Tag Archives: Muslim Brotherhood

D-Day and the Nazi legacy in the Arab world [updated]

In the wake of the recent commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the historic assault on Nazi-occupied France, the well-respected Arab analyst and commentator Hussein Ibish posted a tweet suggesting that the participation of some forces recruited from Arab countries invalidated what he called the “myth” that “Arabs sided with the Nazis.”

Ibish DDay1

When I responded that the “fact that some Arabs were recruited for the Allies doesn’t make Arab Nazi collaboration a ‘myth,’” a heated exchange ensued.  Ibish countered that while there were only few Arab Nazi collaborators, there were “HUGE numbers of Arabs who took up arms against Axis forces.” He proceeded to cite specific numbers, claiming e.g. that “9,000 Palestinians enlisted in the British army during the war,” and while he did not link to any sources, Ibish definitely does not deserve to be suspected of making up his own facts.

However, even if one assumes it is correct that 9000 Arabs from British Mandate Palestine enlisted in the British Army, this number is dwarfed by the 30,000 Jewish volunteers from British-ruled Palestine who served with the British forces during World War II. In addition, Jewish refugees who had escaped Nazi-controlled areas in Europe also volunteered to join the fight against Hitler’s Germany. Altogether, some 1.5 million Jews fought in the regular Allied armies – which is to say: roughly 10 percent of the global Jewish population in 1940. Of course, by the end of World War II, some six million Jewish civilians had been murdered by the Nazis, and a quarter of a million Jewish soldiers had lost their lives fighting with the Allies.

The number – and percentage – of Jewish fighters is staggering, and it is perhaps little wonder that at one point during the exchange, Ibish moved from his original focus on Arabs to Muslims, even including Muslims from British-ruled India to bolster his numbers. But this shouldn’t be a numbers game; and it also makes no sense to assume that Arab and Muslim recruits from areas under colonial rule fought with the Allies because they were motivated by a passionate opposition to Nazi ideology and Nazi Jew-hatred. Towards the end of the exchange, Ibish claimed that I wanted to believe that “Arabs/Muslims were generally pro-Nazi,” and he added all too confidently: “Good news: they weren’t!”

Given that I did my Ph.D. on a somewhat related topic – US intelligence on Germany during the 1940s – I’m not quite as unsophisticated as Ibish seems to assume. I doubt that there are reliable studies about how Arabs and Muslims in general felt about the Nazis during World War II, and given that countless millions of Arabs and Muslims lived in great poverty and had very little education at the time, many likely knew too little to have an informed opinion. However, we do know that the Nazis invested considerable efforts to appeal to Arab and Muslim audiences through broadcasts and other propaganda, and several scholars have made a convincing case that the poisonous legacy of this propaganda and the collaboration between the Nazi regime and some Arab leaders lives on in the Middle East.

So while it is obviously true that Arab and Muslim forces participated for various reasons in the Allied efforts to defeat Nazi Germany and the Axis powers, it is unfortunately also true that the ideologies developed by Arab and Muslim Nazi collaborators and sympathizers have remained deeply entrenched in the Middle East throughout the seven decades that have passed since D-Day.

Syrian Protocols 2005

Syrian edition in 2005 of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”

It is interesting in this context that Ibish linked in the exchange on Twitter to one of his articles where he decried the “very disturbing tendency by both Western and, to some extent also Arab, observers to apply different standards […], to be very tough on Western populists, demagogues and religious fanatics on the one hand and to be neutral, blasé or ‘understanding’ about their Arab counterparts on the other.”

But unfortunately, such very different standards are also applied when it comes to the legacy of Nazism in the Middle East. In Europe and the US, no group that identifies with a text even remotely resembling the Hamas Charter would stand a chance to gain any political legitimacy; yet, when the Western-supported Palestinian Authority forms a “unity government” with Hamas, there is no shortage of analysts and politicians who argue that this is acceptable because after all, Hamas has a sizeable constituency among Palestinians and if they don’t mind the unmistakable echoes of Nazi ideology in the group’s charter, everyone else should be willing to along with it.

There is a similar willingness to ignore the Nazi connections of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to an American intelligence report from June 1, 1946, the return of Hitler’s ally Amin al-Husseini to Egypt was welcomed by Hassan Al-Banna, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who praised Husseini in a statement to the Arab League as a “hero who challenged an empire and fought Zionism, with the help of Hitler and Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin Al-Husseini will continue the struggle.”

As Rubin and Schwanitz note (p.233), al-Husseini indeed “remained the historic Palestinian Arab leader until he was able to anoint [Yassir] Arafat as successor during meetings between them in 1968, and selected Said Ramadan [his son-in law and father of Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan] as his successor to lead the European-based Islamist movement. Even more important was al-Husaini’s role as leader of the international Islamist movement, ensuring that it survived the lean years of the 1950s and 1960s. When Islamism revived in the 1970s, its ideology bore the mark of al-Husaini and the other wartime collaborators, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.”

But while al-Husseini continues to be hailed as a Palestinian hero – including by Mahmoud Abbas –, a Palestinian professor who earlier this year dared to take his students to Auschwitz was threatened and vilified and eventually resigned his position.

As these and countless other examples illustrate, even if sizeable Arab and Muslim forces helped to defeat the Nazis 70 years ago, the Nazi legacy in the Middle East still needs to be defeated.

