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Opinion: Hamas and the Culture of Death | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas Gaza government, talks to his supporters during a Hamas rally marking the anniversary of the death of its leaders killed by Israel, in Gaza City March 23, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST ANNIVERSARY)

Linguists are well aware that language is far more important and profound than being a mere instrument of expression. It is a complete system for thinking, a complex network of signifiers and signified, a system teeming with meanings and symbols. Therefore, in order to know someone’s educational level, ideology and world view, it will be enough to look carefully at their language, the vocabulary they commonly use and the meanings that occupy a central position in their verbal lexicon.

However esoteric, ambiguous or coded someone’s language might be, it still reveals their thinking, intellectual background and worldview.

In light of this linguistic approach, how should we read the recent statement by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh? “We are a people that love death for the sake of Allah as much as our enemies love life,” he said. What is the cultural authority that deals with death from the perspective of love? Death is the greatest dilemma in life, and the Qur’an itself describes it as a “calamity.” Mankind has always striven, through art and beauty, to overcome this. So how can death be described as the subject of love?

On the one hand, we have love. Indeed, Haniyeh went even beyond this, using the Arabic term ishq, a very passionate or deep form of love.

On the other hand, we have man’s most problematic existential dilemma: Death.

As a result, Haniyeh’s statement implies a shocking paradox involving two contradictory signifiers that do not belong on the same symbolic register.

I think this shocking sentence can only be read in terms of psychology, culture and politics. On the psychological level, there is a kind of an illusion that betrays Haniyeh’s adoption of a false defense strategy. Despite all the arrogance, self-esteem and self-confidence it implies, his statement actually reveals a state of disappointment and despair. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this avowed expression of the “love of death” represents a kind of a symbolic suicide pact.

Culturally speaking, we also notice the dominance of patriarchal modes of thinking and public pressure over his discourse. The reality is that this state of love can only be personal and individualistic, in contrast to the love of life, which is a phenomenon enjoying implicit and explicit consensus.

That this senior Hamas Movement figure has declared his love of death points to a mistaken understating of Islam and a historical reference that is only weakly and forcibly linked to an out-of-date concept of “jihad.”

Thus, we are facing a dogmatic discourse whose violence-laden ideological background has only helped incite conflict with Israel and enable Tel Aviv to promote damning evidence against the Arab and Islamic culture as a whole before the international community. More importantly, is Mr. Haniyeh—with his over-the-top expression of his love of death—representative of the Palestinian people as a whole? Does his statement mean that all Palestinians love death?

I believe that the Palestinian people, like any other people in the world, love life. Otherwise, what is the point of struggle and negotiations or just trying to survive?

The discourse and culture of death have not brought the Palestinians any significant results. In fact, Palestinian and Arab blood has been wasted, and grief has nestled for a long time in our hearts as a result.

The discourse of the love of death is death in itself!

Of course, in political terms, those who adopt such a discourse are usually isolated or under siege. This is precisely the situation that Hamas finds itself in today. The Palestinian cause is in a weak strategic position, both regionally and internationally, while Hamas finds itself in an even weaker position following the crises that have struck the Muslim Brotherhood organization.

It is not responsible for a politician to deliver an emotional, defeatist and pointless speech such as this. Politicians are supposed to provide solutions and have the ability to surprise their people with their intellectual and political wisdom, rather than proudly signing their own death certificates. It is even more shocking to know that the rally during which Mr. Haniyeh made this statement was held to mark the anniversary of the assassination of a number of senior Hamas leaders. It is occasions such as this, more than any other, that call for declarations of the love of life and the future, not death.

Mr. Haniyeh could have scored a significant point over his opponents if he had, just as enthusiastically, said: “We love life more than our enemies do.” Only then would he have driven home a positive message to the world, not to mention the life-loving Palestinians who have grown fed up with such defeatist and depression discourse.