Jeffrey Herf is a professor of history at the University of Maryland. I’ve just finished reading his latest book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. There have been excellent studies of Nazi policy towards the Middle East, one of the earliest being by Lukasz Hirszowicz, The Third Reich and the Arab East, published as long ago as 1966. Hirszowicz was Polish, a one-time Communist, and he had access to material behind the Iron Curtain. When he defected to the West, I got to know him, and realized that he was one of those people whose knowledge was really encyclopedic. The only other person I have known like that was Leo Labedz, the editor of Survey, in its day the most authoritative anti-Communist magazine. Leo was also originally from Poland. That country was in the eye of the storm in Europe, which is presumably why it produced such brilliant witnesses — survivors might be a better word.
Professor Herf has got hold of new material, thousands of pages of transcripts of Arabic-language radio broadcasts by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the Second World War. American or British diplomats and agents were recording these broadcasts which have then been deposited in the State Department archives. Several German ministries were involved, and so were a number of pro-Nazi Arab exiles, the best known of them being Haj Amin, the mufti of Jerusalem. He got to meet Hitler, Ribbentrop, Himmler, and others. The message was simple and repetitive: Kill the Jews. None of these broadcasts saw fit to mention that the Nazis were in the process of killing Jews by the million, but they kept on exhorting the Arabs and all Muslims to start what might be called freelance extermination.
What emerges is that two streams of prejudice fed these broadcasts. One consisted of the incitement to hate Jews found in some verses of the Koran, and the other consisted of unremitting Nazi ideology. These two sources fed and reinforced one another. Of course it is depressing to read this rubbish, especially because it was thought out, worked up into the big lie that Jews were masters of the world at the very moment when knowledge of Auschwitz and genocide must have been present in the mind of everyone connected with the broadcasts.
What strikes hard today is that the equivalent of these broadcasts of hate is put out ceaselessly by Tehran, by Hamas and Hizbollah, and an assortment of preachers like Yusuf Qaradawi and Saudi sheikhs. Nazism is dead and buried in most of the world, in other words, but alive and thriving in the Arab and Muslim countries. Islamofascist is a very real and applicable term.
How is this possible? Why are there no scholars like Hirszowicz and Labedz and Herf to document the facts and educate the Muslim world? Herf has a credible answer. He applies the word “narcissistic” to the Muslims, meaning that they interpret events solely in the light of their own limited preoccupations and prejudices. And no less tellingly, he calls these propagandists “provincial,” meaning that they can’t break through their own limitations. These two adjectives, I think, will help us understand why men like Ahmedinejad still spout anti-Jewish and anti-Western conspiratorial nonsense in a pure Hitlerian style.