LSE and the politics of “twinning”

This is a guest post by Petra Marquardt-Bigman.

The Jewish Chronicle reported recently about the controversy surrounding an initiative by the student union of the London School of Economics (LSE) to “twin” with the Islamic University of Gaza. A vote on the motion in the student union resulted in 161 votes for and 131 votes against the motion. The proponents of the motion argued that they wanted to “show solidarity with the students there [i.e. in Gaza] who have had their campus bombed and their colleagues killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces;” the motion’s opponents highlighted the fact that the Islamic University is a Hamas stronghold and has been used to launch attacks on Israeli population centers.

To be sure, the English-language website of the Islamic University in Gaza appears innocuous enough; yet, the university has repeatedly made headlines highlighting distinctly unacademic pursuits and close connections with prominent Hamas leaders.

In February 2007, security forces affiliated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raided the Hamas-linked university and reportedly arrested several Iranian military experts who supervised the manufacturing of explosives in the chemistry labs; hundreds of weapons and a lathe for the production of Qassam rockets were also seized in the raid. Shortly afterwards, there were also reports claiming that Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped in June 2006, had been held for several months on the campus of Gaza’s Islamic University.

The university was again in the news during Israel’s Gaza campaign a year ago, when Israeli airstrikes targeted laboratories and facilities that were reportedly used for military purposes by Hamas.

Another airstrike that targeted a central Hamas compound and weapon storage in the Jabaliya refugee camp killed the university’s most notorious professor, Nizar Rayyan. Rayyan was a professor of Islamic law, revered by his students as a prominent Muslim scholar, and he also served as a preacher at several mosques. But Rayyan was also a Hamas military commander who was regarded as one of the most popular and influential Hamas leaders in Gaza and the “spiritual” leader for Hamas’s armed wing. Rayyan was an ardent advocate of suicide bombings and a firm believer in the glory of “martyrdom” – and he was willing to practice what he preached: In 2001, he sent one of his sons to carry out a suicide attack in a Gaza settlement.

Reacting to the news of Rayyan’s death, Jeffrey Goldberg, who had met and interviewed him, recounted in a post Atlantic on his blog at the that he once asked Rayyan “if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel.” Rayyan explained in response: “The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don’t need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel.” According to Goldberg, Rayyan argued that “true Islam” could never accept a Jewish state in the Muslim Middle East, because “Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God.”

Goldberg also recounted what Rayyan thought about Jews:
“Allah changed disobedient Jews into apes and pigs, it is true, but he specifically said these apes and pigs did not have the ability to reproduce. So it is not literally true that Jews today are descended from pigs and apes, but it is true that some of the ancestors of Jews were transformed into pigs and apes, and it is true that Allah continually makes the Jews pay for their crimes in many different ways. They are a cursed people.”

Another prominent figure affiliated with the Islamic University is Gaza’s Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, who is a graduate of the university, was appointed as dean in 1993 and served as leader of the Hamas student movement. While Haniyeh is often described as a “moderate” or “pragmatist”, he reportedly likes to consult with one of Gaza’s more radical Muslim scholars, Marwan Abu Ras, who is known as “Hamas’ mufti.” A year ago, the news magazine Spiegel reportedon the views held by Abu Ras and the role he played:

“Gaza’s top administrator, Ismail Haniya, and Mahmoud Zahar, one of the founders of Hamas, like to discuss religious matters with Abu Ras, who studied in Medina. […] it was a fatwah, or religious edict, issued by Abu Ras that cost about 100 Fatah members their lives during and after the four-day power struggle last year [i.e. 2007]. ‘Anyone who has committed murder must also be punished with death,’ says the mufti. ‘Before Hamas came into power, there was a lot of crime here. Now we have restored order.’ Order also means torture, even if this isn’t exactly something Abu Ras is willing to admit. Palestinians who have fled to the West Bank report being nailed to the wall, confined in coffins or subjected to mock executions by Hamas. ‘We will take the best aspects of the Iranian and the Saudi Arabian system,’ says Abu Ras, stressing that women, of course, can continue to attend the university, go to the market and drive. ‘We aren’t the Taliban, after all,’ he says.”
Hamas may not be the Taliban, nevertheless, there has been a gradual Islamization of life in Gaza under Hamas rule and many of the new restrictions affect girls and women in particular.

Last but not least it should be noted that Abu Ras, the “Hamas mufti”, reportedly taught at Gaza’s Islamic University for 25 years, and apparently, he also likes to refer to Jews as “the brothers of apes and pigs”.