Monday, June 26, 2006

'Hamas,' by Matthew Levitt - The New York Times Book Review - New York Times

Imagine writing a book about the Jerry Falwell and his church in Lynchburg, Virginia, without consulting any materials by Falwell or spending any time at the church or with Falwell. Or imagine writing a book about the Zapatistas of Mexico without drawing on their own materials or visiting Chiapas or using Spanish language materials. In both cases, the resulting effort would be easily dismissed as transparently inadequate. Yet, much of what we consume on Islamist movements draws only on English language reportage, the assessments and claims of hostile governments, and absolutely no fieldwork. This review is appropriately critical of just such a book on Hamas, the Palestinian movement that won the Palestinian elections in January.
A remaining question is what sort of review procedure did Yale University Press use and how did such an apparently flawed volume slip through?

'Hamas,' by Matthew Levitt - The New York Times Book Review - New York Times: "Levitt depends heavily on analyses from the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center of the Center for Special Studies — an Israeli nongovernmental organization created 'in memory of the fallen of the Israeli intelligence community' and staffed by its former employees. (When I asked, a spokesman for the center told me that it receives some Israeli government financing.)

None of this would matter if Levitt used the center's analyses critically, but he doesn't appear to. As a result, there will be readers of this book who will see it as fronting for the Israeli intelligence establishment and its views.

And there's yet another problem readers may have with 'Hamas.' Levitt is not a natural writer; his book is padded and mind-numbingly repetitious. There are multiple references to the same meetings, organizations, charities and documents, always introduced as if for the first time. Levitt, but certainly his editor, should have been paying more attention.

Those who persist, however, will have their rewards. This book contains useful information about the background of Hamas and how it has bankrolled itself, portraits of key leaders and interesting excerpts from captured documents and United States government files, including some wiretap transcripts introduced as evidence in court cases. Still, it's safe to say that "Hamas" won't be the last word on the subject."

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