* * *

After posting this piece at my JPost blog, I came across an article at the excellent Tablet, where David Mikics writes about the book “The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS Doctor Aribert Heim.” As Mikics notes:

“When Heim landed in Egypt in 1963, he found himself on welcoming, even familiar ground. President Nasser, if one trusts his own words on the subject, was as true a disciple of the Nazi cause as had ever lived. “During the Second World War, our sympathies were with the Germans,” Nasser told the Deutsche Nationalzeitung in May 1964, adding that “The lie of the 6 million murdered Jews is not taken seriously by anybody.” Wehrmacht Gen. Wilhelm Fahrmbacher prepared the Egyptian army for its effort to destroy Israel in 1948, and Wilhelm Voss, a former SS weapons expert, developed the Egyptian missile program. Johann von Leers, a convert to Islam known as Omar Amin, served Nasser as an anti-Semitic propagandist.”

This highlights a fact that is too often ignored: while Nazi Germany was defeated in 1945, Israel’s Jews still had to fight Nazis – not just Nazi sympathizers – years later. Another example I noted in a recent post concerns a group of some 40 Bosnian Muslims – veterans of the units “Hitler’s mufti” al-Husseini had recruited for the Nazis – who fought in Jaffa in January 1948.

By now, Hussein Ibish has also published a column on the topic of our exchange on Twitter, though it was important for him to let me know that I shouldn’t “flatter” myself by assuming it had anything to do with this exchange. Under the title “Second World War record of Muslims is worth marking,” Ibish repeats the numbers he presented in our exchange, once again without citing any sources; and as the title of his piece already indicates, he again ultimately focuses on the numbers of Muslims who fought with the Allies to defeat Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers. While Ibish argues that “it is essential to remember and recognise that huge numbers of Arabs and Muslims fought in the war, and that – in spite of the constant misrepresentation, distortion or downplaying of this reality – they did so almost entirely on the ­Allied side and against Nazi Germany,” he also openly acknowledges that “there were significant groupings with sympathy for Nazi Germany in Arab and Muslim societies. Some of this was clearly driven by anti-colonial sentiment. But at times it clearly crossed the line into outright ideological support, such as by the short-lived Rashid Ali government in Iraq.”

Ibish refers to al-Husseini as the “most notorious Arab collaborator with the Nazi regime,” but falsely claims that

“following the war, after receiving a hero’s welcome in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Husseini quickly slipped into obscurity and played no further role in Palestinian politics until his death. He remains a largely forgotten figure, with even Hamas according him no real historical significance.”

As I’ve shown repeatedly, there is plenty of evidence to conclude that a majority of Palestinian Arabs regarded al-Husseini as their leader in the years after his return from Europe, and it is an indisputable fact that he continued to play a leading role in the Islamist movement for decades. Unfortunately, Ibish is also wrong to claim that Palestinians no longer see him as a significant historical figure. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas explicitly honored al-Husseini in speeches he gave in 2010 and in 2013.

* * *

Note: I just came across a very interesting and relevant review of a book by Derek Penslar, Jews and the Military: A History, Princeton University Press, 2013.

 

The Palestinians and the Holocaust

In the past few weeks, several reports highlighted the vitriolic backlash that followed a visit by a group of Palestinian students to Auschwitz at the end of March. The controversial visit – apparently the first of its kind – was organized as part of a joint program on Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution with the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and was led by Al-Quds University professor Mohammed S. Dajani.

The media reports on this visit leave little doubt that Professor Dajani reacted to the abuse and threats directed at him with admirable courage and integrity; it is also clear that he greatly inspired the students who participated in this trip. Moreover, the organizers of this program obviously had only the best of intentions. Yet, it is arguably deplorable that nobody seems to have made an effort to use this opportunity to teach the Palestinian students about the collaboration of Haj Amin al-Husseini with the Nazis. As one of the Palestinian students who visited Auschwitz reportedly noted afterwards:  “It is a strange thing for a Palestinian to go to a Nazi death camp. But I would recommend the trip.”

Quite obviously, this student remained completely unaware that when Palestinians visit a Nazi death camp, they have no reason to feel like detached spectators for whom it is somewhat “strange” to come. On the contrary, when Palestinians visit a Nazi death camp, they are following in the footsteps of the man who is nowadays sometimes referred to as “Hitler’s mufti,” and they have the chance to understand what this Palestinian ally of the Nazis saw and what he envisaged for the Middle East after the Nazi victory he hoped for.

Barry &Schwanitz book

According to the recently published book “Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz, it was either al-Husseini himself or one of his aides and relatives who visited Sachsenhausen in June 1942 together with three other Arab officials (p.2); there is also credible information indicating that one year later, “Eichmann personally took al-Husaini to visit the Auschwitz and Maidanek concentration camps.” (p. 164)

Rubin and Schwanitz also document that at this time, al-Husseini traveled extensively in German-occupied Poland and in early July 1943, he was Himmler’s guest in the Ukrainian town of Zhitomir. As al-Husseini later recorded in his own memoirs, Himmler told him on this occasion that the Nazis had already “liquidated about three million” Jews. (p.188)

Mufti & Himmler

Screenshot showing a photo of Haj Amin al-Husseini meeting
SS leader Heinrich Himmler,
with the dedication:
To His Eminence the Grand Mufti as a memory; 4 VII: 1943; H.Himmler.

 This was obviously good news for al-Husseini. While the Nazis were initially content to solve their “Jewish problem” by driving Jews out of Germany and German-occupied areas, Rubin and Schwanitz argue that the importance they attached to their alliance with the Palestinian mufti was one of the factors that led to the adoption of the “Final Solution:” since al-Husseini wanted the Arab lands he intended to rule as “judenrein” as the Nazis wanted Germany and Europe, the Nazis had one more reason to conclude that it was in their interest to begin the systematic killing of Jews.

