Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad

by Matthew Levitt
336 pages,
ISBN: 0300110537

The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11

by Ron Suskind
384 pages,
ISBN: 0743271092

Satanic Purses: Money, Myth and Misinformation in the War on Terror

by R.T. Naylor
496 pages,
ISBN: 0773531505

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Money and Terror
by Stewart Bell

Look behind any suicide bomber and you'll find a network of supporters who helped him along the path to martyrdom. Whatever its motives, a terrorist attack is not a sudden outburst, but rather the final act of a process of radicalisation, recruitment, training, planning, fundraising, and propaganda.
Bankrolled by foreign backers, Hamas and Hezbollah have the system down pat: they run schools that provide a steady supply of recruits; charities that endear them to locals while gathering cash for terrorist operations; and political parties that seek legitimacy for their causes. And when they come under pressure for their latest outrage, they point to their clinics and orphanages to protest being labeled terrorists.
Dealing with terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah has added a whole new complicated dimension to a part of the world that hardly needed one. Should they be treated like run-of-the-mill terrorist groups when their ranks include not only would-be martyrs but also doctors, teachers and clerics?
Canada wrestled with this in 2003, when the government waffled over whether to subject Hezbollah to criminal sanctions under the Anti-terrorism Act. The Department of Foreign Affairs wanted to outlaw the Hezbollah "military wing" while maintaining friendly relations with its "political and social services wings." Meanwhile, the Department of the Solicitor General wanted the whole Hezbollah organization banned. In the end, Ottawa outlawed Hezbollah in its entirety.
The same debate surfaced early in 2006, when Hamas won control of the Palestinian Authority through democratic elections. And now the West is struggling once again after Hezbollah thrust itself back onto the stage by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers along the Lebanese border, setting off a fierce summertime war.
In Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, Matthew Levitt builds a convincing case to demonstrate that while the notion that radical Islamist groups have distinct violent and non-violent wings may be convenient for terrorists and their supporters, it does not hold up to close scrutiny.
His detailed study of the leading proponent of Palestinian suicide bombings leads him to the view that Hamas is not a legitimate political movement whose members resort to terrorism from time to time out of frustration. Rather, it is a terrorist organization that uses politics, charity and social services to garner support, money, and recruits.
"Hamas has successfully blurred the lines between political and charitable activities and terrorism in large part because many governments, experts, and academics continue to subscribe to the shallow argument that terrorist groups maintain distinct social, political, and militant wings," writes Levitt, a former FBI analyst who, since authoring the book, has taken a senior counter-terrorism position at the U.S Treasury.

"In fact, Hamas political leaders are intimately involved in the group's terrorist activities, as are the group's charities and social welfare organizations. Hamas uses the mosques and hospitals it maintains as meeting places; buries caches of arms and explosives under its own kindergarten playgrounds; uses social-welfare operatives' cars and homes to ferry and hide fugitives; and transfers and launders funds for terrorist activity through local charity committees."

Essentially, everything Hamas does is aimed at advancing its violent agenda, which is to destroy Israel through armed jihad and replace it with an Islamist regime. To accomplish this, Hamas has been using its millions in foreign funding to Islamicise Palestinian society through dawa, its social welfare and proselytizing network, he argues.
The rise of Hamas, like that of Hezbollah, has been largely the result of outside influences. Just as Hezbollah is an arm of the Iranian mullahs, Hamas was founded as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and has been financed by a worldwide network of sympathizers who support the group's hardline agenda.
While Levitt confines his research to Hamas, his book could just as easily be about Hezbollah, Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia, or Pakistan's powerful Islamist groups, which commit acts of terrorism against Hindus in Kashmir while also running schools and charities that provide humanitarian relief to Muslims.
Because Hamas runs an extensive dawa network, Levitt argues it is not enough just to arrest those directly involved in terrorist operations. If Hamas terrorism is to be stopped, its dawa infrastructure must also be dismantled and replaced with one under the control of a legitimate government authority.
The book lacks a strong narrative drive, making it more difficult to read than it should be, but whatever its failings it is a solid account of Hamas by one of the world's most respected experts. And while many of today's books on terrorism are little more than compilations of news clippings arranged to fit a predetermined point of view, Levitt has done his research. The result is a fact-filled analysis that argues that the people who send off youths clad in suicide vests should not be forgiven because they also build hospitals and mosques.

"Sadly, academics, journalists, and policy makers all too often downplay the role that the Hamas social welfare network plays in radicalizing society and financing, supporting, and facilitating Hamas terror attacks. Despite the plethora of evidence to the contrary, they subscribe to the myth that Hamas charity is disconnected from Hamas terror."

Another new book on money and counter-terrorism, R.T. Naylor's Satanic Purses: Money, Myth and Misinformation in the War on Terror, begins with a reasonable premise¨that American-led efforts to fight terrorist financing networks have produced few tangible results. But the book reads like conspiracy theory (the author's claim that "Al Qaeda is largely a law enforcement fable" is just one of several outlandish claims), and fails to take into consideration the importance of financial support networks to acts of terrorism.
A more credible and readable account of the war on terror gone wrong can be found in Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11, which looks at the key players in Washington's counter-terrorism circles as they try to make their way through the post-9/11 world.
Suskind also focuses partly on the fight against terror financing and its failings, but he describes some successes, and acknowledges the inherent difficulties of tracing blood money in parts of the world that lack strong financial controls.
"Terrorists can be operational for modest sums," he writes. "The 9/11 hijacking cost a total of only $500,000 in training, travel and expenses. Billions, meanwhile, gush through the world's black market. All a terrorist needs to do is drop a bucket in that raging, toxic river." ˛

Stewart Bell is a senior reporter at the National Post and the author of Cold Terror and The Martyr's Oath: The Apprenticeship of a Homegrown Terrorist.

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