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Have you ever noticed that English-language reporting on the Middle East presents us with a curious anomaly? Leaving proper names aside, if ever a non-English word is cited in transliterated form, it will almost always be in Arabic or (to a lesser extent) Persian, but practically never in Hebrew. Less odd, but with a similar significance is the fact that the majority of Arabic terms reproduced in the pages of serious newspapers and websites are concerned with either military topics (jihad, mujahid, fida’iyin/fedayeen, shahid, hudna) or religious affairs (fatwa, mulla, ulama, ayatollah, Allahu akbar) . Given the recent history of the Middle East, this isn’t surprising. But why have journalists made so little effort to learn the Arabic for ‘civilisation’, ‘peace’, or ‘football’ (kurrat al-qadam)? Why are they so bad at spelling personal names from Arabic, Persian, or Urdu? Why is Mahmud Ahmadinezhad always Ahmadinejad (fine for the French and Portuguese, misleading for English speakers)?

One simple reason for this, of course, is that the first two groups of examples I gave have, with one exception, no real English equivalent. It’s easy to say that jihad means ‘holy war’, but it is really much more complex than that (not least because the state can launch a jihad, even if it requires a fatwa from religious leaders to provide legal cover ). Words like these resemble the Welsh hiraeth, the French amour, the Italian dolce vita, or the Portuguese saudade… translatable, but only if you close your eyes.

However, there is that one exception, and it raises questions. It is hudna, which should be easily translatable as a truce or a cease-fire, but which has in a limited way entered modern consciousness as the word for a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and assorted Islamist terror organisations based in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, or Syria. Try searching the Internet for the Hebrew equivalent. You won’t find it, which is odd, since Israel is, in theory, the other side to these agreements.
The word hudna deserves a closer look. It’s not the only Arabic word for a cease-fire or truce, but it has become the most prominent. It’s not even a Quranic term, but it is the first word used in Muslim history for this purpose, specifically to describe the Truce of al-Hudaybiyya in 628 AD. Later, it became the standard usage for a cessation of hostilities during a jihad.

The Truce of al-Hudaybiyya came some six years after Muhammad and his followers abandoned Mecca for the town of Yathrib (subsequently Madina). This move, known as the hijra or emigration is of enormous significance for the classical understanding of jihad, inasmuch as it sets a pattern of retreat that is followed by regrouping, rearming and the strengthening of forces, which permits an attack on the territory previously left behind. It is widely used today by radical groups, for whom even conventional Muslim society becomes part of un-Islam as the Realm of War (dar al-harb) or the home of pagan ignorance (jahiliyya).

The Truce of al-Hudaybiyya was named after a village outside Mecca, where Muhammad and his followers had rested in 628 on their way to perform a pilgrimage. Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraysh, remained in control of Mecca and, having already experienced more than one attack from the Muslims over the past few years, feared some sort of engagement should they enter the city. A truce was negotiated, the essence of which was to permit the Muslims to return the following year, when the pagans would vacate Mecca and allow a pilgrimage to be performed. This truce was set to run for ten years, but came to an end two years later, following an infraction by a tribe allied to the Meccans. In 630, Muhammad entered Mecca with a small force and took the city peacefully.

The hudna became distinguished from other forms of disengagement from fighting, such as those applied to tribal feuds, clashes between city factions, rebellions against the monarch or his provincial governors, or other forms of fitna. Fitna, or mischief, was the greatest fear of classical Muslim society, which aspired, above all things, for perfect order under a Caliph or Sultan and the religious law, the shari‘a, as mediated by a partly independent class of religious scholars, the ‘ulama (and, more narrowly, the fuqaha or jurisprudents.

I haven’t yet read a journalist who knew about fitna. But not to understand it is to be ignorant of something vital to the course of Islamic civilisation. For all the greatness of their architecture, scholarship, literature, and so forth, traditional Islamic societies (like many medieval European societies) were a prey to disintegration. They lacked the stability of China, and in some respects contained within themselves forces that worked against permanency. Western societies overcame such tensions by creating nation states. Islam created a combination of empires and smaller states that were regularly in a state of flux, and this flux was always a cause of concern.

