Across the planet, radicalization among diverse Muslim-majority communities continues essentially unabated. Most Muslim communities have long ignored, are unaware, or live in fear of the root cause of that radicalization: the ideas of political Islam, or Islamism. There are innumerable opportunities to track and learn about what happens upstream from ideas fueled to send susceptible Muslims hurtling down the river of militant Islamism. But no single idea has given Islamist movements more return on their radicalization investment than “Palestinianism” and the marriage of that national identity movement with Islamism and HAMAS. Understanding this synergy or parasitism is essential to countering the perennially obstructionist and radical elements of the Palestinian leadership establishment. 

More globally, understanding this synergy is also essential to translating how the Palestinian front ideology for Islamism—Palestinianism—is then also capitalized around the world to radicalize other Muslims and legitimize Islamist supremacism. From the United States to Indonesia, this is not simply a phenomenon relegated to Palestinianism, but rather no ethnicity or nationality of Muslims is spared the ravages of the supremacist ideologies of Islamism. 

No single idea has given Islamist movements more return on their radicalization investment than “Palestinianism” and the marriage of that national identity movement with Islamism and HAMAS.

Islamists care nothing about the indigenous ethnicities they conquer. Instead their caliphism steals the grievances of others in order to drive a blinding movement across a people with a common identity. One of the primary worldwide oncogenes of this phenomena is manifested within the Palestinian movement. 

First, let us take a look at Palestinianism as an idea and then look at the idea of Islamism, vis-à-vis HAMAS. Last, we will look at how understanding this phenomenon carries within it the only path to defeating the propaganda machine of Palestinianism’s primary fuel—political Islam. 

Islamists care nothing about the indigenous ethnicities they conquer.

The idea of Palestinianism takes hold

Palestinianism, on its surface, was first described by apologists for the Palestinian movement toward statehood as a “mirror image” of Zionism and part and parcel of a two-state solution. In one of the earliest references to the idea, in 1973, John B. Wolf noted that an outgrowth of the 1967 war had been for Palestinians to recognize their “Palestinianism,” an idea which he noted would integrate them into their lost land and give them a political presence so far ignored. It was a formulation of an idea that essentially legitimized, whether real or not, a deeply seeded concept of a Palestinian state within the Palestinian consciousness. A national identity does not have to be real or even based in an actual existing state for it to quickly become a virulent inspiration of a collectivizing movement. 

Edward Said then gave the term new life defining it as “a political movement that is being built out of a reassertion of Palestinian multiethnic and multireligious history.” Said, a Palestinian-American author and Columbia University professor, made an industry out of obsessively blaming the West for their “bias” in framing the ills of the Palestinian movement. His premise was essentially that if the West changed its vantage point to being one primarily through the lens of Palestinian grievances, it would realize that Zionism (often articulated more obliquely under critique of colonialism or orientalism) was the problem and Palestinianism was the solution. His advocacy for Palestinianism inspired other Western Palestinian intellectuals and apologists like Rashid Khalidi to revise history and expand Palestinian identity from the cultural domain into the national and political domain. Khalidi, for example, later tried to counter the history of early 20th century Zionism by claiming that Palestinianism as a national movement existed long before World War I

This all recently came full circle as growing criticisms of radical Islamist American politicians like Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) were defended last year by anti-Zionists like Peter Beinart, who tried to claim that criticism of these high profile politicians was simply bigoted “anti-Palestinianism.” Beinart and others were feebly attempting to mirror their experience with anti-Zionism with an attempt at equating Palestinianism with domestic American identity politics. Tlaib, an Arab-American, has embraced her identification as a “woman of color.” Beinart made the hysterical claim that “the evidence that the Squad’s critics are anti-Palestinian is far stronger than the evidence that the Squad is anti-Jewish.” In effect, Palestinianism became a central driving force to minimize rank anti-Semitism and normalize the propaganda of Palestinianism. Therefore, clearly diagnosing what Palestinianism actually represents is key.

What exactly is Islamism and how does it inspire Palestinianism?

In short, “political Islam” or “Islamism” is a belief that Muslims have an obligation to promote the public application of their interpretation of sharia (Islamic jurisprudence), and where possible, establish Islamic states. Thus, a political movement embodied by a party or parties whose platform is centered on the advocacy and application of sharia under a collective identity and national flag of Islam is by definition—Islamist.

