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Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World.

Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, by Jeffrey Herf. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009. 335 pp. $30.00.

This illuminating and path-breaking study is a vital addition to the growing body of scholarship on the relations between Nazi Germany and the Islamic world of the Middle East and North Africa during the Second World War and beyond. The author drew on a large body of archival resources, including Nazi broadcasts of Arabic radio programs, the reception of this propaganda in the Arab world, and allied responses to the Nazi attempt to win the countries of the Middle East and North Africa to its cause.

Herf illustrates in great detail and with telling quotes of this propaganda material how the Nazis spared no efforts to incite the Islamic world against the Jews and the allied countries of America, England, and the Soviet Union. The Nazis hired Arab exiles in Germany, such as the Palestinian Grand Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini and the Iraqi collaborator Rashid Ali Kilani with the assistance of top Nazi officials, to produce millions of leaflets and thousands of hours of shortwave radio programs. At the same time, the Nazis tried to extend their genocidal program for the Jews of Europe to the 700,000 Jews in the Middle East and North Africa.

The basic thesis of the book is that Nazi Germany, with the assistance of its Arab collaborators, attempted to equate Nazi ideology, and especially extreme antisemitism, with some selected radical traditions of Islam such as a holy war to crush the Jews who were portrayed as out to conquer the Arab world and to destroy Islam. The major core was the idea of the Jewish conspiracy to control both Germany and the Islamic world. The Nazis and their helpers also altered their ideas of racial hierarchy by flattering the Arabs and Iranians to include them in their circle of favored races. This also extended to the Bosnian Moslems of Yugoslavia. What is striking is that while the Nazis were flexible in this regard, their fanatical hatred of the Jews was rigid, based on the assertion that the Jews were an anti-race, not human at all. The Nazis and their Arab helpers even portrayed Hitler as a savior of Islam and claimed Nazi values were similar to Islam.

In so doing, Nazism became less "Eurocentric" and more global in its appeal. As early as the nineteen twenties the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was translated into Arabic and by 1939 Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf was translated as well. The Nazis attempted to emphasize that their antisemitism equated with anti-Zionism to appeal to the Moslems of Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and North Africa. The Nazis posed as anti-imperialists who were out to liberate the Arabs from Jewish and allied domination. What was bitterly ironic is that Hitlerite Germany aimed to impose its own imperialist genocidal program on Europe. Ironic too is that Nazi propaganda towards the Arab world intensified during the course of the war and portrayed the Jews as the powerful ultimate menace while the Jews were murdered by the millions in the death camps.

A central Arab figure in this effort was Haj Amin el-Husseini, the former Grand Mufti of Palestine and Jerusalem, who was in Berlin during the war. He met with Hitler and with such top Nazi officials as Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Eichmann, exhorting them to continue with their murder of the Jews in Europe and to exterminate the hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Moslem World.

This hateful antisemitic propaganda was diffused throughout the Arab world. The Moslem Brotherhood that had been founded in Egypt in 1928 supported the Nazi effort. Herf provides valuable insights into how the Americans and the British responded to the Nazi propaganda barrage. While the Allied victories in Stalingrad and North Africa prevented the Nazis from extending the Holocaust to the Middle East, the allies were cautious in their response to the Arabs. They did not mention the Holocaust and promised the Arab countries independence after the war. Still, the Nazi-Arab propaganda asserted that the Jews controlled the Allies and that even Anglo-Saxon Puritanism was antithetical to Germany and Islam.

By the end of the war a synthesis had been achieved between the most extreme elements of Nazi ideology and Islamic religious nationalism. With the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Moslem Brotherhood revived and, with the ideological pronouncements of the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, reinvigorated anti-Zionist and antisemitic propaganda. The Arab collaborators were not tried, and some top Nazi propagandists and officials fled to the Arab world where they continued their previous efforts.

Herf wisely asserts that his work makes no attempt to evaluate systematically the impact that this wartime propaganda made on the Islamic world. He leaves this to future scholars of Arabic and the Middle East. He does suggest that the ideological symbiosis of Nazism and Islam achieved by this propaganda was passed on to the post-war Islamic world: "The Third Reich was short-lived. Tragically, traces of the ideological diffusion examined in these pages have had a much longer life." Interestingly, one new manifestation of Arab antisemitic propaganda is the equation of Israel and its Jewish supporters with the Nazis themselves.

Despite his superb research and compelling arguments, Herf might have provided more background on pre-war Arab antisemitism and on the Moslem Brotherhood. In addition, he might have illustrated some of the "traces" of the earlier propaganda in the present pronouncements of Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaeda, and Ayatollahs. A spelling correction might also be in order: Herf's spelling of "anti-Semitism" should be revised to antisemitism. Unlike Zionism, there is no ideology entitled "semitism," despite the fact that Hebrew and Aramaic are semitic languages. And ironically, so is Arabic. The term "antisemitism" was invented by a German racist in 1879 as a pseudo-scientific substitute for "Jew-hatred." Unfortunately, the term took hold.

This well-researched, clearly organized, and excellently documented study will be of great value to students of Nazi Germany and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. It paves the way for further research and reinterpretation. The term"Islamofascism" might be a misnomer, but what Herf aptly calls the "selective interpretation" of Islamic texts and tradition by the Nazis and their Arab supporters achieved an attempted synthesis of Nazi and Islamic beliefs--especially in the area of the Jew-hatred that persists in the Middle East, North Africa, and Iran.

Leon Stein

Professor Emeritus of History

Roosevelt University
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Author:Stein, Leon
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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