The reason is simple. As the late Ernest Gellner put it, Islam is regarded as a blueprint for society. It is a highly prescriptive religion in which church and state are never wholly separated. Rabbinical Judaism is a similarly prescriptive and legalistic faith, but until the creation of the state of Israel had no bearing on any post-classical state. And since the 19th century, Judaism has produced movements (Conservative/Masorti, Reform, and even Humanistic) consciously responsive to the changing needs of modern society, something Islam has yet to do.

To pious Muslims, Muhammad did not just bring a message for the salvation of men’s souls, but a call or da‘wa for the creation of a divine society on earth. To the extent that Islam offers salvation, it is in the act of conversion — voluntary or forced, it makes no difference. By virtue of reciting the profession of faith, al-shahada (‘I bear witness that there is no god but God, I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God’), the convert is physically saved from death, and, as part of the salvific community, he is guaranteed a place in paradise. The term islam itself means ‘submission’, and applies both to the individual’s submitting to God and a society’s acceptance of conquest by Muslim armies. Thus, Dar al-Islam, ‘the realm of submission’ signifies territory ruled (or once ruled) by Muslims, while territory ruled by unbelievers is Dar al-Harb, ‘the realm of war’.

The salvific community is, strictly speaking, the Islamic umma, a proto-nation (which has given rise to phrases like The Nation of Islam) whose membership depends, not on nationality, language, race, tribe, or whatever, but on faith. Jews and Christians who have refused to convert but have accepted the role of dhimmis or protected peoples, live and work within the umma, but they are not members of it. Unlike immigrants into modern Western states, who can acquire citizenship after a certain number of years, dhimmis can only become full citizens of an Islamic state by converting.

This can be seen at work in the present day in the denial of full rights to religious minorities in several countries. The best known cases involve the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt, the Ahmadis in Pakistan, and Christians in several countries. The expulsion of Jews from all Arab countries after 1948 was clearly prompted by religious considerations, given that those expelled were not Israelis, and the countries involved had suffered no territorial loss. Perceived from the perspective of the European Westphalian State system, the establishment of Israel was a legal outcome of the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire and the creation of a group of short-term mandates. But throughout the Islam world it has been perceived as a lesion, because it has hurt the umma.

But I was talking about flux. All societies have a ‘Golden Age’, a time when a just ruler presided over happy and prosperous subjects, when the weather was always fair and peace assured. Some religions dream of a future age when heaven is reflected on earth. Islam is no exception, but its chief framework for such visions is the umma and the belief that Islam will one day conquer the world. However it happens, that conquest will lead to the normalization of the world within Islam.
Here’s an extreme example of idealized prophesying of the future realm of Islam. The speaker is a young Palestinian woman, Ayat Allah Kamil, who had tried to carry out a suicide bombing attack. She is being interviewed by an Israeli woman, Manuela Dviri.

MD: Do you have any dreams for the future?

Ayat: Of the world becoming Islamic, a world in which we will all live in peace, joy and harmony, all of us, human beings, animals, flowers, plants and stones. Islam will even bring peace to vegetables and animals, the grass and the stones ... And you'll be able to remain Jewish, whatever you want; it doesn't matter, but in an Islamic world.

This almost New Age vision, with its unwitting evocation of a pacifist vegetarian hippy who has been dabbling in the Upanishads, does not sit well with someone who is doing a life sentence because she wanted to kill Jews indiscriminately. Outside the remarkable metaphysical speculations of the great Sufi mystic, Ibn al-‘Arabi, who tried to unite the universe in a theory of the oneness of being, I have never heard a more remarkable spin put on Islam’s unifying and pacifying abilities.
My reason for quoting this extraordinary – and, I think, sad – expression of faith is to show how very real it is for Muslims to believe in Islam, not just as something in their hearts, whose true reality they will experience in the next world, but as a unifying presence in everything, above all in human society.

