Jihad and Jew-Hatred
The German historian Matthias Küntzel's Jihad and Jew-Hatred is an important contribution to the analysis of radical Islam. Like Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism (2003), but with greater attention to historical detail, Jihad and Jew-Hatred argues that present-day Islamist extremism is, in great part, directly imitative of Nazism and other European fascist movements. Also like Berman, Küntzel appears to have crafted his discourse to appeal to Western liberals and leftists for whom fascism was anathema.
Further, as with Terror and Liberalism, Jihad and Jew-Hatred is concerned with the political aspects of Muslim radicalism rather than its theological background, or alleged justifications, in Wahhabism and other fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. Küntzel, echoing Berman, correctly assumes that, in the longer scheme of Islamic history, radical interpretations are newer rather than older, and modern rather than ancient. Islamist extremism is also utopian rather than conservative, and reformist or "purificationist," rather than traditional. All these insights should be implicit in any serious discussion of Islamofascism.
Unlike Berman, however, Küntzel concentrates on that aspect of radical Islamist ideology with the highest profile in the West: Muslim Jew-baiting. Not all Muslim radicals have selected the Jews or Israel as a single or even main enemy. Extremists claiming the legacy of Muhammad find the greatest number of their victims among Muslims who do not accept their interpretation--only then followed by the believers in other faiths, including Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus, as well as Jews and the nonreligious.
Still, Küntzel finds a rationale for his own focus on the Egyptian Muslim -Brotherhood, or Ikhwan--as Berman did before him. Founded in 1928 by a then-obscure figure called Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood proclaimed the revival of an imaginary original purity in religion, asserting that a diluted and distorted Muslim devotion had undermined Islamic resistance to European imperialism. Yet the Muslim Brotherhood was modernistic in its reaction against modernity, adopting the characteristics of competing leftist and rightist militias in Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany. It flourished as an aggressive, paramilitary formation, and established a network in the Arab East, India, Turkey, and Indonesia. While some of these branches were no more than fantasies typical of radical conspiracies, the Muslim Brotherhood did become an open ally of Hitler in seeking enhanced German influence in the Islamic world.
Decades later, its Palestinian wing gave birth to Hamas, one of its most successful offshoots, and it has grown very powerful in many Muslim countries.
The Muslim Brotherhood introduced an innovation to the concept of jihad in which civil/political organization assumed priority over military action. While it has been common in Islam to distinguish between a "lesser jihad" of armed combat and a "greater jihad" of spiritual discipline, the Brotherhood looked toward an entirely novel "third jihad." This entry into the world of ordinary politics was a predictable development in an Egypt governed within the British Empire. (The failure of the 1857 Indian mutiny against the British similarly gave rise to the fundamentalist Deoband school of Islam, which eventually produced the Taliban in Afghanistan.) The Muslim Brotherhood's third jihad also found imitators in Iran.
Unfortunately, the political jihad of the Muslim Brotherhood, replacing military means, has fooled some Western commentators into support for the jihad of the ballot over the bullet, with arguments for Western accommodation of the Brotherhood as well as the disastrous welcome granted Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian general election. The principle of a third, political jihad is also visible in radical Islamist agitation in some Western countries, including the demand for introduction of sharia law in Britain. While there are differences in tactics between the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, and Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, their aim--a purificationist Islamic state--remains identical.
Still, distinctions persist in the universe of radical Islam, and should be neither ignored nor exaggerated. While the Muslim Brotherhood doubtless embodies a nearly undiluted political Islam, Saudi Wahhabism and Pakistani-Afghan Deobandism (mainly seeking influence in the religious life of Muslims) also have recourse to politics through the Saudi monarchy, the "emirate" of the Taliban, and in its most virulent form, the terrorism of al Qaeda. In addition, the Khomeini regime in Iran has long provided the quintessential realization of this third jihad.
Küntzel has performed an exhaustive search through German sources to establish the links between the Third Reich and the Muslim Brotherhood, and the various forms of propaganda employed by each. He has emphasized the appeal of Nazism to Arab subjects of the British, and the general spread of political radicalism in the Middle East as seen in the secularist Baath movement in Syria and Iraq. Finally, he has given considerable attention to a prominent figure, Haj Amin al--Husseini (1895-1974), who was appointed the grand mufti of Jerusalem by the British but became a notorious German agent and anti-Jewish figure in the Middle East.
Much of this material has been previously worked over by historians, but Küntzel has rendered a service in presenting this fresh summary. You have to wonder whether the liberals/leftists to whom his work is addressed have not become too compromised to pay serious attention to him, through their alliance with isolationists, neofascists, and Islamists, and their opposition to the global democratization of the Bush administration--and, especially, the Iraq war. But Küntzel makes several important points that will be unfamiliar to many Western readers. One is that the Muslim Brotherhood's hostility to Jews was novel in Egypt, which had a history of good relations among Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Another point is that, notwithstanding broad Palestinian Arab opposition to Zionism, many village sheikhs in today's West Bank opposed anti-Jewish campaigns in the 1920s and signed petitions favoring increasing Jewish immigration.
In dealing with this issue Küntzel cites the important work of Hillel Cohen in Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948, which has just appeared in English. Cohen's book is a treasury of data suggesting new approaches to the history of Arab-Jewish relations. His work is epitomized by one stunning disclosure: In 1947-48, while the Grand Mufti al-Husseini and others called for Arab war against the new state of Israel, Palestinian "Arabs were in no hurry" to join the battle: "Only a minority of Arabs were involved in offensive activities," writes Cohen. "This unwillingness to fight was frequently buttressed by agreements with Jews in nearby settlements." The main Arab leader in Baqa al-Gharbiya, for example, offered a peace agreement to the Jewish settlements in his district--and Baqa today is home to the Al-Qasemi Academy, a Muslim school and college organized on the spiritual principles of Sufism.
Drawing, like Küntzel, on official sources, Cohen reveals a substantial Muslim record of cooperation with Jewish immigrants to Palestine. And his style is more precise, as well as less polemical, than that of Küntzel, who occasionally falls into minor factual or interpretative errors. (Küntzel recycles a commonly accepted canard that Amin al-Husseini was a significant figure in recruitment of a Waffen SS unit in Axis-occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina during World War II.)
Stevan K. Pavlowitch, a leading historian of the Balkans, has never been accused of understating the crimes of the Germans and their collaborators in Yugoslavia. Hitler's New Disorder, like Küntzel and Cohen, benefits from new access to archives. Pavlowitch notes that Bosnians were exhorted by al-Husseini to volunteer for the German armed forces, but those who did were sent for training to southern France, where they mutinied, and their distaste for Nazi mobilization was backed up by a series of declarations by Bosnian Muslim clerics protesting German atrocities.
The practical lesson of all three of these volumes is that recent archival work will redefine many historical presumptions. (In this way they join Robert Satloff's useful Among the Righteous, which touches on opposition to Nazi anti-Jewish crimes among Arab Muslims in North Africa during the Holocaust, and which was reviewed by Roger Kaplan in the Jan. 1, 2007 WEEKLY STANDARD.) But the important consequence of this new historiography is a recognition that Islam is neither monolithic nor uniformly radical, providing hope that the "clash of civilizations" may be avoided, and the "long war" against terror shortened--and won.