Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The German struggle against Zionism, for Islamism

While we're on the subject of the Nazi influence on fundamentalism in the Arab and Muslim world, Daniel Pipes has a review in Commentary (subscription required) of Jeffrey Herf's book Nazi propaganda for the Arab world. Pipes' conclusion is all the more remarkable because he is a late convert to the idea that fascism had a weighty impact on Islamism. Via Jonah Goldberg's blog:

"A specialist in modern German history at the University of Maryland, Herf brings a new corpus of information to light: summary accounts of Nazi shortwave radio broadcasts in the Arabic language that were generated over three years by the U.S. embassy in Cairo. This cache reveals fully, for the first time, what Berlin told the Arabs (and to a lesser extent, the Iranians). As page after page of Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World establishes in mind-numbing but necessary detail, the Germans above all pursued two themes: stopping Zionism and promoting Islamism. Each deserves close consideration.

And his conclusion:

"Ideas the Nazis helped spread in the Middle East have had an enduring twofold legacy. First, as in Europe, they built on existing prejudice 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 (my emphasis - ed), 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 use of 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."

The rest of Jonah Goldberg's post deals with reviews of Paul Berman's must-read book, The flight of the intellectuals. See also review by Melanie Phillips and this post.

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