Saturday, January 26, 2008

Islamist Anti-Semitism: Old European Roots, Contemporary European Apologetics

from Haaretz: "Jihad and Jew-Hatred" by Benjamin Weinthal

a review of:

Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, by Matthias Kuentzel (translated from German by Colin Meade) Telos Press Publishing, 180 pages, $30

In 1993, a mere four years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, while gnawing away at the voluminous stockpile of documents left behind by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the American historian Jeffrey Herf uncovered an especially cruel case of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism in the nascent phase of the now-defunct East German state: The persecution of Paul Merker, a member of the Communist party's Central Committee, who was incarcerated in 1952 for his passionate defense of Israel and his advocacy of financial compensation for Jews whose property had been "aryanized" by the Nazis. "I am neither a Jew nor a Zionist, though certainly, it would be no crime to be either," declared Merker in 1956, after his release. The East German Jewish writer Stefan Heym, devoted a section of his 1979 novel "Collin" to Merker's case; the GDR, however, banned his book.

While Herf, who introduced the story of Merker to the English-speaking world in 1994, does not mention him in his splendid foreword to the English translation of Matthias Kuentzel's "Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11," there is a striking parallel between the figures of Merker and Kuentzel, a German political scientist. Both stress the primacy of extreme anti-Jewish ideology within reactionary social and political movements; the mainstream German left sharply attacked both men for their opposition to German anti-Zionism; and both have been intellectual iconoclasts vis-a-vis standard European leftism. Merker was a trailblazer during the war period - like Hannah Arendt in the 1950s and Herf himself in the 1980s - in highlighting the role of radical anti-Semitism in shaping historical events. Kuentzel is considered a co-founder of the loosely defined segment of the pro-Israel German intellectual left.

Kuentzel, who like Merker is not Jewish, published his book in Germany 2002, and stated that by the time the book was released, most of his "erstwhile political friends on the left had excluded me from their world - a world that had either greeted 9/11 with unconcealed gloating or interpreted it in an 'anti-imperialist' framework."

Kuentzel applies his intellectual tool kit to his thesis, which was disturbingly ignored and marginalized by the German intellectual establishment following the attacks on the Twin Towers; namely, the interplay between radical political Islam - with its handmaiden jihad - and Nazism in the pre-Holocaust Middle East. His groundbreaking book has been translated into superb English by Colin Meade, with updated sections on the 9/11 Commission Report and Iran under Ahmadinejad.

Kuentzel, who is an external research assistant at the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University, debunks the ubiquitous view among a large segment of the chattering classes in Europe that Islamic hatred of Jews was a kind of natural, Pavlovian political reaction to Israel's Independence in 1948. His book establishes - as it jolts the reader out of his/her complacent slumber - that a driving engine of radical political Islam is grounded in the ideas of the former grand mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, who was an ally of Adolf Hitler. What emerges, according to Kuentzel's analysis, is the crude absorption of German anti-Semitism into shaping and informing Islamic anti-Semitism. But Kuentzel demonstrates that the anti-Semitism of Husseini (1895-1974), "was particularly evident in August 1929, during a mufti-inspired pogrom in Jerusalem that was directed not against Zionists, but Jews - the victims belonging to the centuries-old communities of Safed and Hebron."

In the book's opening chapter, "The Muslim Brotherhood and Palestine," Kuentzel demonstrates that the mufti was filled with loathing of Jews even before Hitler leveraged himself into power in 1933. That helps to explain why Kuentzel attaches significant empirical weight to Husseini's Judeophobia. In his role as the president of the Muslim Supreme Council in Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948, the mufti was the prime mover in shaping and influencing the formative stages of modern Arab-Jewish relations.
Act II of the mufti's campaign to abolish Zionism - and participate in the Holocaust - begins with his passionate support of German fascism ("in the struggle against Jewry, Islam and National Socialism are very close," he said in a talk to the imams of the Bosnian SS division in 1944). Husseini traveled to Berlin in 1941 with a staff of 60 Arabs to unify his Islamic project with the Nazi movement. Via a Nazi-sponsored radio apparatus in Zeesen, Germany, Husseini was able to broadcast to the Arab world his anti-Jewish diatribes, into which he threaded selected quotations from the Koran.

That the man who became Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was an avid listener of the mufti's Germany-based broadcasts, which were transmitted to Iran in Farsi, introduces a new perspective on the after-effects of Hitlerism on the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Kuentzel carves out new social-scientific territory as he covers the socialization of Khomeini, whose "anti-Jewish outlook, which contributed so much to his popularity from the beginning of the 1960s onwards, had been shaped during the 1930s."

Kuentzel is dazzling in the way he shifts back and forth between German anti-Semitism and its ability to condition and influence extremist Islamic hatred of Jews. A telling example of his comparative analysis is the ideological language of the National Socialists when contrasted with Ahmadinejad's outbursts. "The extermination of Jewry throughout the world," according to a Nazi directive from 1943, is "the precondition for an enduring peace."

