The Red Minaret: memoirs of a Hamas leader

Book: The Red Minaret: Memoirs of Ibrahim Ghusheh
Publisher: Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies & Consultations, Beirut
Year: 2013 (First edition)
Pages: 288 pages p/b
Price: $25
Dr. Ishtiaq Hossain

The Red Minaret: Memoirs of Ibrahim Ghusheh is the autobiography of Ibrahim Ghusheh, the official spokesman of Hamas during 1991-1999. Originally written in Arabic, the work was translated into English by Hassan Ibrahim and Salma al-Houry.

Since it is an autobiography, the volume should be considered against the general aims and objectives, and the main features of an autobiography. Freeman defines an autobiography as the specific kind of text that results from the first-person interpretive reconstruction of either a life in its entirety, or a significant portion of it with the aim of not merely recounting what happened but also of understanding, from the vantage point of the current time, the meaning and movement of the past (Mark Freeman, “Autobiography,” in Lisa M. Given (ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, 2008: 45-46). All these points will be kept in mind while the book is reviewed.

The Red Minaret is an important work because it is the first book of its kind written by a leader of Hamas. Therefore, it is expected that the author would be describing not only his life and experiences in and with Hamas but also the important events of the Middle East throughout his lifetime. Perhaps more importantly, the author would express his opinions linking the past and contemporary events of the Middle East. It is also expected that Ibrahim Ghusheh would throw light on the inner workings of Hamas. Like any other autobiography, The Red Minaret covers the significant part of the life and times of Ibrahim Ghusheh. The author is in a good position to write about the events in the Middle East with a focus on Palestine.

Ghusheh grew up during a period when events happened in the Middle East that affected, directly or indirectly, either the fate of the Palestinians or that of Hamas. One such event is Yawm an-Nakba, the “Day of the Catastrophe”, remembered every year on 15 May, one day after the establishment of the Israeli state on 14 May, 1948. This day is remembered yearly by the Palestinians to highlight their exodus before and after Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence.

The author offers a passionate description of when his own family had to leave his birthplace in Jerusalem. Ghusheh witnessed many other key events, such as the 1967 war in the Middle East, the expulsion of Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from Jordan in 1970, the Ramadan (October) War of 1973, Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Gulf War of 1991, the Oslo Accords of 1993, and the assassination attempt on Hamas chief, Khalid Mishal, in 1997 in Jordan by agents of Mossad, among others.

The title of the book does not underline the author’s revolutionary credentials. Instead, it is so titled simply after the red- coloured minaret of a small mosque that faces the author’s home in Jerusalem’s old city.

Like millions of Palestinians who were uprooted from their homeland following the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, childhood memories such as those of the immediate neighbourhood or in this case, the colour of the minaret of a small mosque are all that remains with those uprooted Palestinians. Ghusheh joined the Muslim Brotherhood while he was in the seventh grade when the movement began to regain its momentum in the West Bank and the East Bank as Hizb ut-Tahir gradually became unpopular because of its insistence on directing all movements towards achieving an Islamic State. Ghusheh does not deny the ideological links between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

Unlike many of his compatriots living in the refugee camps scattered all over the Middle East who do not have access to higher education, Ibrahim Ghusheh became a civil engineer. He worked in several Arab countries like Jordan and Kuwait and visited various Arab capitals as a member of Arab delegations promoting peace in the Middle East.

The opinions of Ibrahim Ghusheh as expressed in his autobiography are honest and direct. Some readers may not agree with all of his observations and opinions but most will certainly respect them as those of an honest person who has intimate knowledge of these events.

The Red Minaret is based on a chronological order of key events occurring in the Middle East between 1936 and 2001. The year 1970 occupies an important place in the history of the Palestinians in Jordan, when the leadership and members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) took refuge in Lebanon after being driven out by the Jordanian military.

The author blames reciprocal provocations between the Palestinian fighters and the members of the Jordanian military for the military action against the Palestinian fighters based in Jordan. The author is of the opinion that these provocations developed because the Palestinian forces set up bases in Amman, Irbid and other Jordanian cities. The author is forthright in discussing this issue, but was careful not to mention the involvement of military personnel from a non-Arab Muslim state [Pakistan] in driving the Palestinians out of Jordan.

The author’s views on the 1973 October War and the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran are short and seem insufficient. The October War was a game-changer in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It seemed that the Egyptian military had taken important lessons from their defeat in the 1967 War and employed the same pre-emptive and surprise tactic as the Israelis did in their 1967 “preventive war” against the Egyptians and Syrians. In 1973, the Egyptian military initially had the upper hand but soon the tide of war turned. Like millions of Arabs, Ghusheh was very happy with the initial stage of the war when the Egyptian soldiers successfully crossed the Suez Canal and broke through the “invincible” Israeli Defence Wall known as the  Bar-Lev Line in Sinai. But the joy of the Arabs soon turned into serious dismay when the Israeli forces crossed the Suez Canal and landed troopson  the Egyptian mainland threatening to march on to Cairo.
With the intervention of the Americans, a cease-fire was arranged that stopped the war. A more detailed discussion was warranted from Ghusheh about the reaction of the Arab masses, especially the Palestinians, to the October or Ramadan War.  Ghusheh’s handling of Iran’s Islamic Revolution reflects the cautious approach later taken by Hamas on the question of developing its political and economic relationship with Iran.

The Oslo Accord of 1993 is one of the most controversial treaties in the history of the Middle East peace negotiations. While the PLO, Israel, and its Western allies, like the US and the UK, hailed the Agreement as a positive step towards an ever-lasting peace by having a two-state solution, serious reservations have been expressed about the Oslo Agreements by various Palestinian quarters and Arab countries like Syria. They point to the continued lack of progress towards a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians as proof of their stand on the Oslo Agreement.

Ghusheh considered the 1993 Oslo Agreement as a mechanism to build a strong and effective Palestinian police force to clamp down on opposition to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Without doubt, The Red Minaret is an important contribution towards explaining the Middle East through the eyes of a Hamas leader, which over the years has appeared as an important political force in Palestine. The book is a key publication because perhaps for the first time an autobiography of a leader of Hamas has been made available to the English-speaking world. However, readers would have benefitted more if the author was more forthcoming in expressing his opinions on some key events of the Middle East. It is hoped that the book will be well-circulated. (Intellectual Discourse)

The reviewer is assoc. prof. of political science at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 August 2014 on page no. 21

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