The problem is that this does not happen in practice, at least, not very often. The 14th century sociologist and philosopher of history, Ibn Khaldun, set this out better than anyone before or since. We have already summarized his theory of social flux, but let’s look at it more closely now. His approach has been summed up very well by Issawi and Leaman:

Ibn Khaldun sees the historical process as one of constant cyclical change, due mainly to the interaction of two groups, nomads and townspeople. These form the two poles of his mental map; peasants are in between, supplying the towns with food and tax revenue and taking handicrafts in return. Nomads are rough, savage and uncultured, and their presence is always inimical to civilisation; however, they are hardy, frugal, uncorrupted in morals, freedom-loving and self-reliant, and so make excellent fighters. In addition, they have a strong sense of ‘asabiya, which can be translated as ‘group cohesion’ or ‘social solidarity’. This greatly enhances their military potential. Towns, by contrast, are the seats of the crafts, the sciences, the arts and culture. Yet luxury corrupts them, and as a result they become a liability to the state, like women and children who need to be protected. Solidarity is completely relaxed and the arts of defending oneself and of attacking the enemy are forgotten, so they are no match for conquering nomads.

Ibn Khaldun then traces very clearly the political and social cycle. Nomads conquer territories and their leaders establish a new dynasty. At first the new rulers retain their tribal virtues and solidarity, but soon they seek to concentrate all authority in their own hands. Increasingly they rule through a bureaucracy of clients – often foreigners. As their former supporters lose their military virtues there is an increasing use of mercenaries, and soldiers come to be more important than civilians. Luxury corrupts ethical life, and the population decreases. Rising expenditure demands higher taxes, which discourage production and eventually result in lower revenues. The ruler and his clients become isolated from the groups that originally brought them to power. Such a process of decline is taken to last three generations, or about one hundred and twenty years. Religion can influence the nature of such a model; when ‘asabiya is reinforced by religion its strength is multiplied, and great empires can be founded. Religion can also reinforce the cohesion of an established state. Yet the endless cycle of flowering and decay shows no evolution or progress except for that from the primitive to civilised society.

Although Ibn Khaldun’s empirical observations are the most accurate description of Islamic societies up to his day, it was not what most Muslims, especially Muslim clerics and statesmen, wanted to hear. For them, the ideal of a single umma remained an essential explanation of how the world was meant to work. God had perfected His religion in Islam, and it seemed only logical that this would mean a steady progression between the present and the Last Day. Progress would take place through conquest and conversion externally, and the consolidation of Islamicity within.

However, this expanding perfection could manifestly not be achieved so long as Muslim state fought Muslim state. To counter these tendencies there had to be a single, recognised authority for the Realm of Islam.

‘The crux of the doctrine [of jihad] is the existence of one single Islamic state, ruling the entire umma. It is the duty of the umma to expand the territory of this state in order to bring as many people as possible under its rule. The ultimate aim is to bring the whole earth under the sway of Islam and to extirpate unbelief.’ It is significant that the only major schism to divide Muslims, the rift between Shi‘a and Sunni, began, not over a theological point, but over an argument as to who was the true leader of the faith.

When the Prophet died in 732, he was succeeded by the first of four ‘rightly guided’ caliphs. Together, these men ruled the state of Islam for about thirty years, after which the caliphate passed to the Damascus-based Umayyad dynasty (661-750), then to the Baghdad-based Abbasids (750-1258). Later, the Ottoman sultans (1299-1922)of Istanbul (formerly Byzantium) claimed to have revived the Caliphate, which remained attached to their empire until Atatürk abolished it in 1924.
In practice, a single Islamic empire ruled by a single caliph lasted for only a short time. Civil war began during the reign of the fourth caliph, ‘Ali, who came to be regarded by the Shi‘a as the first of their twelve Imams. But not just religious divisions split the Islamic world. As the Abbasid caliphate grew weak (along the lines set out by Ibn Khaldun), so minor dynasties became the norm everywhere. The caliph remained the nominal overlord of Islam, but in practice, he had almost no power at all. And this was disturbing. How could men speak of a single umma any longer? But, in its absence, where was the religio-political order that Muhammad had come to create?