According to Rubin and Schwanitz, it was therefore also not entirely coincidental that shortly “after seeing the grand mufti Hitler ordered invitations sent for a conference to be held at a villa on Lake Wannsee. The meeting’s purpose was to plan the comprehensive extermination of all Europe’s Jews.” (p. 8) Al-Husseini was also “the first non-German informed about the plan, even before it was formally presented at the conference. Adolf Eichmann himself was assigned to this task. Eichmann briefed al-Husaini in the SS headquarters map room, using the presentation prepared for the conference. The grand mufti, Eichmann’s aide recalled, was very impressed, so taken with this blueprint for genocide that al-Husaini asked Eichmann to send an expert […] to Jerusalem to be his own personal adviser for setting up death camps and gas chambers once Germany won the war and he was in power.” (pp. 8-9)

The Nazis believed that, in contrast to some of the other Arab leaders who had shown interest in cooperating with them, the mufti had transnational appeal and influence due to his standing as a religious leader. The resulting esteem shown to al-Husseini by the Nazis was not only reflected in his access to the highest echelons of the Nazi leadership – including a lengthy audience with Hitler – but also in the lavish accommodations and payments he received:

“In November 1941, al-Husaini arrived in Berlin to a reception showing the Germans saw him as future leader of all Arabs and Muslims […] He was housed in the luxurious Castle Bellevue, once home to Germany’s crown prince and today the official residence of Germany’s president. Al-Husaini was paid for his personal and political needs an amount equivalent to about twelve million dollars a year in today’s values. The funds were raised by selling gold seized from Jews sent to concentration camps. Following this pattern, al-Husaini requested and received as his office an expropriated Jewish apartment. His staff was housed in a half-dozen other houses provided by the Germans. In addition, al-Husaini was given a suite in Berlin’s splendid Hotel Adlon and, for vacations, luxurious accommodations at the Hotel Zittau and Oybin Castle in Saxony.” (p.5)

So it is not at all “a strange thing for a Palestinian to go to a Nazi death camp” – particularly given the fact that al-Husseini remains a revered Palestinian leader. In recent years, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly paid homage to al-Husseini, which inevitably casts a shadow over today’s news that for the first time, Abbas issued a special statement for Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day describing the Holocaust as “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.”

This statement shouldn’t be dismissed lightly, since it will no doubt trigger furious reactions by all those who insist that the Palestinian “nakba” was a comparable tragedy. Nevertheless, those who will now rush to praise Abbas for this statement should pause for a moment and consider how much more could be achieved for the prospects of genuine reconciliation and peace if the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world were finally willing to confront their own historical connections to the Nazi era. As Rubin and Schwanitz rightly highlight: “The regimes that would later rule Iraq for forty years, Syria for fifty years, and Egypt for sixty years were all established by groups and leaders who had been Nazi sympathizers.” (p.4) Given the re-emergence of Islamism, it is no less important to realize that this “ideology bore the mark of al-Husaini and the other wartime [Nazi] collaborators, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.”

* * *

Also posted at  The Algemeinermy JPost blog and on the Polish blog Listy z naszego sadu

The art of politically-correct Holocaust commemoration in Germany

This past Friday, people in Cologne had the chance to participate in a unique “performance” sponsored by the “Impulse Theater Biennale 2013:” mimicking Israeli practice on Yom HaShoah, people in Cologne were invited to observe “Two Minutes of Standstill” in order to “pause and think about the history and our future. About what it means to be German today, what it means to live in Germany as an immigrant, what the consequences of the Holocaust and its instrumentalisation are today.”

This “performance” was the idea of award-winning Israeli-born artist Yael Bartana, whose work “challenges the national consciousness … propagated by her native country Israel.”

But not everyone is impressed with Bartana’s record as an artist and her awards: writing in “Die Welt,” Alan Posener observed sarcastically that any Israeli artist in search of a business plan that can work irrespective of talent should consider Israel-bashing as a safe choice. What irked Posener in particular was Bartana’s entirely predictable attempt to employ all sorts of worn-out slogans and clichés to endow her project with a supposedly deeper meaning.

Thus, Bartana explains in the official announcement of her project for the Cologne event:

“the Third Reich and the Holocaust are not just historical events – they also have long-term global chain effects that reach into the present day. Not only is the founding of the State of Israel based on a UN-decision such a consequence, but so is the Palestinian “Nakba” in 1948. As are escape and expulsion in Europe and the Middle East […] This history is written, but the future depends on our acting.

 And so, “Two Minutes of Standstill” is not only commemoration and performance but also a challenge to change the present. It is a proposal for a wide-reaching debate in Cologne and beyond, about what active remembering should look like today. A day of protest against violence and injustice today and tomorrow.”

Bartana also repeatedly highlighted the murders and other crimes committed by a small terror group that called itself “National Socialist Underground” (NSU). The group may have had a handful of supporters, but it consisted of only three known members and seems to have been active between 2000 and 2011, when two of the terrorists killed themselves as they were cornered by police after a bank robbery. The group’s only surviving member turned herself in and is awaiting trial.

