Hamas and Hezbollah: The Religion Fallacy

Islam is at the heart of Hamas and Hezbollah's worldview, but it can't explain the current conflict with Israel.

Were Hamas and Hezbollah, the militant Palestinian and Lebanese movements, inspired to attack Israel because of their Islamic worldview? Islam is undeniably at the core of both Hezbollah's and Hamas's identities and ideologies, but there are also other important factors feeding the conflict currently raging with Israel on two fronts.

The raids and kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Hamas and two soldiers by Hezbollah have riveted world attention on these groups and raised the question of whether there is something in their devotion to Islam that leads them to consider Israel their sworn and eternal enemy.

What makes these actions particularly troubling to so many Americans, is the fact that both movements have a long history of couching their attacks on Israel in the kind of blatant anti-Jewish rhetoric that reminds people in the United States of Al-Qaeda's existential and seemingly irrational hatred of America.

And it is precisely the role of religion in the two-front war between Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah that causes many to worry that there is no peaceful way to resolve either conflict. But while understandable, this view reduces two interconnected conflicts (pitting Israel against the two movements) to a far too narrowly defined religious foundation. As we seek to understand the current conflict, it is important not to forget the political and strategic motives that have always played a central role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, if too often under a veneer of religious bigotry on all sides.

Both organizations and the larger movements they represent conspicuously define themselves as “Islamic” resistance movements; both see their actions as a legitimate “jihad” against an Israeli state that both see as religiously and politically illegitimate. And both endorse and practice the use of violence, including terrorism against civilians, as a basic tool in achieving their goals.

But it is as misleading to assume that “Islam” is the motivation behind the politics of the two movements as it is to chalk up the actions of the U.S. government to Christianity or the those of the Israeli government to Judaism. This distortion of religion has added fuel to the conflict and given each side a confused picture of the other.


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