The ideology of the Islamists whose ranks today include not only al-Qaeda but also Hamas and Hezbollah, originated with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1928 by Sheikh Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949). And the Muslim Brotherhood finds not just its roots, but much of its symbolism, terminology, and political priorities deep within the heart of Nazi fascism.
In his youth, Hassan al-Banna was attracted to the extremist and xenophobic aspects of Islam which were hostile to Western secularism and to its system of rights, particularly women’s rights. He believed that the end of the caliphate, although brought about by secular Muslim Turks, was a sacrilege against Islam and had been instigated by the non-Muslim West. It was to strike back against these evils that al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. As the group expanded during the 1930s and extended its activities well beyond its original religious revivalism, al-Banna began dreaming a greater Muslim dream: the restoration of the caliphate. And it was this dream, which he believed could only become a reality by the sword, that won the hearts and minds of a growing legion of followers. Al-Banna would describe, in inflammatory speeches, the horrors of hell expected for heretics, and consequently, the need for Muslims to return to their purest religious roots, re-establish the caliphate, and resume the great and final holy war, or jihad, against the non-Muslim world.
The first big step on the path to the international jihad al-Banna envisioned came in the form of trans-national terrorism during “The Great Arab Revolt” of 1936-9, when one of the most famous of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders, the Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, Grand Mufti (supreme Muslim religious leader) of Jerusalem, incited his followers to a three-year war against the Jews in Palestine and the British who administered the Palestine Mandate.
To achieve that broader dream of a global jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood developed a network of underground cells, stole weapons, trained fighters, formed secret assassination squads, founded sleeper cells of subversive supporters in the ranks of the army and police, and waited for the order to go public with terrorism, assassinations, and suicide missions.
It was during this time that the Brotherhood found a soul mate in Nazi Germany. The Reich offered great power connections to the movement, but the relationship brokered by the Brotherhood was more than a marriage of convenience. Long before the war, al-Banna had developed an Islamic religious ideology which previewed Hitler’s Nazism. Both movements sought world conquest and domination. Both were triumphalist and supremacist: in Nazism the Aryan must rule, while in al-Banna’s Islam, the Muslim religion must hold dominion. Both advocated subordination of the individual to a folkish central power. Both were explicitly anti-nationalist in the sense that they believed in the liquidation of the nation-state in favor of a trans-national unifying community: In Islam the umma (community of all believers); and in Nazism the herrenvolk (master race). Both worshipped the unifying totalitarian figure of the caliph or fuhrer. And both rabidly hated the Jews and sought their destruction.
As the Brotherhood’s political and military alliance with Nazi Germany developed, these parallels facilitated practical interactions that created a full-blown alliance. Al-Banna’s followers easily transplanted into the Arab world a newly Nazified form of traditional Muslim Jew-hatred, with Arab translations of Mein Kampf (translated into Arabic as “My Jihad”) and other Nazi anti-Semitic works.
When the second World War broke out, Al-Banna worked to firm up a formal alliance with Hitler and Mussolini. He sent them letters and emissaries, and urged them to assist him in his struggle against the British and the Westernized regime of King Farouk. The Intelligence service of the Muslim Brotherhood vigorously collected information on the heads of the regime in Cairo and on the movements of the British army, offering this and more to the Germans in return for closer relations.
But the single best known and most active Nazi sympathizer in the Muslim Brotherhood was not al-Banna himself, but the Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and one-time President of the Supreme Muslim Council of Palestine. As one commentator has noted, to understand the hajj’s influence on the middle east in the 1930s and 40s is to understand the ongoing genocidal program of the Arab terrorist organizations warring against the Jews of Israel today. The Grand mufti was a bridge figure in terms of transplanting the Nazi genocide in europe into the post-war Middle East and creating a fascist heritage for the Palestinian national movement.
