Salman Rushdie’s lonely crusade against Islamism

Too many ‘pro-Palestine’ liberals have failed to reckon with the reality of Hamas.

Daniel Ben-Ami

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Salman Rushdie has done the rarest of things. He has made a public pronouncement on Gaza, while remembering to think first. The author has, by his own account, argued for a Palestinian state since the 1980s. Nevertheless, in a new interview, he says that if one were to be created immediately, it ‘would be run by Hamas, and that would make it a Taliban-like state’. In other words, it would be a totalitarian, Islamist dictatorship.

Rushdie deserves a hearing here. He has decades of bitter, personal experience of the fanatical intolerance at the heart of Islamism. After the publication of his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, he was subject to numerous assassination attempts and death threats. These came after the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, declared Rushdie’s book to be blasphemous and issued a ‘fatwa’ against him in early 1989. As a result, he was forced to live under police protection for decades. Then, in 2022, he was stabbed while delivering a lecture on stage in New York. Through all this, he has remained a staunch public defender of free speech. He has refused to retreat into the shadows, despite all the hate levelled against him.

Given his own experiences, it is perhaps not surprising that Rushdie would want to draw attention to the baleful influence of Islamism on the current conflict in Gaza.

Speaking to German broadcaster RBB, he has acknowledged that: ‘Any human being right now has to be distressed by what is happening in Gaza because of the quantity of innocent death.’ But, he argues, we cannot ignore the role Hamas played in igniting the current conflict with the 7 October massacre. ‘I would just like some of the protests to mention Hamas, because that’s where this started’, he says. For Rushdie, ‘it’s very strange for young, progressive students to support a fascist, terrorist group’.

He argues that if a Palestinian state was created immediately, it would be a client state of the Islamist regime of Iran. ‘Is that what the progressive movements of the Western left wish to create?’, he asks. ‘To have another Taliban, another ayatollah-like state, in the Middle East, right next to Israel?’ He laments the lack of ‘deep thought happening’ in relation to the Gaza conflict.

Rushdie also does not shy away from highlighting the role of anti-Semitism in both the conflict in Gaza and in many of the protests in the West – a fact too often denied by those claiming to side with the Palestinians. While supporting the Palestinian cause, he notes that: ‘When it slides over towards anti-Semitism and sometimes to actual support of Hamas, then it’s very problematic.’

What Rushdie is arguing really ought to be apparent to anyone who thinks carefully about the Israel-Hamas war. Of course it is heart-wrenching to watch video footage of civilian casualties in Gaza and it is natural to feel empathy for Palestinians’ plight. But it is also vital to consider what is really driving the current conflict and, in particular, the role being played by anti-Semitic, Islamist movements.

All too often, anti-Israel activists portray the conflict in Gaza as a toytown battle between good and evil. In their view, Israel is the epitome of wickedness in the world and Palestinians are the ultimate victims. These simplistic characterisations help no one.

Israel has its flaws, like any other state, but it is absurd to demonise it to the extent that its enemies do. ‘Pro-Palestine’ protesters do not merely criticise Israel’s conduct – they smear it as a colonialist, apartheid state and accuse it of engaging in ‘genocide’. This is childish name-calling, not serious political thinking. It fails to recognise that Israel is engaged in an existential battle with an Islamist enemy that wants to wipe it off the map. Nor does it recognise that Israelis can be victims, too: the vast majority of the approximately 1,200 killed on 7 October were Israeli citizens.

Palestinians are not served well by this simplistic narrative, either. Casting them as the ultimate victims opens them up to manipulation by other regimes and political forces that can all claim to be supporting the Palestinian cause. It also allows narcissistic protesters in the West to soothe their egos with the ridiculous chant: ‘In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.’ None of this phoney solidarity has brought Palestinians any closer to peace or prosperity.

Most of all, this unthinking narrative paints the current conflict as involving only two main players: Israel and the Palestinians. It fails to recognise that Hamas is also part of a wider, international Islamist movement.

Indeed, Hamas does not even define itself as a distinctly Palestinian organisation, but as ‘one of the wings of Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine’ – that is, as the Palestinian arm of an international Islamist organisation that was founded in Egypt. That is according to Hamas’s own 1988 covenant, which it has never revoked. Contrary to the impression given by Western activists, Hamas does not see itself as a national-liberation movement fighting for Palestinian sovereignty. On the contrary, it is implacably hostile to what it regards as anti-Islamic notions of freedom and autonomy. It sees the destruction of Israel as a necessary precondition not for the liberation of Palestine, but for its ultimate goal of creating an international Islamic order.

Not all these details will be apparent to the casual observer. But it should only take a little thought to realise that the Gaza conflict is not a simple battle between Palestinian good and Israeli evil. It is a complex conflict which, as Salman Rushdie has rightly recognised, is made far worse by the involvement of Islamist forces.

Daniel Ben-Ami is an author and journalist. He runs the website Radicalism of Fools, dedicated to rethinking anti-Semitism. Follow him on Twitter: @danielbenami

Picture by: Getty.

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