21 July 2014

Hamas is not a terrorist organization

It seems that the media and politicians can hardly mention Hamas, much in the news these days, without referring to it as a terrorist organization. And indeed a number of governments, including our own, have officially labelled it as such. But we might keep in mind that our government at least is sycophantically pro-Israel and labeling Hamas terrorist is very much in Israel's interest. So is Hamas truly a terrorist organization or is this just a political ploy?

We might start by defining "terrorism," a notably slippery task. I will, for the purposes of this discussion, borrow from Wikipedia: "violent acts that are intended to create fear (terror); are perpetrated for a religious, political, or ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants." So, has Hamas committed such acts? Yes, it has. But then so has Israel, Hamas's nemesis. Indeed, Israel's current actions in Gaza might fit the above definition rather well. And of course the two greatest terrorist acts in all of history—the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—were committed by our great and good friend, the United States.

Yet we have never labelled Israel or American governments terrorist organizations. Why? Well, there is a logical reason. Although their military arms have committed terrorist acts, they are a great deal more than their militaries. The governments responsible were and are complex, comprehensive institutions with social and political arms as well as military arms. It would not make sense to categorize them by only one of the many activities of only one of their parts.

But the same logic applies equally to Hamas. Its military arm has used terrorism, but the organization also has a social welfare arm and a highly successful political arm. Hamas, after all, won the last all-Palestinian election in 2006 and is, in fact, a democratically elected government, not merely an organization. Reuven Paz, Israeli scholar and specialist in Islamic movements, has stated that 90 per cent of Hamas’s activities involve “social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities.”

So to categorize Hamas as a terrorist organization is no more logical than to categorize other governments as such if they commit terrorist acts, and many do. What then is the way out of this definition conundrum? We must not only define terrorist acts, we must also define a terrorist organization—another slippery task. I suggest that it be defined as an organization or government whose behaviour consists primarily of terrorist acts as defined above.

This will allow us to exclude culpable Israeli and U.S. governments, but we must also exclude Hamas. So let's put an end to the political fiction and recognize Hamas for what it is—a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. It will be very difficult to achieve peace in the region until we do.


  1. It is interesting to me that if one is guided by the definition you used, almost every military action in the past century could be seen as an act of terrorism. This leads one to believe that the modern use of the term "terrorism" could be more simply defined as "a term used by a group or government to characterize the acts of their opponents."

    Unfortunately, neither the US nor Israel is going to be honest about their real goals and the first and most consistent casualty of war is truth.

  2. reading your blog. very good. Thanks.

  3. As I point out, Kirby, defining "terrorism" and "terrorist organization" is a slippery business. One problem is the matter of intent. There is general agreement that a terrorist act is intended to achieve, by intimidation, a political goal.

    Keeping that in mind, consider the 9/11 attacks. If the perpetrators intended to intimidate Americans into some sort of behaviour, then the attacks were terrorism. But if they were solely intended as revenge for perceived slights against Islam, they were terrifying but not, by the standard definition, terrorism. To the victims, it hardly made a difference. The attacks were mass murder and should have been treated as such.

    But politically, it was quite important. Branding the attacks as terrorism helped Israel and its allies demonize Hamas thus dismissing it as a legitimate agent of the Palestinian people. The term has been similarly exploited by governments around the world to dismiss the legitimate claims of various groups.

    It is a term that, by overuse and misuse, has become, as you suggest, little more than an instrument of propaganda.

  4. Great piece. A voice of reason against the deluded propagandists.