‘Many young men in Gaza have become increasingly radicalized. Pakistani-style dress has become common, as is the long hair that is thought to resemble the style of the Prophet Mohammad. At the same time, violence against ‘law-breakers’ is on the rise.’ – writes Mkhaimar Abusada, Professor of Political Science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.
Hamas Takes on the Radicals
by Mkhaimar Abusada
The recent shoot-out in a Gaza mosque between Hamas security officers and militants from the radical jihadi group the Warriors of God brought to the surface the deep tensions that divide Palestinian Islamists. Twenty-two people died, including the Warriors of God’s leader, Abdel Latif Moussa. But Palestinian security officials doubt that these will be the last casualties.
With Hamas in control for more than two years, the Gaza Strip has long been considered much more traditional and conservative than the West Bank. Nevertheless, in Gaza’s political milieu, Hamas is a moderate Islamic group that opposes al-Qaeda-style extremism. But such extremist Islamic groups have been gaining support in Gaza, and Hamas has noticed. The shoot-out in the mosque shows that Hamas will be ruthless in taking them on.
Various Salafi extremist groups have been operating in Gaza for years. Salafis, whose name is derived from the Arabic phrase for “righteous ancestors,” known as “Salaf al-Salih,” insist on a return to what they consider the purity of the practices of the first Muslims.
Hamas has, in the past, cooperated with some of the Salafis, assuming they would stand behind Hamas’s leadership. The Army of Islam joined in the raid that abducted the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006. The group also took responsibility for the 2007 kidnapping of the BBC’s Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, who was later released after negotiations led by Hamas.
The Warriors of God is one of a handful of radical, al-Qaeda-inspired groups to have appeared in the Gaza Strip in recent months, first coming to public attention in June after claiming responsibility for a failed horseback attack on Israel from Gaza. Their Web site shares images, language, and music with al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups. In a recent declaration, the group made favorable mention of al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The Warriors of God demands a pure form of Islamic practice throughout the Gaza Strip, including the implementation of Sharia religious law and a rejection of democracy. Indeed, the confrontation at the mosque followed the declaration of an Islamic Caliphate in Gaza, a flagrant rejection of Hamas’s authority.
Many young men in Gaza have become increasingly radicalized. Pakistani-style dress has become common, as is the long hair that is thought to resemble the style of the Prophet Mohammad. At the same time, violence against “law-breakers” is on the rise. Internet cafes have been bombed, institutions with Christian affiliations burned down, foreign schools attacked, and wedding parties assaulted.
There are substantial ideological differences between Gaza’s Salafi al-Qaeda affiliates and Hamas. As a ruling party, Hamas has insisted that its sole concern is the Palestinian people, not a global Islamic revolution. Hamas has not imposed Islamic law in the Gaza Strip.
The Salafi groups, however, appear increasingly influenced by the growth of radical al-Qaeda-style extremism in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. While traditional Salafi movements have stayed away from politics, the younger groups see activism and violence as the best means of realizing their goals.
But Hamas’s failure to establish and implement Islamic law is not the only issue that rankles. One of the reasons for these groups’ increased appeal is the de facto cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which has led some in Gaza to charge that Hamas has been neutralized as a resistance force. With the border closed under Israeli blockade for more than two years, levels of poverty, unemployment, and despair have grown, with young men increasingly interested in joining the global jihad as it comes to Gaza.
Indeed, Hamas’ confrontation with Salafi groups comes as Israel is charging that dozens of foreign terrorists have crossed into Gaza from the Sinai Desert to join the violent underground. Hamas’s crackdown thus highlights its desire to maintain control over its conflict with Israel.
The threat of Salafi extremism in Gaza is far from over. Salafis have threatened to retaliate against Hamas, particularly the security brigades that led the counter-attack on the mosque.
A new Salafi group called the Brigade of Swords of Righteousness has declared its obedience to the Warriors of God, and has warned Gazans to stay away from government buildings, security headquarters, mosques attended by Hamas leaders, and other official buildings. The group now considers these legitimate targets.
With hundreds of tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip and Sinai, it is very difficult to control the flow of arms, ammunition, and possibly foreign fighters. Hamas’s battle with these radicals, who detonated suicide bombs and killed six Hamas security men during the mosque fight, is just beginning. Residents are afraid that Gaza could become another Iraq, with bombings and mass killings a daily occurrence.
Hamas will use all means necessary to protect its power, and to break the jihadi groups now spreading in Gaza. In the process, Hamas hopes to win the international legitimacy that it has long sought.
©: Project Syndicate/ MDTimes, 2009.
by Natalie Leung
For how many times did you see someone cut their fingernails on a public bus? To me, the answer is countless.
I've seen this definitely unpleasant scene on both big and small buses, of Transmac and TCM. And these people, sorry to say that but as far as I remembered, were all women and mostly middle-age. No matter they were sitting in the front, at the back, near the windows or on a packed bus, it seemed that they didn't feel embarrassed or uncomfortable at all to fish out a nail clipper from their handbags, trim their fingernails one by one while everyone on board was forced to listen to the sickening noise of the manicure.
Yet just last Friday when I was on board the bus No. 33 going from Taipa to Macau, for the first time I saw a man, probably in his 50s, trim his nails in front of me, and in front of many others who were holding the handrails or sitting next to him.
I told my friend, a Portuguese, who was on the bus with me, that such behaviour was a complete nuisance. Although he didn't seem to be very annoyed, he did say that he never saw this happen in Portugal because it would be very unpolite to do so.
It was a complete shock to me when I first witnessed such an "extraordinary" scene, in Macau. I had never seen this in any of the places I had been to but only in Macau. Is it odd or not? I honestly don't know. But I can assure you that seeing someone trimming their nails in such a closed and cramped space on a bus really gets on my nerves. Every time I will imagine myself confronting the person, scolding at her (or him) that how selfish and disgusting it is to cut your unwanted, full-of-germs nails which may "bounce" to the hair or the clothes of someone sitting nearby, and even not to this "victim's" knowledge.
That's why I buy those scholars, lawmakers, experts or whoever's suggestion to the government that Macau is very much in need of comprehensive civic education.
Some may say cutting fingernails on buses is not such a big deal, but I will argue that the quality of the people can generally be truly reflected through seemingly trivial matters.
I would say one of the most straight forward ways to upgrade one's manner is through cultivating a lifetime reading habit. I believe a person who loves to read is very unlikely to do something improper in public, just like they won't pick noses because they understand it's a disrespectful behaviour.
In western countries such as Australia, the USA and the UK, it's very common to see people carry a novel around and read it while waiting for or travelling on trains or buses. A similar phenomenon can also be found in some Chinese societies except the novels are usually swapped to be handheld game consoles.
Having no major bookstore somehow tells us to what extent is reading prevalent in Macau. Once I heard someone saying no international bookseller was interested in the Macau market because they found no business prospect here.
So for now Macau people, especially those who are looking for a variety of English novels, can only resort to the massive basement bookstore across the border in Gongbei. Unfortunately Macau just isn't ready to earn book lovers' money yet.