April 16, 2007
U.S. Foreign Policy:
Knowing the Factions Would Help
Although it is hard to admit at times, especially by those who follow
the news regularly, keeping track of all the political factions, groups
and organizations is challenging at best. I find it tricky remembering
the names of all the Democratic presidential hopefuls, thus it goes
without saying that mixing up the Tamil Tigers with the Shining Path is
When the U.S. started to make serious plans for the invasion of Iraq a
few years ago, most Americans, and sadly most of their leaders, found
out that there is more than one distinctive group of Muslims.
News media devoted much attention to this fact, and point-by-point fact
sidebars graced almost every story about Iraq both in print and on
television. While it was much needed, the scramble to catch us up
revealed our widespread ignorance of a culture with which we were about
to enter into a close long-term relationship.
Yet religious factions in Iraq are just a case in point. The lack of
knowledge about the key players in key conflicts is a sure way to
misjudge the situation. I am not suggesting that because the U.S. has an
important relationship with the European Union it is imperative for us
to familiarize ourselves with specific party systems. Some may argue
that complexity is not an excuse, but concerns over intricate and
convoluted partisan politics should first be addressed to the Italians.
Nonetheless, even a basic familiarity with the participating group can
change our entire perception of political events. Take the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict. For almost 50 years, not a day has gone by
without the tension between the two making the news. The acts of
violence committed by both sides have spurred much public outrage.
Still, when condemning Palestinians, many make the mistake of lumping
all Palestinians into one.
The two main political groups in Palestine, Hamas and Fatah, differ
significantly. Fatah, which translates to the Palestinian Liberation
Movement, was founded by Yasser Arafat to promote armed conflict against
Israel. However, its current position toward Israel is to restart the
Hamas, which roughly translates to Islamic Resistance Movement, is a
proponent of a strange mix of promoting the welfare of the Palestinian
people while supporting “armed resistance.” The latter objective of the
group has manifested itself in multiple suicide bombings, earning the
group a spot on the terrorist organization list in the U.S., EU and
Most of us remember Hamas’s victory in the 2006 elections, widely
covered by Western media. The enthusiasm of its supporters was
justifiably disturbing, but even a quick glance at the background of the
organization reveals the lack of support of security forces and quickly
With that in mind, the next time CNN shows a four-second clip of a large
gathering of people in the Middle East, it is more likely that the
resulting sentiment will be curiosity and not a generic conclusion.
Things are rarely what they seem and politics is certainly no exception.
Gathering information about the parties involved in foreign affairs that
affect our country is a necessary condition for a wholesome grasp of
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