Hamas and Islamic Millenarianism: What the West Doesn’t Recognize

Hamas and Islamic Millenarianism: What the West Doesn’t Recognize

Some 20 years after its founding, the Palestinian organization Hamas remains little understood in the West. Although it is invoked nearly daily in the media, it has been the subject of only a very small number of serious studies. The most common error made by observers in considering contemporary Islamist movements -- and notably, Hamas -- is that of attempting to grasp them in terms of concepts and modes of thought that are proper to the West. Most western analyses of the phenomenon of Islamism tend to underestimate or even obscure a fundamental element that is common to all the various Islamist currents and organizations: namely, the role of specifically Muslim religious beliefs and, more precisely, of Islamic eschatology.

Thus in his book "Jihad," a well-known French expert of Islamism like Gilles Kepel can explain Iran's Islamic revolution of 1979 as the result of an "alliance of the pious bourgeoisie and the poor urban youth." In similar fashion, numerous journalists continue to describe the perpetrators of suicide attacks -- both Palestinians and others -- as economically disadvantaged and driven by "desperation," even though all the research conducted on the subject demonstrates that such a Marxist-tinged sociological interpretation does not reflect the reality.

It is impossible to understand the success enjoyed by Hamas, notably since the Palestinian elections nearly two years ago, and the persistence of Islamism in general -- the decline or even proximate demise of which is regularly announced by Western observers -- if one fails to take into account the beliefs held by the members of Islamist movements themselves or if one diminishes their importance: dismissing them, for instance, as medieval gibberish devoid of any concrete significance.

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