Peter Oborne should read his own newspaper before telling us about the glories of a democratically elected Hamas.
In a piece for the Daily Telegraph about the rapidly changing terrain of Arab politics, Oborne is heavily critical of America’s support for undemocratic dictatorships in the Middle-East. Taking what he believes to be a lesson from recent history, he writes:
The biggest problem is that America wants democracy, but only on its own terms. A very good example of this concerns the election of a Hamas government in Gaza in 2006. This should have been a hopeful moment for the Middle East peace process: the election of a government with the legitimacy and power to end violence. But America refused to engage with Hamas, just as it has refused to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or to acknowledge the well-founded regional aspirations of Iran.
Some may argue that the real story here is his final point about Iran, but let’s try to concentrate on his hackneyed take on this progressive and democratic movement called Hamas. First, it should be pointed out that he and many others are fully justified in their admonishment of decades of American support for dictatorships in the Middle-East. It has long been the most shameful aspect of Western foreign policy in the region. Yet it seems that the hypocrisy of Oborne’s position is, as yet, completely lost on him; for years he has advocated the legitimisation of Hamas, a group with all the makings of a violent, authoritarian regime.
His own newspaper tells us today that
…after nearly four years of Hamas rule, the Gaza Strip’s small secular community is in tatters, decimated by the militant group’s campaign to impose its strict version of Islam in the coastal territory.
“In the end, the people who think differently are leaving,” said Rami, a 32-year-old activist in one of Gaza’s few secular groups. He refused to give his last name, fearing retribution.
Ah yes, that’s what democracy is all about, isn’t it? If you think differently from the regime, leave or you’ll likely get roughed up, or worse. This is no news flash; Hamas has imposed strict Islamist rules since coming to power, and has killed countless political opponents. In that age-old democratic tradition, Hamas has refused to allow voting in Gaza for the elections that were meant for January of this year, primarily because polling shows that it is very unlikely to win. Even polling from as early as 2007, only a year after Oborne’s ‘hopeful moment’ when Hamas were elected, showed their support among Gazans to be rapidly dwindling: of the 450 residents interviewed, only 23 per cent said they supported Hamas, with 66 per cent of them claiming they would vote Fatah if took on a programme of reforms. More recent polls tell us that Gazans are even more desperate to rid themselves of violent theocratic rule, yet Oborne still thinks that Hamas should still be treated as legitimate representatives of a large proportion of Palestinians, cynically using their plight in his recent op-ed to get one over on supposed American imperialism.
Here, Oborne again fails to read his own words. His constant apologia for Hamas smacks of past British imperialist attitudes towards violent factions in the sub-continent, as do his attempts to sanitise the group in the face of overwhelming evidence of Hamas brutality. He, and many like him, are carrying the torch for an old British mindset which holds that the Arabs are an inherently violent people, and that we should expect (and accept) that their leadership will reflect this. When approaching Oborne’s position with this in mind, it becomes much easier to understand how and why he is so able to dismiss Hamas’s violence and thuggery as irrelevant and inconsequential.
It is no coincidence that he shares very similar views on the British domestic front. As I have pointed out before, he advocates the empowerment of leading non-violent Islamist institutions in the UK as representatives of British Muslims, apparently in the belief that the best we can hope for from Muslims is a pledge not to blow anyone up (in London at least). This approach, endorsed after the 7/7 bombings and which is now being gradually rejected by David Cameron, is widely regarded as a leftover of British imperialist dealings with minorities, where incredibly diverse groups of people were lumped together and expected to come up with a single group or person who spoke for them.
It is important that the West accepts the shambolic, and at times disgraceful, role it has played in Arab politics over the last 50 years, but no one should be listening to a man who is so riddled with double-standards and anti-Americanism that he can’t even keep his wildly contradicting views in separate articles.