Cliff May

“Extremists link up with extremists." So said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week upon hearing that Ayman al-Zawahri, the top deputy to Osama bin Laden, had released a message enthusiastically supporting Hamas’ bloody takeover of Gaza.

Public relations-wise, Hamas’ leaders are pretty savvy. So last week, even while Hamas gunmen were slaughtering their Palestinian opponents, they also were placing ludicrously disingenuous op-eds in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The International Herald Tribune. (Why the Times, the Post and the Herald Trib would give space to terrorists is another matter.)

This week, Hamas attempted to distance itself from the al-Zawahri endorsement -- while being careful not to criticize al-Qaeda. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said simply: "Hamas has its own program … we want to have good relations with all Arab and Muslim powers …"

The truth is that Hamas and al-Qaeda are – ideologically -- connected at the hip. Both are terrorist organizations – Hamas has been so designated not just by the U.S. but also by the European Union. Both al-Qaeda and Hamas are in the business of waging what they believe will be the final war against the infidels.

There is one distinction: Whereas al-Qaeda will fight on any battlefield anywhere it thinks it can defeat “crusaders and Zionists” – and it is convinced it will soon accomplish that mission in Iraq -- Hamas’ primary goal is more modest: to wipe only Israel off the map. In other words, al-Qaeda thinks globally, Hamas acts locally.

Eighteen months ago, Hamas defeated its rival, Fatah, in an election that was praised as a ground-breaking exercise in democracy. But ballot boxes alone do not a democratic society make.

Hamas never sincerely transformed itself into a political party. Neither, for that matter, did Fatah, which was created in 1964 also for the purpose of exterminating Israel. One point on which Hamas and Fatah emphatically agree: free speech and other basic rights are not to be extended to Palestinians who oppose them.

Even this discount version of democracy quickly broke down. Apparently tiring of palaver, Hamas – reportedly with backing from its patrons in Tehran -- launched a civil war in Gaza. Hamas militiamen murdered the most troublesome Fatah members; they shot bullets through the kneecaps of those they considered more open to persuasion.

The “human rights community” hardly seemed to notice. The “human rights community” is not much interested in Muslim-on-Muslim violence – or in any violence carried out in the name of Islam, except to the extent it can be blamed on the U.S. and/or Israel. (Why that may suggest a post-modern form of racism is another matter.)

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.