Bartana apparently considers the NSU a part of “the chain of effects caused by the Second World War.” When asked in an interview if there wasn’t “a danger of relativizing the crimes and horrors committed by Germany during the NS-regime when you connect them this way with other events such as the murders of the NSU,” Bartana replied:

“It seems that for some people in Germany drawing a line between the NS [Nazis] to the NSU is politically incorrect. Just as it seems to be impossible to commemorate Jews, Roma, homosexuals together as victims of National Socialism. Maybe it’s true, and each group needs its own memorial. And of course this will continue to be an important discussion: How to commemorate without relativizing. But also without exclusion. After all, it is not about numbers. The NSU is an active fascist movement in today’s Germany. So we are talking about an ideology that still is alive.”

Of course you have to argue that “it is not about numbers” if you want to claim that a terror group consisting of three people and perhaps a few dozen supporters constitutes “an active fascist movement in today’s Germany” and represents “an ideology that still is alive” – even if two of the terrorists are dead and the third one is in custody awaiting trial. To be sure, the fact that the terror trio could carry on for years and commit a series of murders targeting mostly immigrants reflects a spectacular failure of German law enforcement and security agencies. But the existence of such a small group in a country of some 80 million people does not indicate that Nazism and fascism are “alive” in Germany.

However, there are other reasons for concerns about the legacy of Nazism in Germany – which can of course be conveniently ignored by somebody like Bartana who isn’t interested in numbers. Consider for example the findings of studies showing that at least 20 percent of Germans harbor antisemitic attitudes, and that more than 40 percent of Germans endorse antisemitic “criticism” of Israel such as comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of Jews.

But anyone really concerned about Nazi-inspired hatred that “still is alive” today would have to bring up the pervasive Jew-hatred in the Middle East. As the renowned expert Robert Wistrich has argued:

“Islamic antisemitism is by far the most dynamic and threatening form of antisemitism existing at present in the contemporary world. It combines the scourge of Islamist terrorism, the spread of jihad, hatred of the West, Holocaust denial, and the genocidal “anti-Zionism” which is state-sanctioned in Iran. The dramatic triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the alarming growth of militant Salafist movements across the Arab Middle East have greatly increased the level of threat worldwide.”

Commenting on the historic connection between European fascism and Islamism, Wistrich has pointed out:

“The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, had a radical totalitarian vision of societal transformation, a leadership cult, and visceral hatred of Jews not so different from that of fascism and National Socialism. Moreover, the charismatic founder of the Palestinian Arab national movement, Haj Amin el-Husseini, was a fanatical genocidal anti-Semite who actively collaborated with Adolf Hitler during World War II. This “annihilationist” tradition of Jew-hatred has continued in the Palestinian Hamas movement (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) to this very day. Its Sacred Covenant is one of the most nakedly anti-Jewish texts of the entire post-Holocaust era.”

While much has already been written about Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis, a new book on “Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz will be available early next year, offering “new insight on the intertwined development of Nazism and Islamism and its impact on the modern Middle East.”

Nazis and Islamists

Admittedly, it wouldn’t be a good career move for Yael Bartana to incorporate this important subject into any of her future projects in Germany. It’s so much easier to offer a glib “Holocaust for all” which – as a critical article in the taz puts it – transforms the Nazi genocide into a “European feel-good project.”

However, Bartana’s “performance” in Cologne was also attended by a few people who didn’t feel so good about it. As initiated by blogger “Tapfer im Nirgendwo” (Brave in the nowhere), they sang Hatikva and some carried Israeli flags – which led some high-school students who had been sent by their teachers to attend the “performance” to respond with shouts of “Viva Palestine!”

If I could have joined “Tapfer im Nirgendwo”, I would have played the famous recording of survivors of Bergen Belsen concentration camp singing HaTikva shortly after the camp’s liberation in April 1945.

* * *

First published on my JPost blog on June 29, 2013.

 

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

In a recent article on the now widely debated antisemitic rants by Mohammed Morsi – recorded in 2010, well before he became Egypt’s president – Barry Rubin rightly criticizes that there is a tendency to pretend that we are just dealing with some “isolated acts” and that by now, Morsi’s views might have changed.

While this kind of wishful politically-correct thinking is unlikely to change no matter how much evidence is available to counter it, MEMRI recently provided translated excerpts from a very interesting article on precisely this subject by Lebanese liberal Joseph Bishara, who pointed out that Jew-hatred is a basic principle of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “philosophy.”  This is of course exactly the same assessment as the one offered by the widely respected Syrian-German scholar Bassam Tibi  in an interview that I quoted a year ago.

Here are some passages from Bishara’s article, as translated by MEMRI:

“Needless to say, tolerance toward the other has no place in the MB’s agenda. Therefore, how can certain people assume that the MB is tolerant of Jews? The MB is racist and hates the Jews and anyone who believes in Judaism. This is an uncontestable part of its creed and is reflected in extremist directives that appear in the writings of its greatest thinkers.

“This hatred did not emerge in the 20th century or [after] Israel’s establishment or the occupation of Arab and Palestinian lands by Israel. This hatred is historic, with roots going back to the inception of Islam. The MB bases its hatred of Jews on the Koranic verse: ‘You will surely find that the most intense of people in animosity towards the believers are the Jews and the polytheists… ‘ [Koran 5:82].

“The MB’s position on the Jews is evident in the interpretation of this verse by Sayyid Qutb, who said that the Koran placed the Jews before the polytheists because they had been more hostile to the Muslims throughout history. Qutb also stated that contrary to what moderate Muslims claim, the Koranic description of the Jews is unchangeable and is not dependent upon [circumstances] of time and place.

“As far as the MB is concerned, the text is absolute and fits any time and place; hence, the animosity between Jews and Muslims is eternal, and will never end, whatever the circumstances.”

The notion of a divinely ordained “eternal” hostility between Muslims and Jews is indeed exactly what the influential cleric Yusuf Qaradawi is preaching.

