Father Edward Flanagan was a great man. In 1917 he founded Boys Town, now Boys and Girls Town, in Nebraska as an orphanage combining revolutionary and traditional approaches to help orphans who had never before known kind treatment. Flanagan was an innovative educator but he never meant his methods to be used in Middle East politics or international affairs.
Through no fault of his own, the Flanagan Method has, however, become the backbone of contemporary Western Middle East policy toward radical nationalists and Islamists.
"There are no bad boys," was Flanagan's most famous statement. "There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking." If, he argued, his orphans were only treated properly they could be saved. Or, in Flanagan's own words, "There is nothing the matter with our growing boys that love, proper training and guidance will not remedy."
Take Hamas, for example. Much of the media coverage, for example an article in the Los Angeles Times, July 13, tries desperately to find some way to avoid concluding that Hamas is fanatical, genocidal, terrorist, and ruthlessly repressive.
If only it is given a chance and treated properly, the argument goes, it will become moderate. The Los Angeles Times article portrays Hamas as walking "an ideological tightrope" between its "pragmatists" and "hardliners." Wow, I sure hope the pragmatists win.
If there is a villain, we are told it is the smaller Islamic Jihad, Army of Islam, al-Qaida or others "seeking to capitalize on the unrest between Palestinian political parties and turn Gaza into a radical Islamic state."
Hamas's own goal is now attributed instead to marginal third parties who are supposedly using the Fatah-Hamas conflict for this purpose. It is bad enough to cope with the concept that Fatah are the good guys and Hamas the bad ones. Now this is being taken one step further, with Hamas as the moderates trying to hold off the real radical Islamists. To many in the West, a radical is simply a moderate they have not yet explained things to, or who perhaps have not yet tasted the supposedly inevitable moderating influence of being in power or the educational effect of receiving Western financial aid.
ACCORDING to this view, it is not Hamas that is the source of religious extremism but various troublemakers who "have found cover" under Hamas's banner. This neglects the fact that Hamas's banner is hoisted over a charter which is perhaps the most explicitly anti-Semitic doctrine since the fall of Berlin in 1945 and its political progress is built on the bodies of those it has slain in numerous acts of terrorism.
"I have yet to find a single boy who wants to be bad," said Flanagan, and it is a basic principle of many who observe the Middle East that no movement wants to be bad either. They also don't seem to tell any lies. Or as the Los Angeles Times explains: "Hamas says it disavows Islamic radicalism but faces tension between its religious hard-liners and pragmatists who want to convince the West that it is not a political mask for jihad."
I have no doubt that Hamas says this to Western reporters. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of thing it says to its own supporters. The Hamas leadership, doctrine, methods, and goals are all hard line. Is this so hard to understand?
But if you are a naïve visiting reporter you might actually believe that "the wider challenge for Hamas is whether it can, or even wishes to, rein in independent Islamist groups seeking to impose sharia law that would limit other religions and force women to wear hijabs or head scarves."
The notion of Hamas stopping those extremists so far-out that they want to make women wear head scarves is rather quaint.
"It costs so little to teach a child to love, and so much to teach him to hate," explained Father Flanagan. Quite true. Perhaps, though, Western aid will pay for the Hamas-controlled schools so the cost of teaching hate will be financed by foreign taxpayers rather than Hamas's constituents.
Even when Hamas attacks Christians this is excused as some kind of random act by marginal elements. The Rosary Sisters School in the Gaza Strip was attacked by Hamas during an assault on Fatah forces who had been firing from the school roof. Naturally, no one is shocked any more by such behavior nor is it taken as an indication of the perpetrators‚ moral character. Once the nationalists retreated, however, the chapel was ransacked, crosses and other holy objects broken, the nuns' rooms vandalized. Yet the school's deputy director explained that while the Hamas men intentionally damaged the school, he hoped Hamas would control such extremists.
A teacher at another Christian school recounted Hamas people warning her, "This is an Islamist country." Could it possibly be that Hamas hates Christians and teaches children to hate both them and Jews? Perhaps it isn't just a mistake or a few undisciplined extremists who do such things.
Still, the teacher, as a loyal Palestinian, explains, in the reporter's words, that the international economic embargo, "Has emboldened extremists and deepened the ideological divide within Hamas."
This nonsensical idea that Hamas would have been moderate if only no one had put any pressure on it is often treated seriously in the Western media and academia though it has zero basis in reality. Hamas would simply have more resources to buy guns and carry out its plans.
Father Flanagan said, "Rehabilitation needs greater emphasis, punishment less."
Good advice for those running orphanages; bad advice for those facing radical Islamists determined to establish tyrannies no matter how much it costs their two sets of victims: their enemies and their own people.