Editor’s note: The following interview was originally published in German translation by Swiss daily newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung on October 24th. It is reproduced here with their kind permission, retranslated into English.
After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, New York author and journalist Paul Berman explored the roots of Islamist terrorism in Terror and Liberalism. In that New York Times bestseller, Berman examined the connections between radical Islam and European totalitarianism. Speaking from New York, he explains how Hamas’s terrorism fits into this picture. The interview was conducted by Andreas Scheiner.
Andreas Scheiner: The Hamas terrorist attack is seen as an attack on Israel. But shouldn’t we view it in a wider context? Is October 7th comparable to September 11th or the Islamist attacks in Paris in 2015?
Paul Berman: I think you’re right. I consider it a mistake to interpret Hamas solely as a local nationalist movement. The establishment of a conventional Palestinian state would not satisfy their demands, not in the long run.
AS: Hamas thinks bigger?
PB: Yes, it is part of a larger international Islamist movement. The ultimate goal of Islamism is to establish a certain type of Islam throughout the Muslim world and, in some of the Islamist interpretations, beyond.Let’s not forget that Hamas interprets Zionism as a worldwide conspiracy against Islam, not just as a local matter. This means that Hamas’s struggle inevitably has a global dimension. Hamas resembles its ally, the Lebanese Hebollah, in that respect—though Hezbollah has been keener on conducting terrorist operations in remote parts of the world.
AS: Islamic terrorism often relies on suicide attacks. Was the Hamas attack different? Or did the attackers not expect to come out alive?