Friday, April 16, 2010

Nazi obsession with Jews endures among Arabs

Recent works by academics Matthias Kuntzel and Jeffrey Herf point to the profound impact of Nazi ideas and propaganda on the Arab world, mixed with Islamic themes - an impact that endures to this day. Reading Jeffrey Herf's Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World convinced a sceptical Daniel Pipes of the fascist qualities of Islamism. Here is an extract from Pipes' review for Commentary magazine (April 2010) (with thanks: Michelle):

Herf emphasizes the remarkable symbiosis of German and Middle Eastern elements: "As a result of their shared passions and interests, they produced texts and broadcasts that each group could not have produced on its own." Specifically, Arabs learned "the finer points of anti-Semitic conspiracy thinking," while Nazis learned the value of focusing on Palestine. He describes the coming together of Nazi and Islamic themes in Berlin as "one of the most important cultural exchanges of the twentieth century."

Having detailed Nazi propaganda in Arabic, Herf then traces its impact. He begins by documenting the great energy and expense devoted to these messages—the quality of the personnel devoted to it, their high-level Nazi patronage, the thousands of hours of radio transmissions, and the millions of pamphlets.

He then rounds up assessments of the Axis impact, all pointing to its success. Allied estimates from 1942, for example, found that "the people were saturated with Axis talk," that "upwards of three-fourths of the Moslem world are in favor of the Axis" and that "90% of the Egyptians, including their government, believe that the Jews are mainly responsible for shortages and high prices of essentials." A report from 1944 found that "practically all Arabs who have radios … listen to Berlin."

Allied reluctance to contradict Nazi propaganda also points to Axis success. Fearful of alienating Middle Easterners, the Allies stayed humiliatingly silent about the genocide taking place against the Jews; failed to refute allegations about Jews dominating London, Washington, and Moscow; did not dispute the distorted Koranic interpretations; and shied away from endorsing Zionism. Merely to dispute Nazi accusations, the Allies worried, would only confirm Nazi claims about Britain, America, and Russia being stooges of Jewish power. An internal U.S. directive in late 1942 acknowledged that "the subject of Zionist aspirations cannot be mentioned, inasmuch as … [this] would jeopardize our strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean."

Thus, when two leading U.S. senators, Robert Taft of Ohio and Robert Wagner of New York, proposed a resolution in 1944 endorsing a Jewish national home in Palestine, Berlin radio in Arabic called this an attempt "to erase Islamic civilization" and "to eradicate the Koran." Panicked, the entire weight of the Executive Branch came down on the senators, who felt compelled to withdraw their resolution. Clearly, Nazi offerings resonated deeply in the Middle East.

They continued to do well after the Nazi collapse and the war's conclusion. The defeat of Nazi General Erwin Rommel's aggressive push into North Africa meant that Nazi ambitions in the Middle East, in particular the Final Solution to annihilate its million or so Jews, were never implemented. But years of hate from radio and pamphlets and the repetitive, grotesque, ambitious, anti-Semitic, and Islam-based message detailed by Herf had taken root. Not only did the Middle East's Nazis emerge nearly invulnerable to prosecution, but they also prospered and were feted. An example: in 1946, Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brethren, lavished praise on Hitler's favorite Arab, Haj Amin el-Husseini, calling him "a hero … a miracle of a man." Banna added for good measure: "Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin el-Husseini will continue the struggle." Acknowledging el-Husseini's exalted status, a British officer in 1948 described him as "the one hero in the Arab world."

Ideas the Nazis spread in the Middle East have had an enduring twofold legacy. First, as in Europe, they built on existing prejudices against Jews to transform that prejudice into something far more paranoid, aggressive, and murderous. One U.S. intelligence report from 1944 estimated that anti-Jewish materials constituted fully half of German propaganda directed to the Middle East. The Nazis saw virtually all developments in the region through the Jewish prism and exported this obsession.

The fruits of this effort are seen not only in decades of furious Muslim anti-Zionism, personified by Arafat and Ahmadinejad, but also in the persecution of ancient Jewish communities in countries like Egypt and Iraq, which have now shriveled to near-extinction, plus the employment of Nazis such as Johann van Leers and Aloïs Brunner in important government positions. Thus did the Nazi legacy oppress Jewry in the Middle East post-1945.

Second, Islamism took on a Nazi quality. As someone who has criticized the term Islamofascism on the grounds that it gratuitously conflates two distinct phenomena, I have to report that Herf's evidence now leads me to acknowledge deep fascist influences on Islamism. This includes the Islamist hatred of democracy and liberalism and its contempt for multiple political parties, preference for unity over division, cult of youth and militarism, authoritarian moralism, cultural repression, and illiberal economics.

Beyond specifics, that influence extends to what Herf calls an "ability to introduce a radical message in ways that resonated with, yet deepened and radicalized, already existing sentiments." Although a scholar of Europe by training, Herf's detective work in the U.S. archives has opened a new vista on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Islamism, as well as made a landmark contribution more broadly to an understanding of the modern Middle East.

Read article in full

Review in the Daily Telegraph

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