Particularly for those on the fringes of Dar al-Islam, one of the principal ways in which the Islamic state was able to assert its sense of strength and ever-advancing rule was the waging of jihad. Jurists agreed that the Caliph (or another legitimate ruler, ostensibly authorised by the Caliph) should make raids on non-Muslim territory contiguous to the Realm of Islam once a year. The aim of thus fighting the unbelievers remained either conversion or submission. Over the years, numerous jihad states came into being, their existence justified solely by their undertaking of the communal duty of fighting the unbelievers.
Should a Muslim victory seem remote, then the Caliph may declare a truce in the interests of the umma. ‘According to some schools of law, a truce must be concluded for a specified period of time, no longer than ten years.’ It is widely felt that such a truce is necessary when the Muslim state is weak vis à vis its enemies, and that it serves as a protection against further violence until the Muslims regain their strength and regroup, whereupon a fresh declaration of jihad may be made. Such a treaty is a hudna, to be distinguished from sulh, where the non-Muslim state pays tribute to a more powerful Muslim one, or an ‘ahd or covenant of security.

I have been weaving a very tangled web, but all will be made clear soon. In the modern period, all the strands I’ve mentioned earlier come together in a special way that makes this the most critical epoch in Muslim history. In the twentieth century, almost all the old assumptions about the direction mankind is taking had been abolished. By the 18th century or earlier, Muslims were no longer the top dogs. Ironically and painfully, unbelieving Christian nations were engaged in a colonial project that saw most Muslim countries pass under their control. This was a sort of blasphemy, for it directly contradicted the doctrine of Islamic supremacy.

There was more. By the end of the First World War, not only had the last Islamic empire bitten the dust, but a hodge podge of new nations, created in the style of the Westphalian state, had been brought into being. This went right against the principle of a single umma, and made very difficult the execution of any form of defensive jihad against the conquerors. There was no single leader to try (as the last Ottoman sultan had tried in the World War) to bring all Muslims together to combat the infidel. Instead, a range of kings and presidents (most of whom owed their thrones to Western intervention) were left to carry out a duty – jihad – they had no wish to carry out.

A new conflict was emerging, between Islam and the nation state. For individuals, the demand of new rulers in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere presupposed a break with traditional, religiously based allegiance. National policy required a new, Western-style loyalty. Before this, the very idea of a traitor to the nation state was simply meaningless. Issawi and Leaman put this well:
‘… for such judgements to be strictly applicable presupposes the existence of the idea of “allegiance” to a country, which was not the case. The very concept scarcely existed and was not to appear in Muslim thinking until it was affected by contact with Europe. The only treason was apostasy, nor was loyalty understood except in the context of relations between one man and another…’

For the pious, it was not long before this rankled. To become the ally of a Christian power contradicted everything Islam stood for. If Christians were allies or in a long-term treaty relationship, and if they were, in any case, almost impregnable, what would happen to the doctrine and practice of jihad? What would happen to the long-term of making the entire globe one Islamic entity?

But it got worse. With the establishment of the state of Israel, the long-despised Jews had a national home. Since this home was built on land that had ‘belonged’ to Islam since the Arab invasions of the 7th century, it was a double abomination, and the solution had to be jihad, however construed. Worse was to come: the Jews had teeth and could defend themselves, and they could do it so well they had to be counted among the impregnable Western powers.