Ahmadinejad states: "The Zionist regime will be wiped out and humanity will be liberated." There is a temptation to be lulled into a kind of psychological avoidance when reading and hearing such emotionally destructive language, as Kuentzel himself notes, but human history is riddled with totalitarian leaders whose rhetoric was filled with conviction and praxis.

SS special unit on standby

The collaboration between the mufti and the Nazis almost culminated in the destruction of Jewry in Palestine. Referring to recent research by the German historians Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cueppers, Kuentzel writes that an "SS special unit had been on standby in Athens, ready to implement the Shoah in Palestine in alliance with the Nazis' Arab allies following an anticipated victory by Rommel in the North African theatre."

The incorrigibly anti-liberal and anti-democratic ideas of the mufti and Nazism gained astonishingly fast momentum within the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt in the 1930s, triggering the Palestine campaign of 1936, in which a general strike was launched to stop Jewish refugee immigration. The Muslim Brotherhood introduced the oft-quoted notion of jihad; the pathological devotion to dying a martyr's death when waging war with the forces of non-believers. Kuentzel avoids the sweeping generalizations that tend to dominate the discourse about Nazism and Islamic anti-Semitism: "Neither the Mufti nor the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood were creations of European fascism. However, both were strengthened by it. Like an elder brother, National Socialism had backed the fledgling Islamist movement up with catchwords, intellectual encouragement and money."

Kuentzel crisscrosses a host of academic disciplines in his account of the rise of Egyptian Islamism, from the time of Nasser to the present day. He assimilates vast quantities of information covering the Koran; the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna; the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser's affinity for the mufti, and the role of "former Nazis who decamped there [Egypt] in droves in the 1950s." This enables him to apply his comparative methodology to bring to the fore the interconnections between Nazism and Islamism.

The extension of the ultra-reactionary ideas of the mufti and the Muslim Brotherhood find their expression in Hamas, which is still viewed by many Germans - and Europeans - with a sort of incurable naivete; that is, as a fabulous social service organization with an army of social workers. Kuentzel carefully scrutinizes the Hamas charter's ideological justification for waging its war against Israel. He concludes that the Hamas program is reminiscent of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the famous czarist-era forgery, blaming international Jewry for the world's misfortunes. Hamas shifts the onus of world evil to "world Zionism." Kuentzel, invoking the powerful role of radical anti-Jewish ideology, writes: "Amazingly, this most obvious of explanatory sources, Hamas' program, very rarely gets a mention in the interminable journalistic musings about the motivation for suicide bombing."

Kuentzel presents a strong case in his final chapter, on "September 11 and Israel," that there cannot be a separation between "the murder of American civilians by bin Laden and that of Israeli civilians by Hamas." The nexus between bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood, and their mutual enthusiasm about Khomeini's victory in Iran shows a commonality in the desire to dissolve Israel coupled with a virulent hatred of American democracy.

It requires at times the lucidity of an "outsider" scholar to address the flaws of the U.S. 9/11 Commission report. Kuentzel's analysis will surely upset many policy makers and academics in the West, for he challenges their premise "that Islamism first arose in response to current American and Western policies." He systematically outlines examples of "undisguised anti-Semitism" among the 9/11 hijackers and these startling omissions in the Commission report. Why is there a paucity of attention to what may have been the central motivation for the 9/11 attacks, which was, according to bin Laden, an effort "to force America to end its support for Israel"?

The plan to engulf Manhattan's skyline in an inferno was first conceived by the Nazis and Hitler, according to the diaries of the Fuehrer's architect, Albert Speer. A Daimler-Benz blueprint shows an "Amerikabomber" plane designed for suicide missions meant to target New York. Both the Nazis and the 9/11 terrorists shared the view that the U.S in general and New York in particular embodied Jewishness. The new dimension to this type of Jew-hatred involves the deadly mix of modern technology with a campaign to exterminate Jewry. In his discussion of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pursuit of a nuclear program, and the Iranian dictator's frequent references to the idea of wiping Israel off the map, Kuentzel builds on the notion of "reactionary modernism," which invokes the historian Herf's concept of an amalgamation of sophisticated technology with a repressive political movement.

Kuentzel's method is a dialectical masterpiece; he is a social scientist who pursues connections. The suicide attacks of the intifada in Israel are, for Kuentzel, inherently linked to the attacks in America on September 11. That explains his remedy for fighting anti-Semitism: "Whoever does not want to combat anti-Semitism... hasn't the slightest chance of beating Islamism." Kuentzel is in many ways the modern successor to Paul Merker, a rare voice in Germany, who, like Merker's view of Arab princes as embodying "reactionary interests", shifts the terms of the discussion to anti-Jewish ideology as the sine qua non of understanding radical political Islam, its destructive energy and its social and political violence.

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