For as long as I can remember, Hamas and friends have been described as “terrorists” carrying out acts of “terror.” It feels like every other word that Israeli officials utter is “terrorist.” This word is flung about carelessly and repetitively by individuals and governments throughout the world, clouding it in political subjectivity and stripping it of explanatory and emotional power.
Robert Mackey of the NY Times discusses the use of the word terrorism, citing the political philosopher Michael Walzer, who describes it as “the deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, in order to spread fear through a whole population and force the hand of its political leaders.”
Hamas definitely fits into the category of “killing innocent people, at random,” but is it really in order to “spread fear through the whole population and force the hand of its political leaders”?
The Hamas charter states that “Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims.”
Hamas doesn’t want to force the hand of the State of Israel, they want to eliminate it. They believe that they will eventually destroy Israel and either drive out the Jewish population or subjugate it under an Islamic state.
It is harmful and misinformative to apply the word “terrorist’ to Hamas. This label implies that Israel is withholding something from Hamas, usually imagined to be a Palestinian state, and that Hamas does things like kidnap teenagers in order to force Israel’s hand and make her give Palestinians that thing. This is perhaps one of the biggest misperceptions at the core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
Yet, the reality is that there is no demand that Israel can possible accede to that will appease Hamas short of self-annihilation.
Instead of terrorist we should call Hamas what it truly is: a band of Islamic supremacists, kidnappers, and murderers, with aspirations to genocide and ethnic cleansing.
It may be that it is a bit easier to give members of Hamas, a group that is part of the Palestinian government, the subjective label “terrorist,” instead of the emotionally and morally charged label “murderer”, even if the latter is more accurate and appropriate.
No one wants to suggest that Palestinians would actually elect a group of Islamist mass murderers. There is a stilted political formality to the word “terrorist” that serves as a buffer, making it easier for the world to digest than “murderer.”
And it seems to me that the monotonous comfort of the word “terrorist”, and the noise of politics associated with it, has the power to drown out moral sensibilities.
How else can it be that good people in the United States can give support and legitimacy to a bigoted government involved in kidnapping and mass murder?