Monday, July 23, 2007

The Challenge of Progressive Solidarity: Hamas, Palestine, plus a Fishy Analogy

The question is: how do we support the people of Palestine without endorsing the Hamas leadership? Let's be clear: Hamas' long-term social vision is repressive. Hamas is a movement driven by militarism and nationalism. It aims to institutionalize reactionary ideas about gender and sexuality, and it uses religion as a smokescreen to pursue its agenda.

And there is another, equally important question: how do we put forward this critique of Hamas without reinforcing the Bush Administration's anti-Arab, anti-Islamic rhetoric? We do that by taking a stand for a sane and humane US policy in the Middle East. When we demand an end to both Israeli occupation and US attempts to control the resources and governments of the region, we refuse to be conscripted into Bush's "war on terror."

Some people worry that criticizing Hamas means casting doubt on the legitimacy of its leadership. It doesn't. MADRE recognizes that Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council through a fair election and that Hamas must be part of any future negotiations. And MADRE acknowledges that Hamas has enabled many Palestinians to survive the ravages of Israeli occupation by providing healthcare, education, and other critical social services to families in need. We don't contest the legitimacy of Hamas' rule, but that doesn't mean that we are required to support them—any more than we are bound to support the new administration of Nicolas Sarkozy in France or any other elected government.
This article is relevant for more than this specific situation. It speaks to a very important question: how do we make a difference in this world while being neither insular nor reflexive nor by reinforcing the colonial order of things?

We have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, we need to acknowlege and respect the specificity of experiences in other cultures that differ from our own - this to avoid imposing our Western values upon others. And yet we need to not give up on the values that make us progressive. I believe a big part of that is rather than trying to dictate the terms of our support, we need to listen to the voices of the disenfranchised, whenever possible taking our cue from them. The organizations who are fighting for justice, equity, and human rights within their own countries don't need us to tell them what to do. Indeed, we can often learn from them. And those organizations we disagree with, do not need our unconditional support.

We do not have to make a choice between Fatah and Hamas. We can understand and support the right of the Palestinians to elect Hamas, while disagreeing vehemently with the platform and tactics of Hamas. Sort of like how we do not have to offer one of Obama or Hillary our unconditional support.

Our greatest responsibility to the people of the two-thirds world is probably at home - meaning, preventing our own governments and corporations from following policies that are often the root cause of so much violence, misery, and suffering. To paraphrase/mangle something I read the other day, that saying about not just giving someone fish, but teaching that person how to fish, needs to be updated. You best belive a people located in a coastal region knows how to fish. They don't need our charity, nor our patronizing fishing lessons. They need us to stop polluting the water. Or to stop arresting and killing them when they fish.


Anonymous said...

Yes it's all very difficult and precarious. Good post.

Alison said...

Great post.
Rory Stewart, who walked across Afghanistan and who I think you've already blogged about once before, says the people of Afghanistan already have everything they need to survive and grow, even taking into consideration the legacy of Soviet and western meddling.
Re your fishing analogy, it would also be helpful if we stopped poisoning all the fish.