Azzam Tamimi on a Timer

Almost two years ago, I identified Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian who heads the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, as a Hamas extremist. I brought chapter-and-verse quotes from Tamimi’s radical statements. I also expressed astonishment that Georgetown University’s John Esposito sat on Tamimi’s board and cooperated with Tamimi on book projects. Later I was even more astonished to learn that Tamimi had attended a Ramadan reception at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London.

On Tuesday Tamimi gave a television interview to Tim Sebastian (BBC HARDTalk), and this dialogue took place:

Sebastian: You advocate the suicide bombing. You said on an internet chat forum early in 2003: “For us Moslems martyrdom is not the end of things but the beginning of the most wonderful of things.” If it’s so wonderful to go and blow yourself up in a public place in Israel why don’t you do it?

Tamimi: Martyrdom is not necessarily suicide bombings as you call them. Martyrdom is…

Sebastian: No, please answer my question. It was a serious question.

Tamimi: I’m trying to answer it…

Sebastian: Why don’t you do it?

Tamimi: I’m trying to answer it because this is a concept. Unless it is explained, how can you answer it? Because martyrdom means giving, sacrificing yourself for a noble cause. Now these bombings, the human bombs…

Sebastian: Are you prepared to do this or not?

Tamimi: I am prepared, of course.

Sebastian: You would [go] and blow yourself up?

Tamimi: No. I’m trying to explain to you…

Sebastian: Ah—so it’s okay. So that’s just for the poor and the disillusioned to go and blow themselves up? You would not be prepared to do it…

Tamimi: Most of the…

Sebastian: …you advocate other people to do it?

Tamimi: Unless you give me a chance to explain…

Sebastian: Please… Please…

Tamimi: Not a single person of those who bomb themselves, bomb themselves because they are desperate or poor. It doesn’t happen because of this. They do it because they want to sacrifice themselves for a cause after all avenues have been closed before them. If the Palestinians today are given F16s and Apache helicopters …

Sebastian: No—please come back to my question. Please come back to my question. Why if it is so glorious and honourable to do this, why don’t you do it?

Tamimi: I would do it…

Sebastian: When?

Tamimi: If I have the opportunity I would do it…

Sebastian: When are you going to do it?

Tamimi: When? If I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself I would do it. Why not?

I appeal to Professor Esposito, once more, to distance himself from this walking time bomb, by resigning from the board of Tamimi’s institute. And now that Tamimi has declared his intent, I urge the State Department to reassure us that he will never again be permitted to set foot in the United States, as he did in 2002 (i.e., post-9/11). I don’t want to be on a London-New York flight with Azzam Tamimi, and neither do you.

Update, August 16, 2006: Here is Azzam Tamimi in fine form, at a rally somewhere in Britain to mark the most recent “Jerusalem (Al-Quds) Day,” introduced by Ayatollah Khomeini to the Muslim calendar. By the way, Professor Esposito is still on Tamimi’s board.

U.S. Ambassador in London Hosts Hamas

Saturday’s London Guardian reports that Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian Hamas ideologue, attended the Ramadan reception of the U.S. ambassador in London. It was the first time the embassy had hosted an iftar dinner, and it’s already made a big mistake.

An earlier entry in this weblog was devoted to Tamimi. To Islamists on both sides of the Atlantic, Tamimi is effectively an emissary of Hamas. As he put it to the Guardian: “There is a personal relationship with some of them. Because of that I am sometimes asked to advise them. I have been asked, ‘what do you think of how we present ourselves to the world?’ I can be of use both to Hamas and people in the West who know nothing of what Hamas is about.” Actually, the benighted West does have a pretty good sense of what Hamas is about: suicide bombings and the elimination of Israel. As my previous entry shows, Tamimi has had no difficulty making the case for both.

Deep within the bowels of the State Department, there are people who still harbor the wacky idea that they can tell the good extremists from the bad ones, and who play games with Islamists that confuse the message coming from Washington. Hamas is a listed terrorist organization. Tamimi is its self-avowed adviser. He’s been deliberately admitted to the American inner sanctum of Winfield House, residence of the American ambassador. E-mail Ambassador William S. Farish and let him know what you think.

