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."
Hamas emerged as a movement without dependency upon the colonial power, in stark contrast to the Palestinian Authority, which has subjugated its extended existence willingly to Israel. Hence, the political superiority of Hamas lies in the fact that it is, according to the people interviewed by Dunning, both efficient and reliable, in terms of practical matters such as security, as well as in its dissemination of memory narrative, a trend that has been utilised in particular since the second Intifada. This shows that mainstream discourse and Western politics have been largely responsible for its portrayal as a violent entity dissociated from the colonial brutality that made the existence of such movements as Hamas imperative for the survival of Palestinian society.
Such mainstream depictions have relied heavily upon manifestations of violence such as suicide bombings as a form of resistance, which are disseminated by the media and politicians alike as action exclusive to Hamas, despite such means being used by other resistance movements worldwide. The West has constantly applied isolation tactics which intentionally distort the Palestinians' anti-colonial struggle through both Orientalist interpretations of suicide bombings as well as the indirect and erroneous attribution of victim status to the colonial power, rather than a legitimately-targeted oppressor.
What is marginalised consistently by such discourse is the mutual clarity formed by both Palestinians and Hamas with regard to colonial violence and international complicity. Contrary to the Western dissociation between armed resistance and politics as far as Hamas and Palestinians are concerned, the movement appeals to its broader audience through awareness and participation. Palestinians are aware of resistance being one of the components necessary for liberation, thus rendering the struggle both socio-political in terms of the colonial experience, as well as requiring internationalist efforts to combat Western complicity in sustaining the colonial project.
Palestinian participation, therefore, is a collective effort of Hamas and the people in finding alternative means of resistance, including, as the author points out, confronting Western democracy through the concept of democracy itself. For all its pro-democracy rhetoric, the West failed to acknowledge Hamas as the democratically-elected political choice of the Palestinians, despite the election offering proof of the movement's evolution into a political alternative that has confronted Israel even through diplomacy. Indeed, Dunning describes Hamas as embodying consistency and pragmatism, stating that, during the years following the second Intifada, the movement chose "to reinterpret resistance and jihad so as to align these concepts with political change and reform."
Contrary to Western misrepresentation of Hamas, the movement incorporates the centrality of Islam to anti-colonial struggle; however it is the vacuum left by Fatah's neglect for armed struggle and its penchant for compromise that led Islamic movements to embrace armed resistance. This is something that is missing completely in mainstream discussion about Hamas.
Ample space is given by Dunning to a discussion of the Islamic movement operating at a social level, through its institutions and education. Despite a lack of resources, Hamas has shown itself capable of self-sufficiency and enabled the empowerment of the community which has resulted in strong grassroots support. The author shows that while community development is not unique to Hamas, its involvement in community empowerment as well as providing basic security has provided another contrast to the collaboration between the PA and Israel. It is the West that has manipulated claims about charity institutions being advocates of terror and incitement. The author quotes another detailed study by academic Sara Roy, who also emphasised the separate administrative councils that run community development and charity institutions. Western discourse, in fact, seeks to undermine the fact that Hamas has retained contact with the deprived echelons of society, which has seen people increase their dependency on the movement while distancing themselves from the PA.
Dunning has managed to combine rigorous analysis without dominating or smothering the subject. His work not only provides insight, but also fills a gap, particularly with regard to Hamas rhetoric and pragmatism, that is often overlooked and fuels considerable ambiguity. It is not the resistance concept that defines Hamas, but rather the various options for which the movement has advocated that show it as a consistent entity, as opposed to a mere reaction to Israeli violence.