Bishara also offers some chilling observations about the thinking of MB founder Hassan Al-Banna:

“The MB’s position on the Egyptian Jews is no different than its position on Jews in general; it is the same animosity and hatred. A document titled ‘The MB and the Jews,’ penned by ‘Abdo Mustafa Dsoky for the MB’s Wiki [ikhwanwiki.com], claims that MB founder Hassan Al-Banna gained fame due to his essays on the character and hidden traits of the Jews.

“[Al-Banna] wrote: ‘The Jews of today are the descendants of their warmongering, troublemaking, rabble-rousing, and scheming ancestors. There is no civil war or popular rebellion that does not have the fingerprints of Jews behind it. [The Jews] stoke [wars and rebellions] and work to magnify their effect. It is as though this people wants vengeance upon the entire world for the power it lost due to its stubbornness and the honor it lost due to its materialism. No wrongs have been done them – it is they who do wrong.’

“Al-Banna went so far as to claim that it was [the Jews'] fault that the Nazis burned them in the crematoria during the first half of the 20th century. He said: ‘When we examine modern history, we see that Russia, Poland, Germany, the U.S. and other countries were outraged by the plots of the Jews and their games of deception in the politics of these countries – so much so that the Germans took a bizarre stand vis-à-vis the Jewish race.’

“Continuing his hostility to all Jews, without exception, Hassan Al-Banna said: ‘Evil gradually grew in the Jewish character. [The Jew] does not value virtue. His only concern is to accumulate wealth in any way possible, even at the expense of virtue, honor, and the principles of exalted morality. That is why [the Jews] grew rich, leading others to impoverishment. They accumulate gold, enabling them to realize their goals and cravings, [to play] deceptive games on rulers, and to thwart the efforts of those who wish to amend things.’

“Al-Banna advised the Jews: ‘You wronged the entire world and harmed all peoples. I call upon you to repent so that we do not treat you in ways that run counter to the Torah. Repent before your Maker, kill yourselves, and free the world of the catastrophes that you cause.'”

 

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

If it was a western president or prime minister – let alone an Israeli one – who had made utterly bigoted and hate-filled remarks about Muslims not long before he took office, it sure would be a top news item all over the world. But when it turns out that some two years ago, the man who is now Egypt’s president called “the Zionists” “blood-suckers,” “warmongers,” and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” most of the mainstream media (MSM) seem to think it should be politely ignored.

In a way one could actually argue that this really isn’t newsworthy, because if the MSM accurately reported on Islamist ideology, everyone would already know that implacable Jew-hatred is an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s views and agenda. After all, Morsi’s statements from 2010, which were recently translated by MEMRI, faithfully echo themes that are all too familiar from the Hamas Charter, and similar views are regularly propagated by well-respected Muslim scholars.

The question why this torrent of loathsome statements by influential and widely respected figures who clearly shape and represent mainstream views is studiously ignored in the MSM was recently addressed by Pat Condell, who focused on the Palestinians and argued that this kind of “political correctness” reflected a patronizing and ultimately racist attitude.

While I largely agree with Pat Condell’s broader argument, I think there are also other important factors at work – first and foremost perhaps the western mantra that other societies should be approached as “people like us.” The problem with this approach is that, while it is always true on an individual level – we can meet people we personally like and get along with anywhere –, it is not true for societies.  A society where the reactionary and bigoted views of Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood are mainstream is simply not like a society where it is mainstream to reject and even loathe comparably reactionary and bigoted views.

Judith Butler and the politics of hypocrisy

German prize award committees seem to have a weak spot for outspoken Jewish critics of Israel: writer and activist Uri Avnery has accumulated multiple German awards over the years, and the staunchly pro-Palestinian attorney and activist Felicia Langer was awarded Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit, First class, in 2009. Now it is the turn of Judith Butler, an American philosopher and professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley, who will receive the prestigious Theodor Adorno Prize on September 11 in Frankfurt.

To be sure, the Adorno Prize is awarded to “acknowledge outstanding performances in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film” – which is to say that it is Butler’s academic work, and not her political activism that are being honored with the prize. However, it is obviously Butler’s academic fame and her status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies that make her activism very valuable to her political allies in the BDS-movement that targets Israel. Critics who argue that it is therefore disingenuous to pretend that Butler’s contribution to philosophy can be honored irrespective of her political activism obviously have a point.

There are indeed several problematic political implications of honoring Butler with the Adorno Prize.  First and foremost, it has to be noted that, while we cannot know how Adorno would feel about Israel now, we do know that he was very concerned about the antisemitic and anti-Zionist tendencies that became acceptable and even fashionable on the left in the 1960s.  At the beginning of the Six-Day-War in 1967, Adorno expressed great alarm about the danger Israel faced and explicitly stated that he hoped that Israel would prove militarily superior to the Arabs. Shortly before his death in 1969, he worried that the open hostility to Israel displayed by the student movement might indicate fascist tendencies.  [See: Stephan Grigat, Befreite Gesellschaft und Israel: Zum Verhältnis von Kritischer Theorie und Israel; a shorter version is: Kritische Theorie und Israel: Adorno, Horkheimer und Marcuse über den Zionismus]

It is therefore hard to imagine that Adorno would have been anything but horrified by Judith Butler’s view that “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.” While Butler also emphasized that there were “certain dimensions of both movements” that were problematic and that she herself was firmly committed to “non-violent politics,” she also eventually clarified that in her view, Hamas and Hezbollah qualified as “left” because “they oppose colonialism and imperialism.”

