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Grievance-Driven vs. Ideology-Driven—A fundamental difference in terrorist groups, or a false dichotomy?

By Francisco Gil-White, The Emperor's clothes, 6 August 2003

[Publisher's note: This publication is widely condemned for its support of Israeli aggression in the Middle East.]

Ian Pitchfords separation of a) ideologically-driven groups and b) grievance-driven groups may be read to suggest a distinction between a) groups whose terrorism we unequivocally condemn (his example is Al Qaeda), and b) groups whose terrorism we “understand” (his example is Hamas).

The implication, whether intended or not, is unfortunate, and the distinction itself, in my view, a nonstarter. Regardless of what the specific causes of terrorism in one place or another may be, it must carry with it an ideology: namely, that attacking innocent civilians is fair game (or else that there is no such thing as an innocent civilian). This is hardly trivial, and therefore all terrorist groups are ideological.

Is there a terrorist group without a grievance? Anything that bothers me and which I think is unfair to me is a grievance. When upper-class Hindus organize violence against “untouchables” who try to win equal political status they are expressing a grievance. Not one that I recognize as legitimate, but a grievance all the same. So whether somebody has a grievance is independent of my evaluation of its justice. Since members of every terrorist group, including Al Qaeda, say they have grievances, who are we to disagree?

But most importantly: since it is certainly not the case that everybody with a grievance launches into wholesale slaughter of civilians, we need to pay more attention to the causes responsible for an ideology that endorses killing the innocent.

Ian Pitchford puts Hamas in his column of groups with a grievance, and thus by implication not in his column of groups with an ideology, even though Hamas has a well developed and driving ideology. It pays to understand this ideology, but I will take a conservative approach. Hamas is usually portrayed as more radical and violent than the PLO. If one accepts this portrayal, then, provided one can show that the PLO (to this very day) has always been motivated by a fascist/genocidal ideology where the mere existence of Jews in the Middle East is a grievance, then Hamas will be either just as bad or worse (by the way, despite appearances, Arafat and Hamas have always been quite friendly—just to give one example, Imad Falouji, a former top Hamas official, was named Communications Minister of Arafat's Palestinian Authority).[1]

What is the PLO? Since about 1968, when the original (1964) charter was re-written, the PLO has been Arafat. He was elected PLO chairman in 1969, and since then the PLO “experienced less a revival than a total reincarnation of membership and purpose under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. . . the PLO in its resurrected form was almost entirely Fatah-dominated” [2]

Fatah is Arafat, and the PLO is Fatah: hence, the PLO (and therefore also the Palestinian Authority, which was formed by the PLO) has Arafats ideology.

What ideology is this? The PLO calls not for some limited political goal, but for the utter destruction of Israel (see here).[3] Article 9 of its charter says that “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.” Article 15 says that it is “a national duty to repulse the Zionist imperialist invasion from the great Arab homeland and to purge the Zionist presence from Palestine.” Article 22 declares that “the liberation of Palestine will liquidate the Zionist and imperialist presence…” Contrary to popular perception, the charter has not been rewritten.[4]

The language—“liquidate [a] … presence”, “armed struggle is the only [!] way…”, the use of the verb “to purge”, etc.—all suggest a genocidal, not a conventionally political goal. Those whose goal is genocide by definition endorse violence against civilians. So it is no surprise that the PLO has been terrorist from the beginning and that even now it is child's play to show that Arafat was behind the Second Intifada (PLO officials boast about it themselves), and that he is behind all of the current violence (see here).[5]

Where does such a genocidal ideology come from? As it turns out, though one somehow never hears it in the media, Arafat's Fatah was formed by veterans of the Arab Higher Committee, the group headed by the ex-Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al Husseini, a Palestinian Arab Muslim (see here).[6]