Islamists believe the Qur’an is the source of law, not a source of law. Argumentation within Islamist governments and parties is based upon clerical interpretations of God’s law, not upon a reasoned deduction of effectiveness of human law. Thus, whatever their interpretation of God’s law is not up for debate or liberty to reject. It is mandated. Citizen rights in the Islamic state are not inalienable from God but rather guaranteed by the “consensus” of the clerics or “ulemaa” (so-called scholars) chosen in this oligarchy to interpret Islam for the nation (or the ummah). No matter how moderate Islamists present themselves, they will always hold on tightly to the notion that a majority Muslim state must be identified as an “Islamic state” with clerical guidance to ensure society’s proximity to the Muslim path. Islamists, when a minority, can often appear to be lawful and to fit within the constructs of minority rights. They will often dissimulate publicly to deceive the population about their long-term intentions. 

Islamists believe the Qur’an is the source of law, not a source of law.

Islamists will use religion and clerical leaders to wrest control of government, society, and culture from the masses. Their populism, where it exists, is rooted in collective faith identity politics of “majoritocracy.” Terrorists do this by any means necessary; non-violent Islamists do it through patient advocacy and slow societal change and even democracy. Islamists try and run under the radar wherever possible, especially where they are a minority because whether violent militants or non-violent civilizational jihadists, their ends justify any means necessary. 

One should read the work of Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and those of other Muslim Brotherhood ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb, (author of the infamous treatise Milestones) to understand the all-encompassing transnational goals of lslamism. The philosophical father of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb, spent two years (1948-50) in the United States before going back to lead the founding of the Islamist movement in Egypt with his book Milestones, a short treatise that described the West as the land of Jahilliyah (ignorance) and evil. This treatise listed the ‘Milestones’ for establishment of the Islamic state in order to prevent the descent of society into the evil of the “secularism” he saw in the West. Certainly, the anti-Semitism found in Europe reinforced many of the Islamist constructs he developed for political Islam. The likes of Qutb used whatever constructs they could to advance their Islamist supremacy and discarded as ignorant other constructs that contradicted their Islamist goals. 

Islamism depends upon conspiracy to explain away the weakness of the Muslim condition and the need for Muslim collectivism and Islamic statehood and ultimately neo-caliphism. Although the Muslim Brotherhood has reportedly abandoned its open endorsement of terrorism and changed its methods to include democratic means after the Arab Awakening of 2011, its endgame (theocracy) is still anathema to Western liberal democracies. As I testified to Congress in 2018, the Brotherhood shape-shifts frequently, but its published mission has never changed. Its 18-month rule of Egypt again revealed what Recip Erdogan, the over 20-year President of Turkey and head of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), said in 1996 as Mayor of Istanbul. He noted publicly that “Democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your destination.” 

Democracy obviously is not just about the ballot box. It is about a system of law in which every citizen has access, and minority rights are defended. The ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood has flourished over the past century under the toxic atmosphere of despotic dictatorships and monarchies throughout the Muslim world, metastasizing into hundreds of Islamist splinter movements.

Islamism depends upon conspiracy to explain away the weakness of the Muslim condition and the need for Muslim collectivism and Islamic statehood and ultimately neo-caliphism.

An Islamic state, whether ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Turkey (under Erdogan’s AKP) will unite its military as a force fighting for the honor of that Islamic state, fighting for Jihad. The unification of 56 otherwise disparate states under the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is in effect a neo-Caliphate, which is inspired by an attempt to centralize the Islamist collective, whether each state is fully theocratic or pseudo-secular. This is extremely important to an understanding of Palestinianism as there is nothing more convenient to creating a consciousness of an “Islamic Empire” than fabricating and exploiting a national identity that pits Muslim grievances against a ”non-Muslim oppressor.” Islamists exploit this with Palestinians and Kashmiris alike. 

In 2005, Laurie Goodstein, in an interview of Zaid Shakir of the San Francisco based Zaytuna Institute, quoted Imam Shakir as saying, “Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country.” The Islamist lens and hijacking of any Palestinian grievances is rooted, not in truth about root causes, but rather in a Machiavellian anti-Semitism that has become an intoxicant not just for young impressionable Palestinian youth but also a rallying cry for Islamists across the planet. 

Most important, as long as domestic and global Islamist influences stranglehold the Palestinian communities, the Islamists of HAMAS have little desire to work toward peace and take in any honest brokerage for realpolitik. Their Islamist platform is wholly dependent upon an infinite propaganda of the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic narrative and the global leadership and funding it gives them from countries that may otherwise be their enemies, from Iran to Pakistan.  