How completely inane this view is will be readily apparent to anyone who has ever glanced at the Hezbollah or Hamas Charters, and there is arguably a strong case to be made that somebody who is able to see anything “progressive” in groups that define themselves in the most reactionary religious terms and advocate an unbridled Jew-hatred should automatically be disqualified from winning a prize named after Adorno.

Unsurprisingly, Butler has reacted to criticism of her views regarding Hamas and Hezbollah by complaining that her remarks “have been taken out of context.” She mainly emphasizes now that she has “always been in favor of non-violent political action” and explicitly declares: “I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have.”

But it is arguably revealing that Butler chose the Mondoweiss website to publish her most recent rebuttal. Surely an academic of her standing had many other choices and did not have to turn to a site that has often been criticized for hosting antisemitic posts and comments as well as antisemitic cartoons? On such a site, it is somewhat strange to read Butler’s lament:

“For those of us who are descendants of European Jews who were destroyed in the Nazi genocide (my grandmother’s family was destroyed in a small village south of Budapest), it is the most painful insult and injury to be called complicitous with the hatred of Jews or to be called self-hating.”

And how come that somebody who evokes such a family history has nothing to say about the Jew-hatred espoused by Hamas and Hezbollah, and their acknowledged ideological sponsors, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime?

How come that somebody who evokes such a family history would eloquently speak out in favor of boycotting Israeli universities, but would have no problem to lecture at Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism? One former student of Birzeit University is Ahlam al-Tamimi, the exceedingly proud collaborator in the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing whose release in exchange for Gilad Shalit was publicly celebrated by the Islamic bloc at the University of Birzeit.

Adorno prize winner Judith Butler can only imagine to speak at Tel Aviv university once it is a “fabulous bi-national university,” but she has no problem lecturing at Birzeit University, where Ahlam al-Tamimi is a much admired celebrity.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and a respectful look at the history of sharia

During the past week’s Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, I noticed several enthusiastic tweets about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s presentation. One of her statements – arguably a characteristically politically incorrect one – seemed particularly popular with her audience:

I was curious to learn more about her speech and the context of this statement, and while I couldn’t find an official recording or transcript, some of the bloggers who were in the audience provided their own partial transcripts or summaries.

Deena Levenstein, who criticized the conference for offering a too homogenous left-wing selection of (mainly male) speakers, highlighted Hirsi Ali as one of the few conference participants who didn’t necessarily “fit the mold.”

According to Levenstein, Hirsi Ali’s remark about Jerusalem came as response to suggestions for peace-promoting measures by veteran US Middle East expert Dennis Ross. In her presentation, Hirsi Ali had focused on three characteristics that she described as deeply embedded in Muslim societies: the absolute and unquestionable authority of the usually male power figures (e.g. father, husband, teacher, policeman, president); the dominance of a pride vs. shame paradigm and the related notion that the willingness to compromise is a sign of weakness; and the conviction that religious texts like the Koran and the Hadith offer solutions to every conceivable problem.

However, not everyone in the audience was positively impressed by Hirsi Ali. Writing in the Times of Israel, Shayna Zamkanei noted caustically:

“Cleverly, and unlike her co-speakers Ashkenazi, Ross and Wieseltier, Ali didn’t mention the Palestinians once. Yet, her entire talk centered on the Palestinian issue. Only winners and losers? Principle of non-compromise? Islamists? Listening to her talk, it would be easy to believe that secularists readily compromise, and that talking to Islamists is useless, even though both of these ideas have proven false. If we replaced in Ali’s speech […] “Muslim” and “Islamist” with “Jewish,” she would have been called anti-Semitic.

Ironically, at a conference dubbed “Tomorrow” and focused on Israel’s future and the need for communication within the region, we had a speaker hinting and miming that Muslims can’t be trusted unless they abandon their faith. While Ali’s talk focused on her challenges and inspiring triumphs, her broader message was nevertheless depressing, since it made sweeping and inaccurate generalizations not only about nearly half of the inhabitants of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, but about a sixth of the world’s population. Paradoxically, the liberating lessons Ali drew from her own struggle would, if applied to Israel’s case, reinforce a siege mentality and a paranoia that Israel cannot afford.”

Given Hirsi Ali’s uncompromising views on Islam, her detractors can always resort to the charge of “Islamophobia.” But while reading Zamkanei’s negative take on Hirsi Ali, I remembered that just a few days earlier, I had come across a Ha’aretz interview with Sadakat Kadri, a British Muslim jurist and author of the book “Heaven on Earth”, which is described as “a critical insider’s respectful look at the history of sharia.”

Reading the interview, my impression was that Kadri is much more respectful than critical; yet, it seems that his take on the likelihood that the Muslim world will accept Israel doesn’t differ much from Hirsi Ali’s views:

[Kadri] “The idea that jihad can be a military struggle has always been around. There are at least four types of jihad: jihad of the tongue, hand, heart and sword. But jihad of the sword gets a new spin in the 14th century through Ibn Taymiyya, when the idea that you could defend yourself against the invader becomes important for the first time. After the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258, this new idea of jihad as self-defense emerges, primarily through Ibn Tamiyya. It is then revived in response to foreign rule − during the 18th-century Saudi rebellion against Ottoman rule, for example, in the context of Muslim opposition to the British in India, and then in the context of resistance by Hassan al-Banna [founder of the Muslim Brotherhood] in the ’20s − which gets us toward the Zionist issue.
Because as far as the Muslim world is concerned, Zionism is just another form of colonialism.

