Veering away from the disparaging rhetoric that characterises the West’s intentional misrepresentation of Hamas, Tristan Dunning’s informative treatise Hamas, jihad and popular legitimacy (Routledge 2016) employs a rigorous dissection of how resistance has shaped recognition of the movement in Palestine. He looks at this both as an alternative to the corruption embodied by the Palestinian Authority, as well as a natural anti-colonial response to Israel’s presence. Hamas, it is clear, is concerned primarily with education, societal welfare and community welfare for Palestinians as a base from which it can strengthen its resistance to the Israeli occupation.
Combining research with surveys and semi-structured interviews, Dunning manages to impart a comprehensive approach that portrays the political strength of Hamas and its concessions which signify a willingness to embark upon several approaches, as well as the contradiction between anti-colonial resistance and diplomacy. It is, in fact, an issue that is highlighted several times within the book, and is expressed succinctly by a Hamas member: “For the Palestinians nowadays, you may find different levels of understanding the term of resistance… But in general, some Palestinians look at resistance as a military action by its elements, while some Palestinians look at the resistance as a preparation for resistance – a resistant act.”
The book commences with an appraisal of prevalent discourse regarding Hamas, which often incorporates an Orientalist tone that increased within the macabre “war on terror” metaphor in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US. Dunning insists that mainstream discussions regarding Hamas fail to recognise “the complexity of socio-political insurgent movements”, which in turn dilutes Palestinian political consciousness in order to form a narrative that is synchronised with Israel’s security rhetoric. As he shows, shunning the existence of Hamas as a movement that advocates resistance as a practical right enables the West to apply the “terror” label indiscriminately, without considering the complexity of such resistance movements.
A vital component of the book is the methodical differentiation between Hamas and political violence; both terms are used synonymously by the West, yet political violence as a consequence borne out of Israeli colonial oppression is only one facet of the movement. It is the constant exposure to colonial violence that led to the need for armed anti-colonial resistance. As Dunning writes, “This perception of existential survival generates a variety of psychological, practical and retaliatory reactions among the threatened populace.” Read more.