Lastly, as much as an argument could be made that for the Palestinian Christian minority, for example, the Edward Saids and Hanan Ashrawis of the Palestinian movement, Palestinianism was more about a national, cultural, and historic identity, the reality is that HAMAS’ leadership infused an unmistakable definition which made Palestinianism equivalent to an Islamist theocratic state. The useful idiocy of certain Palestinian Christian leaders notwithstanding. 

The Islamist lens and hijacking of any Palestinian grievances is rooted, not in truth about root causes, but rather in a Machiavellian anti-Semitism that has become an intoxicant not just for young impressionable Palestinian youth but also a rallying cry for Islamists across the planet.

The link between Islamism and anti-Semitism

The link between Islamism and anti-Semitism is rather simple. It is self-evident that supremacists from within a particular faith community will create and exploit hatred toward another faith community in order to collectively rally their own followers against a common enemy. Islamists utilize anti-Semitic imagery as a tool for their own ascension into power among Muslim-majority communities and nations. Islamists often exploit both the Muslim Ummah and the Jewish minority in order to create a groupthink against the “other.” The demonization of Jews by Islamists is a key signal to all of us, not only because of its imminent threat to all Jews across the world from Islamists who may become violent or oppressive, but also because beneath that hatred lies a more global supremacism that treats all minorities from within the faith and outside the same, as obstacles to their own ascension. These theo-fascists use the demonization of minorities as populist tools to rally populations to their fascism.  

In Arab-majority nations, Islamist movements have always set themselves up to fill in the vacuum created by Arab authoritarianism and fascism. Per that playbook, Palestinianism, in its form as a supremacist racial national identity has found itself usurped also by the Islamist movement of HAMAS. HAMAS’ propaganda has always been that they are the “moral and religious” alternative to the secular, God-less, Fatah Party. They insist that their version of Palestinianism is far more moral and protective of Palestinians when, in reality, they are just as corrupt but keep the Palestinians beholden to grander global Islamist movement interests and the strings of every OIC Islamist regime that sends them aid and weaponry. 

 Islamists utilize anti-Semitic imagery as a tool for their own ascension into power among Muslim-majority communities and nations.

The hate created by both the secular and Islamist fascists in the Arab world has also tellingly fueled a mass exodus of the Jewish people that began in 1948 at Israel’s founding when there were more than 800,000 Jews living in Arab lands.  Today, it is believed that there are less than 20,000 remaining.  That exodus has carried over to the Christian community where it is believed more than two million Christians have fled the Middle Eastern Arab community in the last 20 years. This vacuum of religious diversity only fuels the Islamists’ supremacist mentality. 

The exploitation of Israel among Islamists is also virtually a litmus test for anti-Semitism. Martin Kramer, a Middle East scholar has noted, “Islamists see Israel as a symptom of a larger conspiracy against them either Western or Jewish or a sinister combination of the two. Many Islamists today do not look at Israel or its policies as their irritant. They look beyond, either to America, symbol today of the power of the West, or to the Jews, dispersed throughout the West where they exercise a malignant influence. These are deemed to be the real forces driving history.”   

Kramer highlighted in 1994 that Rashid al-Ghannushi, who later happened to become the Tunisian Islamist leader of the ruling Al-Nahda party (Tunisia’s equivalent of HAMAS) stated then that there existed, “a Jewish-American plan encompassing the entire-region, which would cleanse it of all resistance and open it to Jewish hegemony from Marrakesh to Kazakhstan.” This exemplifies the use of conspiracy theories by Islamist demagogues to portray a false narrative against Israel and thus by association, all Jews. 

These conspiracy theories then spread like wildfire and are exploited by fellow global Islamist movements of all stripes to broaden the conspiracy against all Muslims and provide more excuses for the failures of Muslim-majority nations. When the OIC met in Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahatir told the crowd, “The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.” Reports were that the crowd responded with a “resounding ovation.” This fits with the opinion polls from Pew for those nations.   

No one personifies the symbiosis of global Islamism and the HAMAS grievance narrative better than the de facto leader of Sunni Islamism across the planet, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Al-Qaradawi is an icon of the Islamist movement. His presence on Al Jazeera, teaching Arab masses about Sharia and Life with more than 60 million viewers, has made him one of the greatest threats to Israel and the West among Islamists. His influence and perch from Qatar upon the Islamist movement and Muslim majority nations is unparalleled. Any review of his work in Arabic would show how deeply central his apologetics for HAMAS and his demonization of Israel are. Again, global Islamism needs the Islamist narrative form of Palestinianism to fuel its continued existence. 

