Jewish Political Studies Review 18:1-2 (Spring 2006)
This is an important book because it explicitly addresses common German/European misconceptions about Islamism and the Middle East conflict and counters them with documented, factual information.
Küntzel’s aim is to correct views that have become conventional wisdom in the West. He traces the history of Islamism (radical, militant Islam) from its modern beginnings with Hassan al-Banna in the 1920s in Egypt and the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in Mandatory Palestine until today’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Al Qaeda. This trend, he shows, is inherently anti-Semitic and pursues its ideological agenda through murder and violence.
Küntzel points out that Islamism would not have succeeded without the combination of al-Banna and Husseini. In the latter half of the 1930s, they received financial and ideological assistance from Nazi Germany, and after World War II were aided by Nazis brought to Egypt.
A Deep-Rooted Anti-Semitism
At the same time, Küntzel notes the differences between Islamism and Nazism. Referring to the writings and teachings of al-Banna and Husseini and their successors – principally Sayeed Qutb and Ahmed Yassin, respectively – he demonstrates that Islamism’s ideological and genocidal anti-Semitism predates its contacts with the Nazis. The Muslim Brotherhood introduced its ideology to Arab societies by following a three-step agenda: first establishing its views and principles in society, then the elimination of Muslim opponents, and afterward aggression against the Jews.
Küntzel also discloses the widely unknown fact that it was the Mufti who first made overtures to Nazi Germany, which at first was reluctant to accept them for fear of offending the British. The German Foreign Office only began to respond after the Peel Commission’s plan made a Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine seem possible, something it sought to prevent at all costs. Subsequently, the Mufti prevailed, first by fomenting terror in Palestine, then by broadcasting propaganda to the Arabs from Berlin, setting up a Muslim SS division, and opposing leniency toward the Jews by countries that belonged to the Axis but were not under direct Nazi rule such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Italy. When he could, he also sabotaged all attempts at rescue, including children.
Also not widely known are the lasting effects of the Nazi ideology in the Middle East. Nasser had strong sympathies for Nazi Germany, as did many of his compatriots in the Egyptian military. After World War II, as mentioned, Egypt welcomed Nazis who continued their war against the Jews. They helped distribute anti-Semitic writings and broadcasts to foster hatred not only of Israel, but all Jews, using and supplementing the language and thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood. One such achievement was the translation of Mein Kampf into Arabic.
Depicting the manifold relationships between leading members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and political as well as terrorist leaders of the Middle East, Küntzel demonstrates that the ideological origins of present-day terrorism were in Egypt – not in Saudi Arabia, as many now believe. It was in Egypt that the Brotherhood laid the groundwork for today’s Islamist movement. Despite changes in strategy – from fighting mainly the “infidel” Arab establishment since the mid-1950s to switching priority to the “Zionist entity” and the United States since the 1990s – one aim always prevailed: extermination of the Jews. This was not linked to Israeli policies but to the very existence of the Jewish state in what Islamists believe is an integral part of the House of Islam.
Küntzel also points to the ties between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and major political and military figures of the Palestinian movement, and notes that today’s Palestinian leaders’ genocidal attitudes are identical to those of Arab leaders in the past. Thus, both for Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Yassin, Oslo was only an interim stage toward Israel’s destruction. Palestinian maps, including in textbooks, do not show Israel at all; Palestinian sources omit the Mufti’s role in Nazism and deny the Holocaust, while viewing jihad as the only means to defeat Israel. A mostly overlooked point is the Palestinian Authority’s explicitly authorizing the dissemination of the 1999 edition of Mein Kampf, whose preface by the translator declares that Hitler was one of the few great men in history and that National Socialism did not die with its founder.
Although relating to the subject throughout the book, Küntzel devotes the last chapter to German perceptions about the Middle East. In Germany, the Left as well as the extreme-Right and neo-Nazi camps support terror against Israel and the United States as a struggle for freedom. The Left – and increasingly, mainstream groups – mistakenly view Islamist terror as expressing the frustration and desperation of a progressive anticapitalist movement. They do not seem to grasp that an anticapitalist mass movement could be of a fascist character, instead ignoring or denying the blatantly fascist aspects. In reality, common fascistic and anti-Jewish themes led neo-Nazi groups to embrace Islamists as brothers-in-arms against the “Jewish world conspiracy.” Küntzel shows how both Left and Right embrace anti-Semitism by supporting Islamism without understanding its aspirations to world dominance.
Although Küntzel’s study is well documented, he demonstrates what is not esoteric, but denied: that the Islamist mass movement must be understood in a societal context, not in terms of political and economic postulates. Küntzel’s special contribution is to provide this context that is missing from the perceptions both of Germany’s ideological fringes and its mainstream.
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HERBERT EITENEIER is an elementary school teacher in Leverkusen, Germany.