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Nazis in the Middle East: Assessing Links Between Nazism and Islam

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 September 2016

Department of History, National University of Singapore;


Since the early-2000s there has been an increasing amount of research on connections between the Nazi regime and the Arab world largely spurred by scholars of Germany. One of the key contributions of this scholarship has been the argument that historic links between National Socialism and Islam, in particular the connection between National Socialist racial ideology and contemporary anti-Semitism in the Middle East, persisted into the post-war period and crucially shaped Middle Eastern politics and policies. This approach is represented in this review in the studies by Matthias Küntzel, Jeffrey Herf, Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers and Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz, who all – in various ways – suggest that there is a direct line of continuity between National Socialism, the Muslim Brotherhood and the rise of al-Qaeda. By calling attention to the role of National Socialism, these studies challenge what has hitherto been the dominant historiography of the modern Middle East, which contextualises the rise of anti-Semitism in the region within a broader analysis of Arab nationalism, anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism. The debate on the importance of National Socialism in the Arab world continues to develop. Recent books by historians David Motadel and Stefan Ihrig return the focus from the Middle East to Nazi policy in the region allowing them to place the Nazi regime within a longer history of Western misapprehensions of the ‘Muslim’ world. Placing these two approaches side by side allows us to evaluate the historical evidence of collaboration between Nazism and radical Islam and thereby assess the extent to which Nazi racial ideology penetrated the Arab world.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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1 For more on this see Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, ‘“Exekutivmaßnahmen gegenüber der Zivilbevölkerung in eigener Verantwortung”: Das Einsatzkommando bei der Panzerarmee Afrika’, 137–47.

2 Rauff was found working in Chile after the war, but German authorities failed to extradite him to face charges. During the war he worked for Reinhard Heydrich, who commissioned Rauff to create a more ‘humane method of execution’ based on experiments with exhaust gases. The mobile killing vans were put to use by mobile killing units in Soviet territories and then likely at Chelmno. See Browning, Christopher, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939–March 1942, with contributions by Jürgen Matthäus (Lincoln: University of Nebraska and Jerusalem: Vashem, Yad, 2004), 355–6Google Scholar and 418–9.

3 See, Wild, Stefan, ‘National Socialism in the Arab near East between 1933 and 1939’, Die Welt des Islams, 25, 1/4 (1985), 126–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Krämer, Gudrun, The Jews in Modern Egypt, 1914–1952 (London: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., 1989)Google Scholar; Gershoni, Israel and Jankowski, James, Confronting Fascism in Egypt: Dictatorship versus Democracy in the 1930s (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010)Google Scholar; Nicosia, Francis, ‘Arab Nationalism and National Socialist Germany, 1933–1939: Ideological and Strategic Incompatibility’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 12 (1980), 351–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wildangel, René, Zwischen Achse und Mandatsmacht: Palästina und der Nationalsozialismus (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2007)Google Scholar; Kabha, Mustafa, Writing Up a Story: The Palestinian Press as Shaper of Public Opinion, 1929–1939 (London: Valentine Mitchell, 2007)Google Scholar; Höpp, Gerhard, Wien, Peter and Wildangel, René, eds., Blind für die Geschichte? Arabische Begegnungen mit dem Nationalsozialismus (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2004)Google Scholar; Nordbruch, Götz, Nazism in Syria and Lebanon: The Ambivalence of the German Option, 1933–1945 (London: Routledge, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Wien, Peter, Iraqi Arab Nationalism: Authoritarian, Totalitarian, and Pro-Fascist Inclinations, 1932–1941 (London: Routledge, 2006)Google Scholar.

4 See Dalin, David G. and Rothmann, John F., Icon of Evil: Hitler's Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam (New York: Random House, 2008)Google Scholar. Achcar, Cf. Gilbert, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab – Israeli War of Narratives (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009)Google Scholar.

5 Nordbruch, Götz, ‘Reviewed Work: Halbmond und Hakenkreuz. Das Dritte Reich, die Araber und Palästina by Klaus-Michael Mallmann, Martin Cüppers’, Die Welt des Islams, 49, 2 (2009), 269–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 272.

