Last month, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, called on Palestinians to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which he said was “threatened by the plans of the enemies of God,” by which he meant Israelis.
It should go without saying that this is a lie. Israel poses no threat to Al-Aqsa, now or ever. On the contrary, Israelis have always recognized and respected Islamic sovereignty over Islamic religious sites within Israel — despite the fact that Jewish holy places have been desecrated by Palestinians, Jordanians, and others. The notion that the Israelis would raze Al-Aqsa to build a temple on its ruins — as the mufti has also claimed — is a ludicrous slander.
What should not go without saying is how serious it is that such an allegation has been leveled by Jerusalem’s senior Islamic religious authority. Under sharia, Islamic law, to be an “enemy of God” is to be the worst sort of criminal. Just a few weeks ago in Iran, five people were declared mohareb (enemies of God) — and then hanged.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, must know all this. Yet he says nothing about it. Nor do most Western diplomats, politicians, and journalists.
Also overlooked is the historical context. In the 1930s, the mufti of Jerusalem was Haj Amin el-Husseini. He, too, despised Jews — there was not yet a state of Israel to despise. After participating in a pro-Nazi coup in Iraq in 1941, Husseini moved to Berlin. There he became Hitler’s ally, the “most important public face and voice of Nazi Germany’s Arabic-language propaganda,” in the words of historian Jeffrey Herf, who adds: “Husseini was a key figure in finding common ideological ground between National Socialism, on the one hand, and the doctrines of Arab nationalism and militant Islam, on the other.”
Herf’s groundbreaking study, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, draws on archival resources not previously mined to explore the extent and significance of this collaboration. His nuanced conclusion: “Nazi Germany’s Arabic-language propaganda was neither an imposition of a set of hatreds previously unknown to the traditions of Islam nor a matter of simply lighting the match to long-standing but suppressed anti-Jewish hatreds.” Rather, the Nazis and their Arab partners drew on and emphasized “the most despicable and hate-filled aspects of the cultures of Europe and of Islam.”
They also added this audacious twist: They claimed they were the ones under attack. Their purpose, they insisted, was merely to protect themselves from a malevolent conspiracy. Over and over again, Nazi diplomats and their allies drove the message that Churchill had started the war against Germany “to expand British power,” and that Roosevelt was behind Churchill “as the exponent of world Jewry.”
Herf elaborates: “In Europe, the Nazis presented their policy of ‘extermination’ and ‘annihilating’ the Jews as a desperate and justified act of self-defense. In their propaganda directed at the Middle East, they urged Arabs and Muslims to take matters into their own hands and ‘kill the Jews’ before the Jews were able to kill them. In both its European and Middle Eastern dimensions, the propaganda rested on the identical logic of paranoia and projection.”
And here we are, more than a half century later, with the current mufti of Jerusalem fabricating crimes against Muslims for which Jews deserve to be put to death. Meanwhile, Hamas leaders openly declare their intention to annihilate Israel and exterminate Jews — claiming they, too, are acting in self-defense, and calling themselves a “resistance” movement.
The number of people who appear to be buying these fictions is not insignificant. Few scholars have examined the links between Nazi and Islamist ideas in the 20th century. Few journalists are examining their venomous legacy in the present era.
Herf, obviously, is an exception — as is author and social critic Paul Berman, who recently observed that a taboo has developed: Most intellectuals determinedly ignore the fact that “Nazi inspirations have visibly taken root among present-day Islamists, notably in regard to the demonic nature of Jewish conspiracies and the virtues of genocide.”
This means, Berman added, that “the Islamist preachers and ideologues have succeeded in imposing on the rest of us their own categories of analysis.” That amounts to a victory for them and, of course, a defeat for us.
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.