Ask Professor Esposito

The fame of Professor John Esposito, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, rests upon his purported ability to sort Islamist extremists from Islamist moderates. Too often, he warns us, we wind up throwing all of the Islamists into one box. That’s a mistake, and to avoid it, we need none other than Professor Esposito, with his finely honed sense of who is extreme and who isn’t.

So I am puzzled. Professor Esposito has an academic partnership with one Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian residing in London. They have co-edited a book. Tamimi has published another book in a series edited by Esposito (in the preface, Tamimi calls Esposito “my ustadh,” my teacher). Tamimi also runs something called the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London. Esposito sits on its board of advisors—the only American to do so. In short, this seems to be a close liaison. The problem is, Azzam Tamimi is Hamas.

This is no great secret. Palestinian political scientist Muhammad Muslih, in a study on the foreign policy of Hamas done for the Council on Foreign Relations, calls Tamimi “a Hamas member” (p. 18). Yes, he is an “academic” of sorts: he has a Ph.D. in political theory from the (ten-year-old) University of Westminster. And yes, he sometimes has interesting things to say about Islam and democracy. But would Professor Esposito have us believe that Tamimi is one of his Islamist “moderates”?

Consider, for example, an interview given by Tamimi to the Spanish daily La Vanguardia, issue of November 11, 2001. Headline: “I admire the Taliban; they are courageous.” Tamimi begins by assuring the interviewer that “everyone” in the Arab world cheered upon seeing the Twin Towers fall. “Excuse me,” says the interviewer, “did you understand my question?” Tamimi: “In the Arab and Muslim countries, everyone jumped for joy. That’s what you asked me, isn’t it?” The interview continues in this vein, to a point where Tamimi accuses the United States propping up all of the dictators in the Arab world. “They must be eliminated if anything is to change.” Interviewer: “And how to eliminate them?” Tamimi: “The people of those countries should rebel, fight, sacrifice, spill blood. The French Revolution cost lives. The American revolution cost lives. Liberty is not given, it is taken!” Later, Tamimi gives his solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict: “The Israelis stole our houses, which are today occupied by Jews from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Morocco, Ethiopia, Brooklyn. They should return to their homes, and give ours back to us!…That’s non-negotiable. Therefore I support Hamas.”

Want more? In March, Tamimi accused the United States of shutting down mosques; a spokesperson of the U.S. embassy in London replied that his accusations “don’t seem to be based on valid evidence or any evidence at all.” Yet lo and behold, in May he turned up at a mosque in northern Virginia, where he gave an extreme lecture calling for the elimination of Israel (a Muslim press report described him as “visibly agitated”). In July, he was in South Africa, hammering at the same theme: “You do not share your home with a burglar and a thief; why wish this for the Palestinians? All of Palestine is for them.” And those suicide bombers?

Do not call them suicide bombers, call them shuhada [martyrs] as they have not escaped the miseries of life. They gave their life. Life is sacred, but some things like truth and justice are more sacred than life. They are not desperate, they are hopefuls…[The Israelis] have guns, we have the human bomb. We love death, they love life.

Now I don’t maintain that Tamimi is a terrorist or a material supporter of terrorism. I don’t even suggest that the United States should keep him from his appointed rounds in this country. (He was on the program of a dubious “peace” conference convened last month at the University of Rhode Island.) Perhaps he comes and goes so freely as part of some brilliant State Department scheme to keep a line out to Hamas. But Tamimi should be recognized for what he is: an unabashed apologist for a listed terrorist group.

And this brings us back to Tamimi’s liaison with Ustadh Esposito. After all, if Tamimi is some sort of “moderate”—and a candidate for close scholarly collaboration—then one wonders just where Professor Esposito would draw the line. My impression is that he has never met an Islamist he didn’t like. And I am left puzzled at just what an Islamist would have to say to enter his bad books.

But Professor Esposito can always prove me wrong. For example, he might resign from the board of Tamimi’s institute, in light of Tamimi’s statements over the past year. I’d welcome such a move on this very weblog. For despite Professor Esposito’s long record of error in interpreting Islamism, I haven’t despaired of him yet.