Will Hamas Spread the Islamic Lifestyle?

The Gaza Strip and the Palestinian West Bank are two very different places.

In Gaza, where the radical Islamic organization Hamas has long been the dominant force, the Islamic nature of society is very obvious. Most men wear beards, and almost every woman wears the veil. There is no alcohol on sale, and cinemas have long been closed.

Driving through the streets of Gaza, most of the construction work seems to be for new mosques. There is no shortage of funding for these new religious-based projects.

In the Palestinian West Bank town of Ramallah, the atmosphere is very different. There are restaurants selling beer and wine, theaters, local galleries, and a colorful commercial atmosphere.

There is a significant Christian minority, and a far more secular feel to society.

The fear today, in some Palestinian circles, is that Hamas' overwhelming election victory will lead to a new tension between the religious and secular across the Palestinian territories. The big question is whether Hamas will insist on spreading its Islamic lifestyle throughout the territories.

Recent history suggests that Hamas will try and influence the way its newly won towns and cities are run. For some time now, the organization has been in charge of a number of big West Bank cities. In Hebron, for example, which is the biggest city in the West Bank, life has slowly become more conservative and Islamic.

The problem for Hamas is that, historically, Palestinians have been the most secular people in the Arab world. Many of their new voters voted not for Hamas' religious ideology but for its tough stand against Israel and its fight against corruption. Above all, they voted against the old guard for its incompetence and cronyism. Many who voted for Hamas are not naturally conservative Muslims.

Hamas' spiritual leaders will have to tread carefully if they try and impose their Islamic lifestyle too quickly on a people who have grown used to Western lifestyles and aspirations.

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