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Egoistic Martyrdom and Hamās' Success in the 2005 Municipal Elections: A Study of Hamās Martyrs' Ethical Wills, Biographies, and Eulogies

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Historical and sociological studies have shown that most monotheistic societies understood martyrdom as an act intended, first and foremost, to promote a goal in this world. They viewed any eschatological reward that resulted from martyrdom as a secondary and collateral benefit. In contrast, popular texts, such as ethical wills and biographies of Hamās martyrs, composed and distributed by the Hamās in Gaza since the breakout of the second Palestinian Intifada present a concept of martyrdom that divorces martyrdom from any goal in this world. Instead these texts promote martyrdom as a way for martyrs to extricate themselves from what the texts depict as an inherently futile life in this world and to deliver themselves into the only meaningful life possible, that of the world to come. This article argues that Hamās chose to promote this particular conception of martyrdom as a means of securing its own political and social foothold among Palestinians. It shows that Hamās views the promotion of this form of martyrdom as a highly effective means of achieving its goal of "re-Islamizing" society. By reducing the value of life in the here-and-now, the Hamās ideology makes it easier for many to undertake acts of martyrdom. In turn, the willing-ness of so many people to die for Hamās ideology is a recurring public validation of this ideology because if so many people are willing to die in its service, the thought goes, it must be true. This self-validating cycle draws Palestinians into Hamās ideology and strengthens Hamās' foothold in Palestinian society. Thus, the more martyrs commit acts of martyrdom, the more Hamās' convictional community grows within the Palestinian society.

Affiliations: 1: Los Angeles

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