At about the same time, something else entered Islamic thought. During the 1930s, the Palestinian Arabs, under the leadership of the Mufti of Jerusalem, the notorious Hajj Amin al-Husayni, came to see the Nazi regime in Germany as their potential saviour from the Jews. Al-Husayni dreamt of establishing a concentration camp in Nablus, in order to exterminate the Jews of the Middle East. It all came to nothing, of course, but the flirtation with fascism remains a shameful episode in Arab history. What the Reich would have done with the Arabs, it is not hard to guess . Unfortunately, many Arabs took and still take more than inspiration from the Reich. The new style of European anti-Semitism as developed by the Comte de Gobineau and his successors, and as perfected in Germany was taken almost wholesale into Arab speech and iconography. The Jew became the hook-nosed Jew of Der Stürmer and Nazi propaganda films. He became a master conspirator working on the orders of the Elders of Zion, a myth imported from Russia and still widely disseminated in best-selling Arabic translations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Contemporary Arab cartoons unequivocally demonstrate an abiding preoccupation with imagery and sentiments derived from the Reich, while no less disturbing are recent pictures of Hizbullah fighters, al-Fatah members and Palestine Authority policemen using the Nazi salute. A newly-opened Holocaust museum under the Palestine Authority commendably shows what happened to the Jews of that time, but proceeds to inform visitors that the Jews used their tragedy to engineer the creation of Israel and to dispossess the Palestinian people. More widely, for many years, especially under Yasser Arafat’s leadership, Palestinian intellectuals and journalists have repeatedly engaged in Holocaust denial. Indeed, Mahmoud Abbas, the current PA president and PLO chairman, claimed there were less than 1 million Jewish victims of the Nazis.

This acquired anti-Semitism created (and creates) numerous problems for Arab anti-Zionists. Western anti-Semitism is famously racist; that is to say, a Jew who had abandoned his faith or converted to Christianity was not spared by Hitler’s racist doctrine of the Jew as üntermensch. Whereas a Jew under Islam had the options of conversion or life as a dhimmi, a Jew in German-occupied Europe had no choice at all. Once Israel was established, Arabs became anti-Semitic almost to a man and called for the extermination of Israel and the annihilation of all Jews living there. This in itself has made the possibility of a truce even more remote.

Muslims had to contend with more than the military power of Europeans. The Christians (and, later, the Jews) had advanced materially, intellectually, and politically. They had parliaments, constitutional monarchies, republics, a free press, endless inventions, the ability to travel the globe at increasing speeds, universities, technological colleges, effective medicine, science, and women who played a role in public life.

This disparity is well demonstrated by the immense gap that has opened up between Muslim and Jewish achievements in the arts and sciences. Jews, with a population of about 12 million, have garnered no fewer than 164 Nobel prizes, in every field. Muslims, on the other hand, with a population of some 1.4 billion, have won a total of 6 prizes in a small number of fields. Even my own tiny homeland of Ireland, with its population of 5 million, boasts a total of 9 Nobel prizes, 5 for peace and 4 for literature.

This is not written in a spirit of ‘my tribe is better than your tribe’. For intelligent Muslims round the world, there is a pressing sense of having been let down by history. How, for example, is it possible, some ask, that a country like Iran, one of the most civilised and creative nations on the planet, a culture that has created some of the greatest literature on earth, a vibrant art and architecture, the greatest cuisine in the Middle East, music of great sensitivity and power, and a language that has spread throughout Central Asia and down through Afghanistan into India – how can it be true that this great country has made no serious contributions to the modern world outside of cinema?

What went wrong? Muslims face (and have faced for some time) a horrid choice. Either God is punishing them for some enormous collective sin, or He has abandoned them. But it’s unthinkable that inferior communities such as the Jews and Christians, or even outright idolaters like the Japanese should be enjoying the good things that had been promised to the Muslims in the Qur’an.

I don’t wish to make a direct comparison, but there are parallels between the Muslim sense of God having bowed out of history, and the way many Jews felt abandoned at the time of the Holocaust. Ironically, where Jews can cite Israel as a sign of divine re-affirmation, Muslims continue to be dogged by a sense of divine absence. Though no Muslim would use the term, I think the concept of hester panim applies to their situation as much as to Jews. The idea that God at times ‘hides His face’ from his people has exercised rabbinical minds for many centuries, and never so much as in their interpretations of the meaning of the Holocaust. Muslims have never suffered a Holocaust, but to many it must seem that God has turned His face away from the umma.

