June 19, 2007 -- HAMAS won its shut-out victory in Gaza with alarming ease.
And the reason Hamas won is even more alarming: Fanaticism trumps numbers.
You'll hear no end of explanations for the terrorist triumph: Hamas was
backed by Iran; Gaza is Hamas' base of support; some Fatah units ran out of
ammunition . . .
All true. And all secondary factors.
Fatah's security forces in Gaza outnumbered the Hamas gunmen. Fatah had
stockpiles of weapons and military gear (now in Hamas' arsenal). Fatah even
had the quiet backing of Israel and America.
And Fatah folded like a pup tent in a tornado.
Hamas won because its fighters are religious fanatics ready to die for their
cause. Fatah runs an armed employment agency under the banner of Palestinian
nationalism. Most of the latter's security men are on the payroll because
relatives or ward pols got them jobs. And they want to stay alive to collect
The result was predictable. Our government pretended otherwise. Now hairs
should be standing up on the backs of thousands of necks, from the White
House to the Green Zone.
Yes, Iraq is more complex than Gaza. But once you pierce the surface
turbulence and look deep, the similarities are chilling: Iraq's security
forces do include true patriots - but most of the troops and cops just want
a job, or were ordered to join up by a sheik or a mullah, or are gathering
guns until their faction calls.
The al-Qaeda-in-Iraq terrorists, the core members of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi
Army and the hard-line Sunni ghazis are willing to die for the victory of
their faction and their faith. They believe they're doing Allah's will. It
gives them a strength we rush to explain away.
The raw numbers suggest that Iraq's fanatics don't stand a chance. The
government has a far greater numerical advantage than did Fatah. But numbers
often mislead analysts during insurgencies: Iraq's government wouldn't last
a week without U.S. troops.
The lesson from Gaza is that such wars are neither waged nor won by the
majority of the population. A tiny fraction of the populace, armed and
determined, can destroy a fragile government and seize power.
Polls showing that most Iraqis "want peace" and don't support the extremists
only deceive us (because we want to be deceived). It wouldn't matter if 99
percent of the Iraqis loved us like free falafel, if we're unwilling to
annihilate the fraction of 1 percent of the population with the weapons and
will to dictate the future to the rest.
At the height of last week's fighting in Gaza, one Palestinian in 300
carried a weapon in support of Hamas - a third of one percent of the
population. Now Hamas rules 1.5 million people.
Numbers still matter, of course. But strength of will can overcome hollow
numbers. And nothing - nothing - gives men a greater strength of will than
We don't want to hear it. Secular virtues were supposed to triumph. They
didn't, but we still can't let go of our dream of a happy-face, godless
world where nobody quarrels.
Our refusal to acknowledge the unifying - and terrifying - power of
extremist religion has deep roots. As academics rejected and derided faith
in the last century, even the Thirty Years' War - the horrible climax of
Europe's wars of religion - was reinvented as a dynastic struggle, or a
fight for hegemony, or a class struggle.
But the Thirty Years' War was about faith. All the other factors were in
play, but the core issue, from the Protestant coup in Prague in 1618 to the
Peace of Westphalia in 1648, was religious identity. And the atrocities
committed on both sides make Iraq look like amateur hour: Wars of religion
always demand blood sacrifice. (It was a compromise of bloody exhaustion
that ended the Thirty Years War.)
Our problem is that, of those who rise in government, few have witnessed the
power of revelation or caught a life-changing glimpse of the divine. They
simply can't imagine that others might be willing to die for all that
mumbo-jumbo. Our convenience-store approach to faith leaves us numb to the
passion of our enemies.
The true believer always beats the feckless attendee. The best you can hope
for is that the extremist will eventually defeat himself.
And that does leave us some hope: Fanatics inevitably over-reach, as al
Qaeda's Islamo-fascists have done in Iraq, alienating those who once saw
them as allies. But the road to self-destruction can be a long one: The
people of Iran want change, but the fanatics have the guns. And sorry,
folks: Fanatics with guns beat liberals with ideas.
Faith is the nuclear weapon of the fanatic. And there's not going to be a
religious "nuclear freeze." It doesn't matter how many hearts and minds you
win, if you don't defeat the zealots with the muscles.