HAMAS 

HAMAS (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya- Islamic Resistance Movement) is a militant Palestinian spin-off of the Muslim Brotherhood founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in the 1980s. As radical as they were employing suicide bombing and jihad, they tried to portray themselves on the Palestinian street as the only viable alternative to Fatah, and more moderate than the militant PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad). HAMAS took over the Gaza Strip from the other Palestinian political party, Fatah, in elections in 2006. It rightly remains a U.S. designated foreign terror organization (FTO) because of its comprehensive utilization of terrorism underpinned by a charter and ideology that explicitly endorses terror and jihad. It still gets massive material and financial support from Iran as well as political support from Turkey and other OIC nations. Its politburo (governing council elected by its “shura council”) was long led by Khaled Meshal who was perched in Damascus until the Arab Awakening, and now is led by Ismail Haniyeh since 2017, who has operated from Doha, Qatar since 2020.  

HAMAS’ rule of Gaza, as it took over Palestinian Authority institutions, has left little doubt of the type of rule their Islamism brings. Its judiciary has empowered authoritarian institutions based in draconian sharia law which is misogynistic, racist, and Islamic supremacist against all other faiths. 

In May 2021, HAMAS and Israel entered their deadliest conflict in over six years. HAMAS and PIJ initiated the war firing thousands of rockets into Israel after weeks of tension in Jerusalem. Hamas likely lost standing among Palestinians, and globally, and found that the best way to curry favor with their followers in the Islamist movement was through engaging in armed conflict with Israel. Ten Israeli civilians were killed and more than 300 injured. Evidence showed coordination with the IRGC and Lebanon’s Hizballah. Israel was forced to respond militarily to remove the threat of rocket attacks posed by HAMAS and its terror supporters in Gaza. Soon thereafter a cease-fire was achieved, and Palestinianism only again grew stronger as HAMAS’ aggression somehow bolstered their victimhood narrative. 

Palestinians need their own ‘Arab Awakening’

Last year’s armed conflict between HAMAS and Israel, which started with HAMAS’ offensive launching thousands of rockets into Israel aided by the IRGC and other global Islamist interests, only ended with another embarrassing military defeat for HAMAS and its Islamist movement. Yet, the narrative always somehow works out for HAMAS regardless of the reality: a narrative of defense, not offense, of victimhood, not aggressor. Without Islamist supremacism, and its theological underpinnings, their conspiracy-laden fictional accounts would have little traction. Jihadists never lose. Even in suicide, they are the victors. Even in surrender, they will overcome. 

Why does all this matter? Palestinianism is a malleable tool that has certainly been useful over the last half-century for its anti-Semitic exploiters of all stripes, whether Islamist or Arabist or otherwise. Its fungible themes of identity politics, tribal collectivism, grievance narratives, and national supremacism have stood at the ready for any willing accomplice. Yet, the underlying fuel that drives the growth of the movement, despite massive losses year after year, is the inspiration of Islamism. Without Islamism, Palestinianism dies on the vine like every other supremacist national identity in the region before it. With Islamism, it carries the imprimatur of God, of Islam, of faith and the Hereafter. When Islamism is parasitizing Palestinianism, any Islamist Muslim can be a “Palestinianist.” It is quite the phenomena that Pakistani Islamists in the Jamaat Islamiya party, Islamist Supremacists in the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, Islamists in Qatar, Egypt and across the West all chant the Islamist mantras of Palestinianism. Regardless of their own national identity, each are conferred honorary citizenship vis-à-vis Islamism. 

Palestinianism is a malleable tool that has certainly been useful over the last half-century for its anti-Semitic exploiters of all stripes, whether Islamist or Arabist or otherwise.

Invoking Palestinianism can happen literally during any Islamist attack across the planet. As so-called ‘mainstream’ Islamists from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS) took up the grievance narrative of Lady Al Qaeda, Aafia Siddiqui, the MIT graduate jailed in a federal prison with an 86-year sentence in Texas for trying to kill American soldiers and planning a terror attack in New York City, they radicalized many including a British national, Malik Faisal Akram. Akram attacked a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue on January 16, 2022, taking hostages and demanding Siddiqui’s release. Thankfully, the terrorist was shot dead and the hostages released. It should, however, come as no surprise that this Pakistani cum British radical Islamist immediately targeted the Jewish community when he decided to get vengeance for his militant hero, Aafia Siddiqui. Siddiqui, like her students, was barbarically anti-Semitic. During her trial she demanded that jurors be tested genetically for their Jewish identity. From Afghanistan to Texas, Islamists find immediate common ground as Palestinianists blaming their ills of the day not on the Islamists but upon Israel and the West. 