And yet, to think that way after centuries of triumphalism would surely lead to spiritual death. If enough people believed it, the faith would be undermined, and there would be a near-universal breakdown of Islamic society. It was as a response to this God-sized hole that had been driven through history that a series of Muslim thinkers throughout the 20th century put forward proposals for the reinvigoration of Muslim society. This is not the place for a description of the different thinkers and schools of thought that tried to redraw the blueprint for Islam.

However, what is worth saying is that the general tendency in most of these movements has been towards a jihadist interpretation of the situation, a form of religious activism that has led inexorably to the current wave of al-Qa’ida terrorism. Look at the Twin Towers attack in the light of what I have just said about a need to hit back.

The jihadists did something very interesting. Willing as they were and are to attack non-Muslim interests, they also saw themselves engaged in a war against their fellow Muslims. The Muslim Brotherhood martyr, Sayyid Qutb (d.1966) preached a jihad, not just against the West, but against what he saw as a backsliding, corrupt, and non-Muslim Islamic world. Governments that did not implement the shari’a, women who did not veil, those who listened to Western music, those who gambled or fornicated or drank alcohol – all fell under the condemnation of al-jahiliyya or ignorance, a term originally used to describe the period before the arrival of Islam.

This device, and others like it, have enabled militant Muslims to justify their doctrine of ongoing jihad, even though Islamic weakness dictates a cessation of hostilities, at least in the form of a truce.

There is a lack of logic here, but I think it can be explained. Just before the 2005 ceasefire was agreed, an article by David Grossman appeared in the Guardian. This is a balanced article, in which the author argues that both Israelis and Palestinians should publicly acknowledge that each has done the other harm, that they should override their perceived status as victims in order to concede that there has been blame for both parties.

‘Both sides have,’ he says, ‘in different ways, conceived their history around a sense that they are fated to be victims.’ Here, I think, he is at fault. The history of the Jews since the Diaspora has, until recently, been that of victimhood, and in sheer numbers, sheer horror, sheer injustice, nothing in history matches the Holocaust. From the establishment of the State of Israel on, Palestinians have portrayed themselves as victims, and that remains a central plank in their platform to the present day.

But until quite recently, Muslims have never conceived their history around victim status. Quite the opposite. Their view of history up to the last few centuries has been uniformly triumphalist. They have conquered, they have converted, they have built empires, and are not like the Jews at all in that respect. Curiously, if you listen to sermons or read Islamist texts, you will encounter a new form of triumphalism, a refusal to concede that Muslims have moved to a state of inferiority, or that Jews or Christians have put them there. And yet, hundreds of conspiracy theories proclaim a belief in hidden forces that sap the strength and suck dry the veins of Muslims. And there is a growing sense that Muslims are, after all, the true victims of the modern age. The modern Muslim diaspora (or much of it at least) focuses on the concept of Islamophobia, with a readiness to react violently to perceived offence that has no parallel in any other religious community.

‘[Professor Ali Mazrui] said that Muslims are victims of violent injustice elsewhere in the world without the globalisation of anger against the United States. Muslims in Kashmir and Chechnya in their struggle for self-determination are victims of the wrath of state security forces, he cited for example. Muslims in Macedonia are trying to cope with discrimination from Christian Macedonians; Muslims in Kosovo are facing the risk of reintegration with Yugoslavia against their will; Muslims in Afghanistan faced the Soviet Union earlier and defeated it; the Afghans have now endured military action by the United States.’

Psychologically, something quite complex seems to be going on. I am not the person to comment further on that. But I am conscious that an unyielding belief in Muslim superiority, mixed in with an almost ‘paranoid’ belief in the power of satanic Jews and impious Christians, is a major factor in preventing Muslims from moving forward. Like a patient in denial, they place the blame for everything that goes wrong, however major or trivial, on outside forces.

And what does all this mean for the present hudna, or any that is likely to follow it? The jihad is against the entire world, but Israel has become the focus for it. Since the jihad is deemed unending, and since Israel is going to stay there, I can see no end to the religiously-inspired struggle. ‘There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors’ (The Hamas Covenant).