Now I know that this is very contentious in Israel. But this is how it’s perceived in the Muslim world. And after 1948, all these interpretations of jihad evolve again, as a new idea takes hold. Jurists have historically characterized jihad as a collective obligation that must be directed by a Muslim ruler, to safeguard against freelance jihadis. But post-’48, that limitation falls by the wayside. When the Arab countries fail to stop Israel, they lose legitimacy. And what you get subsequently is a whole bunch of individuals and groups who take it on themselves to fight the jihad − who say it’s a personal obligation, binding on everyone, regardless of caliphs or rulers.

[Question] From a religious point of view, do you think it would be possible for a majority of Muslims, as Muslims, to accept Israel?

[Kadri] Well, the jurisprudence of jihad does contain the idea that a land that was once Muslim can’t be given up. That’s what the hard-liners draw on. But that’s been palpably ignored at times. Andalusia was once Islamic, but those extremists who might argue for its recapture today represent a minuscule minority. And though there are huge disagreements over the precise political compromises that Muslims can properly reach with Israel, Islamic jurisprudence does recognize the concept of the hudna, a truce. It allows for peace of limited duration, which can be renewed indefinitely. That’s how the Camp David Accords were given a religious imprimatur by clerics of Al Azhar in the late 1970s, for example. Insofar as there are people in Hamas who support truces, they also justify them on those grounds.

It’s true that jurists have ruled a hudna can’t last longer than 10 years at a time. But it can be indefinitely renewed. That would need corresponding gestures from Israel, of course, but it would potentially allow the benefits of peaceful coexistence to become more apparent on both sides.”

So here you have it: a “respectful” view of Islam’s stance toward the Jewish state boils down to the stance of Hamas – a truce or “hudna” can perhaps be negotiated for 10 years, and maybe it will be extended, but that would require “corresponding gestures from Israel.” In other words, Israel makes concessions when the “hudna” is first negotiated, and then every 10 years when it needs to be extended.

Kadri points to the optimistic scenario that this “would potentially allow the benefits of peaceful coexistence to become more apparent on both sides” – but potentially, there is of course also the pessimistic scenario that Hamas leaders mean exactly what they say when they declare over and over again that they will never recognize Israel. And who knows, maybe Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are resolved to demand the realization of the promised “United States of the Arabs” whose “capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca, or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing.” And maybe the many millions of followers of Sheikh Qaradawi share not only his conviction that Muslims and Jews are destined to fight each other, but also his hope that “the believers” will finish what Hitler didn’t accomplish.

As long as leading Muslim figures can propagate ideas like these without encountering widespread criticism and opposition in the Muslim world, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has a solid case for her sweeping criticism of Islam and she is right to warn Israel against naive hopes for peace as long as Islamists enjoy enormous popularity and support.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

A stunning clip made available by MEMRI documents an Egyptian rally to launch the presidential election campaign for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi. Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi, who addresses the crowd, promises that Mursi and the Muslim Brothers will realize “the dream of the Islamic Caliphate” by “restoring” the “United States of the Arabs” with its capital Jerusalem.

Higazi wants “the whole world” to hear his message:

“We say it loud and clear: Yes, Jerusalem is our goal. We shall pray in Jerusalem, or else we shall die as martyrs on its threshold. Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.”

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, the rally took place in a Cairo soccer stadium with presidential candidate Mursi and other Brotherhood officials present; they are shown in the clip nodding in agreement with Higazi’s speech.

Let’s hope that all the assorted “experts” and pundits who never grow tired of telling their audiences how “moderate” and/or “pragmatic” the Muslim Brotherhood really truly is will indeed take the time to listen carefully to this message.

However, the really politically correct media outlets that never fail to describe Jerusalem as Islam’s “third-holiest” city may now face a dilemma given Higazi’s explicit statement that the Islamic Caliphate’s “capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca, or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing.”

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

A recently published report by MEMRI documents a call for the implementation of gruesome “Islamic” punishments by the Egyptian Cleric Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub. According to MEMRI, the cleric asserted in a televised interview that theft, robbery and similar crimes should be regarded as “war against Allah and His Messenger” and he recommended that those guilty of such crimes should “be executed, or…crucified, or…have their hand and foot chopped off on opposite sides, or…be banished from the land.”

If it is some obscure village preacher who comes out with such horrendous proposals, it would be perfectly reasonable to conclude that this incident was not really relevant enough to report on. But I think it is fair to say that even when notable Islamic clerics issue such statements, they rarely receive prominent news coverage in the West, despite (or because of?) the fact that this is arguably a very newsworthy item because it highlights the radical difference between discourse in the Islamic world and the West.

So who is Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub?

A paper entitled “Salafists Challenge al-Azhar for Ideological Supremacy in Egypt,” originally published in September 2010 in Terrorism Monitor (Volume: 8 Issue: 35), describes Yaaqub (Yaqub) as a “very famous” Salafist preacher “with experience in teaching and preaching in some Gulf countries.” The paper also provides a link to his website (in Arabic: www.yaqob.com); and apparently, Yaaqub even has a Facebook page –which goes to show that a preference for barbaric medieval “justice” does not preclude the savvy use of modern means to propagate the incongruous  message.