Interestingly, the Abraham Accords have given new hope to the normalization of relations between some of the Arab gulf states and Israel. They have begun to rupture the once impenetrable front of Muslim-majority nations in the OIC against the state of Israel. But still, Arab monarchies are lower-hanging fruit since as Arabists they will take self-interest and self-preservation over Islamist ideologies every day of the week. While their concessions away from the tired history of anti-Semitism against Israel are a major step forward, it does little to fracture the Islamist hold on Palestinianism. 

In the end, the only viable pathway forward will come when the Palestinians themselves marginalize and defeat the global Islamist movement’s stranglehold on their communities vis-à-vis HAMAS, PIJ, and their tentacles. Palestinianism is a natural front for Islamists to work hand-in-glove with Palestinianists. Yet, it matters little to any of them that the Islamists do not have a care in the world about the actual grievances of Palestinians as they, instead, simply create more grievances. 

Islamists hijack the consciousness of Palestinians, use it for their own global purposes in jihad and caliphism, and dismiss their own crimes against humanity and the radicalization of coming generations. 

In the end, the only viable pathway forward will come when the Palestinians themselves marginalize and defeat the global Islamist movement’s stranglehold on their communities.

Reformist Muslims, with our eyes on the target of the only cure, counter-Islamism, are harboring no illusions. The struggle against Islamism is generational but must be realized. Peace and self-determination for Palestinians can only come after they have shed their Islamist masters. With the Arab Awakening marching across the Arab world, many hoped that it would come to Gaza in protests against HAMAS as well as Fatah. But unfortunately, the battle for the soul of Palestinians has yet to be realized. 

The only pathway for generational security of Israel from Islamists, whether Palestinianists or otherwise, is to join the West in a systematic, public-private, broad-based anti-Islamist strategy to combat Islamist ideology. All free thinkers and liberal leaders in the West, and across the planet, must take sides within the House of Islam with the dissidents against the Islamists. Our Muslim Reform Movement coalition in the West has the makings of a template of how HAMAS, Palestinianists, and other Islamist supremacists can be defeated.

Taking the side of reform-minded Muslims who champion liberty and eschew Islamism, must be the centerpiece of the strategy. Our Muslim Reform Movement is a coalition formed in December 2015, united in our common opposition to theocracy and tyranny, and in the defense of liberty. Our Declaration of the Muslim Reform Movement articulates what we are for and what we are against. No Islamists or Palestinianists would ever be able to honestly sign that declaration. Within its principles and leadership coalition is the makings of the only strategy with an antidote to the poisonous intoxicant of Islamism within Palestinianism.


Footnotes

Wolf, J. B. (1973). Black September: Militant Palestinianism. Current History, 64(377), 5–37. http://www.jstor.org/stable/45312785

Said, Edward (2007). “The Palestinian Experience (1968-1969)”. In Rubin, Andrew; Bayoumi, Moustafa (eds.). The Selected Works of Edward Said, 1966 – 2006. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 14–37.

Khalidi, Rashid. The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance 1917-2017. 2020.

Martin, Richard C and Barzegar Abbas Ed. Islamism: Contested Perspectives on Political Islam. 1st Edition. Stanford University Press. 2010. Part 2: Political Islam, Liberalism, and the Diagnosis of a Problem by M. Zuhdi Jasser pp. 104-109.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Threat. Hearing Before the Subcommittee on National Security of the committee on Oversight and Government Reform. House of Representatives. 115th Congress. Second Session. July 11, 2018. Serial No. 115-90.

 The Salience of Islamic Antisemitism: It’s not just about Israel, but neither is it the nature of Islam. Institute of Jewish Affairs Reports.  No 2. October 1995.

Schrag, Carl. Malaysia’s Casual Anti-Semitism. Slate.com.  October 20, 2003.

Jasser, M. Zuhdi. Anti-Semitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths. Testimony to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. U.S. House of Representatives. February 27, 2013.

Bartal, Shaul, Rubinstein-Shemer, Nesya, and Karsh, Efraim. Hamas and Ideology: Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi on the Jews, Zionism and Israel (Israeli History, Politics, and Society). 1st Edition. 

CFR Backgrounder: What is Hamas. Zachary Laub and Kali Robinson. Council on Foreign Relations. August 17, 2021.