That leaves a purely political solution to be worked for, but that cannot come about unless a way is found to control, not just the violent tendencies of the extremists, which means a total re-working of Muslim theology and social thought, something which has simply not happened. There are no Muslim equivalents to Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Reform Judaism. All the great Muslim thinkers of the last century and more have been deeply conservative.

For Muslims, the challenge is to move from a world view that sees all other religions and all non-Muslim people as inferior, Satanic, ignorant, and subject to Muslim conquest, to one that coheres more closely with modern thinking in Europe, the Americas, and the Far East, where there is competition between nations and corporations, but where religious hatred is steadily being relegated to the history books. To be honest, Jewish haredim, evangelical Christians, nationalist Hindus, and many others have to abandon similar prejudices. But given the extent of Islamic terrorism and its link to the provisions of the shari‘a, and given the very great gulf between Islamic thinking on human rights and the norms of the original Declaration of Human Rights, it is surely time for leaders to emerge within the Muslim world capable of taking their people towards peace and humanity. A long-term truce between Israel and the Palestinians would surely be a good start.*

As I write, the Palestinian leader Abbas Mahmoud is promising an agreement with the various terror organizations within his nominal authority. But unless the guns, rockets, suicide belts, and other arms are removed from circulation, the long-term prospects are not good. Already, Hamas have said they will end the cease-fire if Israel does not fulfill its part of the agreement by the end of the year. That is a self-fulfilling prophecy waiting to happen.

It is difficult to see how Israel or the West can have confidence in Hamas’s long-term aims. ‘In its founding covenant of 1988, the Hamas leadership, articulating its position on conflict resolution and its ultimate objective, advocated the utilization of one method — jihad: “There is no solution to the Palestine problem except by jihad.” This position suggested that there was a wholesale rejection of any mediated, peaceful resolution of the conflict. The Hamas leadership had an obsessive distrust of any externally and Western-inspired mediation centred on recognition of the state of Israel as a precondition for resolution. This meant that, in principle, Hamas was never comfortable with the notion of a ceasefire, because that clashed with the central concept of a historic struggle in which Islam and its forces were pitched against a political entity constructed as the Jewish state.’

On October 1 2007, it was reported that Hamas wanted another ceasefire with Israel. Their offer is not being taken seriously, but with Palestinian prisoners being released from Israeli jails in a gesture meant to provoke aspirations to peace in the heart of the Palestinians, a new hudna is not entirely unlikely.

Can Western governments do anything to prevent a new hudna running its usual course? One way might be to use a stick and carrot strategy with Palestinian terrorist groups, holding out financial and political incentives for constructive contributions (including attempts to dismantle the culture of violence), with clear disincentives for any return to killing. At its simplest, this would involve an ongoing emphasis on the road map, making the Palestinian Authority fully aware that nothing short of a total clamp-down on Palestinian terrorism will let them move forward to freedom for their people.

In the end, though, it’s down to the Palestinians and their allies, as much as it ever has been. If they could impose a hudna on their own side and not fire Qassam rockets or smuggle in weapons or sneak would-be suicide bombers into Israel, there could be a chance for Gaza to develop, and for success there to inspire progress in the West Bank. But a hudna alone won’t take us far so long as Hamas remains a viable entity.

Denis MacEoin

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Hudna is not the only Islamic term that is misunderstood by outsiders. The common term "allahu akbar" is frequently mistranslated as "god is great". The precise translation is "Allah is greater". This subtle difference is terribly significant. The Islamic call "allahu akbar" does not simply say that allah is wonderful, merciful or anything like that. Instead this call announces the supremacy of Allah over all other gods, including your own. This is why "allahu akbar" is the standard war-cry when killing infidels - by killing the kafir non-believer, Muslims reaffirm the greatness of allah and the inability of other gods to save their followers. This is no innocent religious chant at all. The repeated mistranslation of "allahu akbar", especially by pro-Arab journalists, has confused people and made it difficult to see threats, even when they are dire and imminent.

Posted by Jake in Jerusalem on 2008-06-24 12:22:54 GMT