From the Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2014 issue.
Reprinted with permission from the Middle East Forum site.
With Islamist groups taking advantage of uprisings across the Middle East, notably in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded for a time in gaining power and is still widely viewed as the democratically elected government of Egypt, the publication of this richly researched book, a joint production of two leading Middle East scholars, could not be timelier. While many analysts ascribe the so-called “Arab Spring” to a yearning for democracy, Rubin and Schwanitz remind us of a deep and abiding connection between radical Islamism and imperial, then later, Nazi Germany.
It was Kaiser Wilhelm II who first set the template in his cynical World War I strategy of fomenting jihad among Muslim subjects in British, French, and Russian territories in the Near East and North Africa. One side-effect of this strategy was German complicity in the Armenian massacres, which could well have served as a model for Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.
“The publication of this richly researched book… could not be timelier.”
Most of the book is devoted to demonstrating the close collaboration between National Socialism and Islamism, based on a common deployment of racism, nationalism, religious bigotry, and intolerance. Begun before World War II, this collaboration continued for decades after the Nazi defeat with the help of numerous war criminals who found refuge in Arab lands. The key figure in this dark saga was the British-installed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Husseini, an eager associate of Hitler, and just as viciously anti-Semitic.
The authors contend that Husseini was himself partly responsible for the Holocaust. It was almost immediately after his meeting with Hitler on November 28, 1941, at which time the Palestinian leader demanded and received the cessation of all Jewish emigration to Palestine in exchange for Muslim support for the Axis, that Hitler convoked the Wannsee Conference. Having closed the door on the last possible escape route for the Jews, genocide became the “final solution.”
The authors’ essential thesis is that, without Husseini’s influence, more moderate Arab voices might have prevailed over radicalism, and “there might have been other options” to war in 1948: “Once al-Husaini was allowed to re-establish himself as unchallengeable leader of the Palestinian Arabs, this ensured that no compromise or two-state solution would be considered, while making certain that Arab leaders would be intimidated and driven to war. Al-Husaini’s and the radical legacy have continued to dominate the Palestinian national and the Islamist global movement down to the present day.”
The failure of Husseini’s plan to expunge all Jews from Palestine led him to adapt the hitherto rejected notion of partition to his own ends. The two-stage strategy—essentially gaining a foothold in the West Bank and Gaza and using this land as a base for destroying Israel—was crafted by Husseini and passed along to his protégé Yasser Arafat.
Rubin and Schwanitz offer a compelling and somber insight into Islamism that must be taken into account when reflecting on the problems of the Middle East today, not least by thoughtful and open-minded Muslims. Sadly, Rubin did not see the finished product of collaboration with Schwanitz. He died just as their book was coming off the presses.
Reviewed by Lionel Gossman
From the Fall 2014 Middle East Quarterly.
Click to purchase Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Your purchase through this link helps support the ongoing activities of the GLORIA Center, founded by author Barry Rubin.