Islamism is an ancient political tendency whose founders were in sympathy with Hitler and European fascists. But their actions are interpreted today as pragmatic and anti-colonial, writes Paul Berman, author of The flight of the intellectuals, in The Wall St Journal (with thanks: Lily) :
In our present Age of the Zipped Lip, you are supposed to avoid making any of the following inconvenient observations about the history and doctrines of the Islamist movement:
You are not supposed to observe that Islamism is a modern, instead of an ancient, political tendency, which arose in a spirit of fraternal harmony with the fascists of Europe in the 1930s and '40s.
You are not supposed to point out that Nazi inspirations have visibly taken root among present-day Islamists, notably in regard to the demonic nature of Jewish conspiracies and the virtues of genocide.
And you are not supposed to mention that, by inducing a variety of journalists and intellectuals to maintain a discreet and respectful silence on these awkward matters, the Islamist preachers and ideologues have succeeded in imposing on the rest of us their own categories of analysis.
Or so I have argued in my recent book, The Flight of the Intellectuals. But am I right? I glance with pleasure at some harsh reviews, convinced that here, in the worst of them, is my best confirmation.
No one disputes that the Nazis collaborated with several Islamist leaders. Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, orated over Radio Berlin to the Middle East. The mufti's strongest supporter in the region was Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna, too, spoke well of Hitler. But there is no consensus on how to interpret those old alliances and their legacy today.
Tariq Ramadan, the Islamic philosopher at Oxford, is Banna's grandson, and he argues that his grandfather was an upstanding democrat. In Mr. Ramadan's interpretation, everything the Islamists did in the past ought to be viewed sympathetically in, as Mr. Ramadan says, "context"—as logical expressions of anticolonial geopolitics, and nothing more. Reviews in Foreign Affairs, the National Interest and the New Yorker—the principal critics of my book—have just now spun variations on Mr. Ramadan's interpretation.
The piece in Foreign Affairs insists that, to the mufti of Jerusalem, Hitler was merely a "convenient ally," and it is "ludicrous" to imagine a deeper sort of alliance. Those in the National Interest and the New Yorker add that, in the New Yorker's phrase, "unlikely alliances" with Nazis were common among anti-colonialists.
The articles point to some of Gandhi's comrades, and to a faction of the Irish Republican Army, and even to a lone dimwitted Zionist militant back in 1940, who believed for a moment that Hitler could be an ally against the British. But these various efforts to minimize the significance of the Nazi-Islamist alliance ignore a mountain of documentary evidence, some of it discovered last year in the State Department archives by historian Jeffrey Herf, revealing links that are genuinely profound.
"Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion," said the mufti of Jerusalem on Radio Berlin in 1944. And the mufti's rhetoric goes on echoing today in major Islamist manifestos such as the Hamas charter and in the popular television oratory of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a revered scholar in the eyes of Tariq Ramadan: "Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one." Foreign Affairs, the National Interest and the New Yorker have expended nearly 12,000 words in criticizing "Flight of the Intellectuals." And yet, though the book hinges on a series of such genocidal quotations, not one of those journals has found sufficient space to reproduce even a single phrase.
Why not? It is because a few Hitlerian quotations from Islamist leaders would make everything else in those magazine essays look ridiculous—the argument in the Foreign Affairs review, for instance, that Qaradawi ought to be viewed as a crowd-pleasing champion of "centrism," and Hamas merits praise as a "moderate" movement and a "firewall against radicalization."
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Paul Berman on Nazi sheikhs in sheep's clothing