Some four weeks ago the New York Times published an article on page four under the fold that appeared more as a curiosity than hard news ("Hamas Finds Itself Aligned With Israel Over Extremist Groups" 10.20.12). Given the events over the past week, the Times' reportage has taken on new meaning, and is hopefully an augury of better things to come.
The article opens with the following revealing observation:
Hamas, the Islamic group governing Gaza and was once considered one of the most extreme Palestinian movements itself is working to suppress the more radical Islamic military groups that have emerged here ... putting Hamas in the unusual position of sharing an interest with Israel.
According to the Times, radical Salafist groups have been active for decades in Gaza, engaging in charitable activities and most notoriously in extremist Islamic education dependent on donations from supporters from abroad, "mainly in the Persian Gulf States." That is to say, oil money from the likes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
After the Gaza elections of 2006 militant jihadists not only had Israel in their sights but also attacked restaurants and women's hair salons in Gaza. After a bloody and direct confrontation with the governing Hamas authorities in 2009 the number of attacks on restaurants and entertainment sites in Gaza has decreased significantly.
One can hope that the events of these last days, incited most certainly in part by Gaza Salafists, and in spite of its bloodshed by both sides, augurs a growing awareness initiated by the Arab Spring and on the Arab Street that is beginning to draw hard distinctions between the perception of their faith and the extremist dictates of the Salafist's fundamentally conservative doctrines extending to glorification of jihad.
If so, perhaps this past week's denouement may well be an evolution reflective for many on the Arab Street of a liberation from the deeply ingrained, conservative and too-often murderous jihadi mindset inculcated in the course of their formation. That a highly vital step is in progress aligning the people of the Middle East to a mindset more in sync with the modern world ranging from Asia, emerging Africa, Europe and the Americas whereby faith becomes a builder rather than a destroyer.
A Salafist leader is quoted in the article, "We are being chased down by Israel, Hamas and Egypt." Perhaps that's not such a bad combination!