30 January 2006

For liberal Palestinians fearful that the newly-elected Hamas party intends to enforce Islamic law on the country’s citizens, senior Hamas leaders say, take heart: yes, Sharia will be used as a guide for legislation, but only in a “polite way” meant to convince people. Such polite theocratic manipulation, Hamas leaders told Reuters, is all that’s possible until Palestine is an independent state, at which time, Hamas will hold a public referendum on whether or not to rule the country in accordance with Sharia law. And, they say, “‘We are sure the Palestinian people will choose Islam.’” That’s a certainty not reflected in the overwhelming media attention given to the election results, not a little of which has focused on the new crop of Hamas jokes, such as the one about the town of El-Bireh, which means “beer” in Arabic, being renamed Zamzam, the name of Saudi Arabia’s holy water. What does it mean, other than fruit and other things don’t travel well? The Houston Chronicle says it’s confident joking from a people unconcerned about their choice; The South African Star says it’s nervous laughter; the AP says it’s “expressive of people’s fears.”