6 Jihad and Jew Hatred was expanded for the English version published in 2007.

7 Krämer, Gudrun, The Jews in Modern Egypt, 1914–1952 (London: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., 1989)Google Scholar, 151.

8 Qutb, Sayyid, ‘Ma ‘rakatuna ma‘a al-Yahud’ (Our Battle with the Jews). Cited in Joel Beinin, ‘Book Reviews’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 42 (2010), 689–92Google Scholar, here 691. For further information on the text, see Musallam, Adnan A., From Secularism to Jihad: Sayyid Qutb and the Foundations of Radical Islamism (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2005)Google Scholar.

9 Herf elaborates on this development in the chapter, ‘Postwar Aftereffects’, 231–60.

10 A very limited sample: Gershoni, Israel, ‘Confronting Fascism in Egypt: Tawfiq al-Hakim's Anti-Totalitarianism, 1938–1945’, Tel Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte, 26 (1997), 121–50Google Scholar; ibid. ‘Egyptian Liberalism in an Age of “Crisis of Orientation”: al-Risala's Reaction to Fascism and Nazism, 1933–1939’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 31 (1999), 551–76 and Jankowski, James, ‘The Egyptian Blue Shirt and the Egyptian Waft, 1935–1938’, Middle Eastern Studies, 6 (1970), 7795CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 According to his memoir, the leader of the Wafd Party Mustafa al-Nahhas compared the imperial nature of the Italian and German regimes to all the European powers then at war.

12 See, Gershoni and Jankowski, ‘Part II: Dictatorship versus Democracy in Egyptian Public Discourse’, in idem, Confronting Fascism in Egypt, 49–204.

13 Most Jews did not have Egyptian citizenship. According to Krämer, 25–30 per cent were Egyptian nationals in the interwar period with another 25 per cent with foreign passports or foreign protection. The remaining 45–50 per cent were stateless. This number shifted in favour of Egyptian nationalism over the course of the 1950s (80 per cent Egyptian, 20 per cent foreign nationals). Krämer, The Jews in Modern Egypt, 32.

14 Stateless Jews had existed in Egypt since the nineteenth century. See, Krämer, The Jews in Modern Egypt.

15 Krämer, The Jews in Modern Egypt, 217–21.

16 See Beinin, Joel, ‘Book Reviews’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 42 (2010), 689726CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here, 689. In addition, the notion that the Ba'ath was influenced by the fascists is still being debated as demonstrated by Gilbert Achcar's The Arabs and the Holocaust. Among these works, there is a general consensus that the neither the National Socialists nor the fascists were able to launch lasting movements in the region.

17 Wien, Peter, ‘The Culpability of Exile: Arabs in Nazi Germany’, Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 37 (2011), 332–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 In West Germany a small number of high-level Muslim collaborators were able to avoid repatriation to Eastern Europe in Munich, where both the Federal Republic and the Americans helped fund their religious and refugee organisations. During the Cold War Americans took up ideas similar to the National Socialists, believing that Muslims were key to destabilising the Soviet Union, a rationale that justified involvement in the war in Afghanistan and relations with religious leaders like Said Ramadan, disciple and son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna.

19 For example, Germany acquired half of the chromite necessary for the production of stainless steel from Turkey.

20 This issue is no doubt clarified in his recently published Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016).

21 Even without a consensus on the legacies of colonial violence, it remains premature to cast them aside. Historian Charles S. Maier discusses two narratives of the twentieth century – a moral narrative of atrocities and a Third World narrative focusing on imperialism and its legacies. In terms of the second, he writes that there is no consensus on the legacies of colonial violence, yet ‘imperial power and inequality on a world scale remains the key for understanding world history’. See his Essay, Forum, ‘Consigning the Twentieth Century to History: Alternative Narratives for the Modern Era’, American Historical Review, 105, 3 (2000), 807–31Google Scholar, here 826–7.

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