The New York Times has reported on Alistair Crooke, a former British intelligence agent and the author of a recently published book that can best be described as a glowing tribute to Hamas and Hezbollah. According to the report:
….. for several years, small groups of Western diplomats have made quiet trips to Beirut for confidential sessions with members of Hamas, Hezbollah and other Islamist groups they did not want to be seen talking to. In hotel conference rooms, they would warily shake hands, then spend hours listening and hashing out accusations of terrorism on one side and imperial arrogance on the other. The organizer of these back-door encounters is Alastair Crooke, a quiet, sandy-haired man of 59 who spent three decades working for MI6, the British secret intelligence service. He now runs an organization here called Conflicts Forum, with an unusual board of advisers that includes former spies, diplomats and peace activists.
The report neglects to mention that the Conflicts Forum Advisory Board includes Azzam Tamimi, a leader figure in the U.K. Muslim Brotherhood and often described as a Hamas spokesman. The Conflicts Forum board also includes former CIA agent Milt Bearden, who played a leading role in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and Graham Fuller, a former Vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA. Another member of the Conflicts Forum Board is Lord John Thomas Alderdice who was one of the two organizers of a proposed April 22 video link-up in the British Parliament with Khaled Meshaal, the Damascus-based head of Hamas’ Political Bureau. A technical fault prevented the event from taking place.
The NYT report goes on to discuss the new book by Mr. Crooke titled “Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution”:
To get past that impasse with Iran, and with Islamist groups generally, the West will need to change its diplomatic language of threats and rewards, Mr. Crooke said, and show more respect for their adversaries’ point of view. Mr. Crooke has spent the past few years trying to explain that to suspicious Westerners, in a stream of articles, speeches and conferences. Although not an Arabist by training, he has developed a deep knowledge of modern Islamist movements, and launches easily into analyses of Palestinian politics, or even of medieval Islamic philosophy. Recently, he has taken his explanatory efforts a bit further. In a new book, “Resistance: the Essence of the Islamist Revolution,” he deliberately avoids the most controversial subjects, like Israel and the status of women in the Islamic world. Instead, he focuses on what he calls the core of the Islamist revolution, which he defines as a metaphysical resistance to the West’s market-based definition of the individual and society. He invokes European social critics like Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, endorsing their critiques of Western thinking and arguing that Islamism offers a more holistic model. NOT surprisingly, the book has received some stinging reviews, and renewed accusations that Mr. Crooke has gone native. Even some of his fellow board members at Conflicts Forum say they are a little baffled — not by his sympathy for Islamists, but by the book’s broad philosophical themes. Mr. Crooke says the book grew out of his own efforts to find common ground with Islamists, and to look beyond the usual stumbling blocks.
Although a full review of the book is beyond the scope of this post, it should be noted that Hamas and Hezbollah are treated so favorably and the West so critically, it raises legitimate questions about Mr. Crooke’s religious and political loyalties. The central thesis of the work, that Hamas and Hezbollah are at the forefront of “resistance” to Western “hegemony”, places the two Islamist organizations squarely at the center of a “clash of civilizations” as opposed to the nationalist struggle so often identified by supporters as being at the core of the groups’ identity. Another media report describes a March 2005 meeting in Beirut attended by Crooke that included the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Musa Abu Marzuq, deputy leader of Hamas, and two of his senior colleagues, leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and representatives of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami party.
The NYT report provides some background on Mr. Crooke that may, in part, explain some of his beliefs:
Mr. Crooke has spent much of his career talking to Islamists. In the 1980s, as a young undercover agent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he helped funnel weapons to jihadists fighting the Soviets. Later, he spent years working with Hamas and Fatah as a negotiator for the European Union, and helped broker a number of cease-fires with Israel between 2001 and 2003… He is a little evasive about his own life and career, perhaps by training. Born in Ireland, he grew up mostly in Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe, and was educated at a Swiss boarding school and at St. Andrew’s in Scotland, obtaining a degree in economics. Before joining MI6, he worked in finance in London. “It’s a dangerous area to work in,” he said of his years as a banker, without apparent irony, “because it’s so easy to get caught up in enrichment.” He is barred by law from discussing his service with MI6, which included years of diplomatic work on the Israel-Palestine issue. As a negotiator in the Palestinian territories, he is said to have traveled alone, by taxi, eschewing the armed security convoys of many Western diplomats. Colleagues who worked with him say Yasir Arafat and the leaders of Hamas trusted Mr. Crooke completely, as did some high-level Israeli officials. SOME Israelis, however, apparently complained that he was too close to Hamas. In late 2003, he was recalled to London — he had reached retirement age — and quietly ushered out of government service, with a commendation. He says he has no regrets, but some of his colleagues in Conflicts Forum say he retains some bitterness about the way he was treated. In 2005, he moved to Beirut, where he lives with his partner, Aisling Byrne, and their 1-year-old child, Amistis, in an elegant, old French mandate-era apartment, working out of a home office.