At the very moment when an Israeli helicopter was targeting Yassin, American and British special forces, with Pakistani soldiers in support, were engaged in a fire-fight against a substantial unit of al-Qaida on the Pakistan-Afghan border. President George W. Bush has repeated several times that he would like to capture al-Qaida leaders dead or alive. If the opportunity were to arise for any or all of these special forces, Western or Pakistani, to kill bin-Laden or Zawahiri as expeditiously as Yassin was killed, they would take it without hesitation.
Both Christians and Muslims, in other words, are defending themselves with the very same measures and moral values as Israelis. What, then, explains the uproar of indignation and condemnation released by the killing of Yassin? Can British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw really believe that his description of Yassin as “an old man in a wheelchair” is a necessary or sufficient definition? The EU foreign ministers in collective session have declared that the killing “undermines the concept of the rule of law.” Did that concept have any meaning either for Yassin or for those who attacked the Madrid railway station? Will observance of the concept be enough to thwart further terror attacks anywhere in Europe?
Beyond the usual humbug of diplomatic discourse, there seems to be an anxiety to pretend to Arabs and Muslims that all is well when evidently it is not. It is as if Arabs and Muslims were children who mustn’t hear the truth; that assorted Islamists are destabilizing Islamic countries and dragging them by the scruff of the neck into suicidal wars with the neighbors.
THE ABSOLUTE rulers of the Arab and Muslim world make it difficult for themselves, it is true, by playing to the street in the hope of earning popularity. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt says that the killing of Yassin is a “completely meaningless and miscalculated Israeli action.” In 1998 Yassin had just been released from an Israeli prison after a botched Mossad assassination attempt on another Hamas organizer (and both the attempt and the release really were miscalculated actions). He then toured Arab states collecting millions of dollars for Hamas. At the time, Mubarak had been energetically suppressing his Islamists, hanging them by the hundreds, and he made sure to refuse Yassin an entry visa. His current fury is a pretense.
Similarly, King Abdullah of Jordan speaks of the crime of killing Yassin; but, like his father, he has taken every measure to throttle Hamas in his own country. As for Arafat, he and his men have often shot it out with Hamas and engaged in kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, and other skulduggeries in what amounts to subterranean civil war. In spite of the three days of mourning he has decreed, Arafat is freed, at no cost to himself, from the main rival to his monopoly of power. President Pervez Musharraf is on the front line for the time being because Islamists have several times come close to murdering him, and he knows that he has to kill them before they kill him.
Hamas rhetoric promises to open the gates of hell, and of course it is possible that the death of Yassin will activate the Palestine sector of the Islamist struggle to frenzies of revenge and suicide bombings. Ariel Sharon and most of his government evidently decided that this was a risk worth taking. The implication must be that Israel will indeed be withdrawing soon from the Gaza Strip, to shelter as best it can in isolation behind its fences while the Palestinians sort their society out. The previous withdrawal from southern Lebanon was certainly another miscalculation, not in itself but because it was carried out with slipshod haste. Palestinians jumped to conclude that Israel was on the run, and might run further.
As Sharon resorts to his time-honored tactic of showing strength in the face of violence, Hamas is in no position to claim with any plausibility that withdrawal from Gaza is another step towards Sheikh Yassin’s goal of victory through the elimination of Israel. Nor is there anyone of equivalent authority or credentials to succeed Yassin. At least one report of his funeral mentioned a surprising atmosphere of depression in Gaza, partly because of the suspicion that some informer must have provided crucial information to Israeli intelligence and partly out of a general sense that the intifada has run its course.
The Arab and Muslim world is caught between a past that will not release its grip and a future not quite able to come to birth. Sheikh Yassin had no solution to this dilemma. His inhuman passion could only ensure that blood will have blood. Everyone, Palestinians first and foremost, is better off without him.