So who was Hajj Amin al Husseini? For one, he is the father of the Palestinian movement. He was also a genocidal fascist who was a highly placed official in Hitler's Nazi government and who, during WWII, traveled to Bosnia to organize thousands of Muslim volunteers, thus creating the SS Handzar Division, which went around Yugoslavia hunting Jews, Serbs, and Roma in order to send them to their slaughter in Croatian death camps (so barbaric that they appalled even the German Nazis). Hajj Amin also traveled elsewhere in Eastern Europe to help out some more with Hitler's Final Solution, and begged Hitler to invade the Middle East and exterminate the Jews there (see here).[6]

Even before the World War, Hajj Amin had already shown that he suffered from an ideology where the mere existence of a Jew, for him, constituted a grievance. Starting in 1920, he organized terrorist riots against innocent Jewish civilians in Palestine. These were directed even (and sometimes especially) against Jews who were not immigrants to Palestine but who, on the contrary, were members of the Old Yishuv—families that had been in Palestine for thousands of years. These could not be confused with immigrant Jews because they lived in tightly-knit communities in separate areas, and everybody knew this. Such violence clearly shows (if the Mufti's subsequent activities didn’t) that he was an antisemitic terrorist with genocidal goals.

Not only is Arafat's organization an offshoot of the murderous Mufti's organization, but Arafat himself has publicly boasted his pride at having cut his teeth as the Mufti's soldier. This is identical to being proud of Hitler (see here).[6]

So that's who Arafat is, and that is what his ideology is like. Certainly he has grievances, and certainly he has an ideology, like any terrorist. The question is: are his grievances legitimate? I say no: objecting to the existence of a people is not a legitimate grievance. Is his ideology acceptable? Well, no. Finally, where did this ideology come from? From fascist movements that sprung up at the same time as, and in coordination with, the German Nazis, who had an existential grievance against every Jew, and whose ideology was the perceived imperative of exterminating them (by the way, Hamas was produced by the Muslim Brotherhood, a fascist organization that worked closely with the German Nazis and with Hajj Amin al Husseini).

The fact that the Jews are now fighting back against the Nazis, rather than letting themselves be slaughtered with impunity, does not turn the Nazis into the “victims,” unless one believes it is offensive that Jews should try to protect themselves from extermination. Since the Palestinian organizations have a Nazi heritage and still have a goal to exterminate the Jews, perhaps the most profitable line of analysis is to examine where such ideologies come from, and what combination of political and historical forces keep them going. That, it seems to me, is the most important question to answer. In my view, a dichotomy between terrorist groups with an ideology rather than a grievance, and those with a grievance rather than an ideology, is false, and helps to confuse rather than to clarify.


[1] “Arafat and Hamas have always been quite friendly” see:

“a former top Hamas official, was named Communications Minister of Arafat's Palestinian Authority” see:

[2] Sachar, Howard Morley—A history of Israel : from the rise of Zionism to our time / Howard M. Sachar. 1982, c1979. (p.698)


[4] The Wye River Memorandum, a document that was signed in 1998 by Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat, with Bill Clinton for witness, stipulated the following about the PLO Charter:

“The Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Central Council will reaffirm the letter of 22 January 1998 from PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat to President Clinton concerning the nullification of the Palestinian National Charter provisions that are inconsistent with the letters exchanged between the PLO and the Government of Israel on 9/10 September 1993. PLO Chairman Arafat, the Speaker of the Palestine National Council, and the Speaker of the Palestinian Council will invite the members of the PNC, as well as the members of the Central Council, the Council, and the Palestinian Heads of Ministries to a meeting to be addressed by President Clinton to reaffirm their support for the peace process and the aforementioned decisions of the Executive Committee and the Central Council.”

Thus, the memorandum called for Arafat to “reaffirm the letter” which Arafat had earlier sent to President Clinton.

A letter to president Clinton promising nullification of the offending articles in the Charter is not the same thing as nullifying said articles in the Charter. So Arafat's letter to Clinton obviously did not nullify anything. Similarly, a reaffirmation of that letter is not a nullification of the articles either. The Israeli government has foolishly deemed this duplicity acceptable, but the fact remains: the articles in the PLO Charter that call for the destruction of Israel were never nullified.