Indeed, as noted in the paper, the “Salafist presence in Egypt has been further cemented lately through Salafist religious satellite channels such as al-Rahma (Mercy), al-Annas (People), al-Majd (Glory), al-Hikmah (Wisdom) and al-Fajr (Dawn).” The Salafist appreciation for modern media and marketing strategies seems to include a strong preference for Orwellian brand names, and  accordingly, the newly established Salafist party is named Al-Nour (Light); it has emerged as the strongest member of Egypt’s Islamist bloc that garnered almost 28% in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

Given this context, Yaaqub is certainly an influential figure – and here he is venting his rage against Jews during Israel’s campaign against Hamas in January 2009:

 

One can hardly expect anything else from a fanatic who advocates atrocious punishments for his own society.

The rise of Islamists also means a brutal setback for the already severely disadvantaged women in the Middle East – though there are plenty of Muslim women who willingly endorse the abuse condoned by powerful Islamists. According to a recent report, Azza El Garf, a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, “disagrees” with Egypt’s 2008 ban on female genital mutilation (FGM):

“‘It is a personal decision and each woman can decide based on her needs. If she needs it, she can go to a doctor,’ El Garf said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood refers to the practice as beautification plastic surgery. She was adamant that it was a woman’s choice, and hers alone, to have the outlawed procedure […]”

Likewise, a recent BBC report on FGM in Egypt ends with a Salafist leader evading the question whether he supports the ban on FGM by declaring that when it comes to women’s rights, this issue was “not a priority.”

 

That’s Israel’s Islamist neighborhood – and anyone who ignores the widespread social acceptance of such brutal practices in the Middle East will have a hard time to understand the region.

Why Islamists are not like Christian Democrats

A week ago, Ikhwanweb, the official English-language website of the Muslim Brotherhood, featured the translation of an article by Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. It’s easy to see why the Muslim Brothers would like what Westerwelle wrote, because he urged his readers to carefully distinguish between moderate and fundamentalist Islamist forces, arguing:

The decisive issue for us has to be the attitude of Islamic political parties towards democracy. Are these Islamic democratic parties, in the sense in which the European political spectrum naturally includes Christian democratic parties? I am confident that an Islamic orientation can be linked with democratic convictions, that Islam can be compatible with democracy.

Unfortunately, there is little justification for viewing the Brotherhood as the Muslim equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats.

For starters, it should not be forgotten that – as Ayaan Hirsi Ali emphasized in a Wall Street op-ed a year ago – the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood remains what it has always been:

Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.

For all I can tell, most of Europe’s Christian Democrats would shudder at the thought of a similar motto for their own parties. Let’s try it:

God is our objective; Jesus is our leader; the Bible is our law; crusading is our way; dying in the way of God is our highest hope.

One thing is for sure: if Germany’s Christian Democrats had such a motto, there would be no article with the headline: “Germany Has a Gay Minister — Yäwn! Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s new vice-chancellor and foreign minister, is very popular and openly gay. And nobody in Germany cares.”

Furthermore, the attempt to understand the Brotherhood as the Muslim version of Christian Democrats also ignores the fact that the Bible and the Koran are viewed very differently by believers. A recent issue of The Economist featured a relevant article that included the somewhat misleading lede: “Muslims revere the Koran. But its study is not taboo—and is in some quarters increasingly daring.” However, as the article acknowledges:

But when it comes to parsing holy writ, there is one big difference between Islam and most other text-based faiths. Barring a brief interlude in the ninth and tenth centuries, and a few modern liberals, Muslims have mostly believed that the Koran is distinct from every other communication. As God’s final revelation to man, it belongs not to earthly, created things but to an eternal realm. That is a bigger claim than other faiths usually make for their holy writings.

The Koran may be interpreted but from a believer’s viewpoint, nothing in it can be set aside. Yet, at least in the calm, superficially courteous world of Western academia, debating the precise text of the Koran is increasingly common.

Indeed, in the West, there are scholars – mostly non-Muslims – “who study the text as they would any other written material—as prose whose evolution can be traced by comparing versions.” Yet, as The Economist acknowledges: “What can be debated in most Muslim countries differs hugely from what is discussed in the West.”

This subject was also tackled in a recent post by Peter Berger, who blogs at The American Interest. Under the title “Islamic Philosophy and the Future of the Arab Spring,” Berger surveyed last year’s developments and concluded that there was little prospect for the emergence of “secular regimes with some liberal credentials.” Therefore, he argued, “if one is to have hopes for liberal democracy in the Muslim world, one will have to pin these hopes on individuals and movements who define themselves within a decidedly Islamic discourse.”

But Berger then turned to the argument that “Muslims and others like to point out that the Bible contains enough bloodthirsty teachings to compete with any Salafist ideology.” In no uncertain terms, he responded to this point arguing [emphasis original]:

It is misleading to compare the Quran with the Bible. For most Muslims, the Quran is “inerrant” to a degree far beyond the understanding of this term by even very conservative Christians or Jews. It has been suggested that Christians, rather than comparing the Quran with the Bible, should compare the Quran with Christ […]The debates as to whether the Quran was eternal or created began at some time in the first century after Muhammad’s death. I think that the majority view ever since has favored the eternity of the Quran—it was with God from the beginning […] If the Quran is co-eternal with God, it has a higher degree of literal infallibility (“inerrancy”) than if it is a creation of God.

While Berger ultimately concludes that it “is important to understand that those who wish to combine their Muslim faith with aspirations toward liberal democracy have decidedly Islamic ideas to support their agenda,” his discussion also makes it very clear that it is only a tiny minority of Muslims that would regard these ideas as “decidedly Islamic.” In other words, it is a fringe phenomenon that is extremely unlikely to go mainstream any time soon – and that is another major reason why Islamists like the Muslim Brothers should not be mistaken for Christian Democrats.