Al-Husseini used his office as a powerful bully pulpit from which to preach anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist, and (turning on his patrons) anti-British vitriol. he was directly involved in the organization of the 1929 riots which destroyed the 3,000-year-old Jewish community of Hebron. And he was quick to see that he had a natural ally in Hitler and in the rising star of Nazi Germany.
In the early 1930s many Arabs in British mandatory Palestine looked for an alliance with Hitler as leverage against Britain, but it was Al-Husseini who enthusiastically led the way. As early as spring 1933, he assured the German consul in Jerusalem that “the Muslims inside and outside Palestine welcome the new regime of Germany and hope for the extension of the fascist, anti-democratic governmental system to other countries.”
The youth organization established by the Mufti used Nazi emblems, names and uniforms. Germany reciprocated by setting up scholarships for Arab students, hiring Arab apprentices at German firms, and inviting Arab party leaders to the Nuremberg party rallies and Arab military leaders to Wehrmacht maneuvers. Most significantly, the German Propaganda Ministry developed strong links with the Grand Mufti and with Arabic newspapers, creating a propaganda legacy that would outlast Husseini, Hitler, and all the other figures of World War II.
In September 1937, Adolf Eichmann and another SS officer carried out an exploratory mission in the Middle East lasting several weeks, and including a friendly productive visit with the Grand Mufti. It was after that visit, in fact, that the Mufti went on the Nazi payroll as an agent and propagandist.
During the “Great Arab Revolt” of 1936-9, which Al-Husseini helped organize and which Germany funded, the swastika was used as a mark of identity on Arabic leaflets and graffiti. Arab children welcomed each other with the Hitler salute, and a sea of German flags and pictures of Hitler were displayed at celebrations. The identification was so strong that those bliged to travel through areas involved in the Palestinian revolt soon learned that it was prudent to attach a swastika to their vehicle to ward off attacks by Arab snipers. The Grand Mufti declared certain zones in Palestine to be “liberated” from the Jews and British; and he mandated Shari’a -- Islamic religious law.
By 1938, Husseini fielded some ten thousand fighters, an active propaganda unit, and modern weapons, thanks in large part to Nazi money and military assistance. But if the Mufti was ready for the war that would soon engulf the world, so were the British. They sent massive reinforcements to put down the revolt. Al-Husseini fled to Lebanon, still under French rule, before he could be arrested.
From his safe perch in Beirut, and soon after that (May 1941) in Berlin, the Grand Mufti worked tirelessly on behalf of Germany and Nazism. He played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in instigating a pro-Nazi coup in Iraq in 1941; in urging Nazis and pro-Nazi governments in Europe to transport Jews to death camps; in training pro-Nazi Bosnian brigades; and, after Hitler’s cause was lost, in funneling Nazi loot into post-war Arab countries. His Muslim “Hanjar” division was credited with the murder of roughly 90% of Bosnian Jewry. He became a familiar voice on Germany’s Arabic- language radio propaganda station, broadcasting from the town of Zeesen near Berlin, to convince Arabs and Muslims in Europe that Muslims and Nazis were brothers, and that these two kindred peoples needed to unite against their common enemy: the Jews.
From Germany, the Mufti effectively wielded his weapons of religious power, mob incitement, and assassination to silence opposition and eliminate moderate rivals. He succeeded, almost single-handedly, in engraving on the Arab consciousness the image of the Jew as the demonic apotheosis of all things evil. Not only was everything Jewish evil; but under Al-Husseini’s deft diatribe, everything evil was Jewish.
After meeting with Hitler on November 21, 1941, Husseini praised the Germans because they “know how to get rid of the Jews, and that brings us close to the Germans and sets us in their camp.” On march 1, 1944, the Mufti called out in a broadcast from Zeesen: “Arabs! Rise as one and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your teeth if need be. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor.” His own memoirs, and the testimony of German defendants at the Nuremberg trials later on, showed that he planned a death camp modeled on Auschwitz to be constructed near Nablus for the genocide of Palestine’s Jews.
It was the Mufti who urged Hitler, Himmler, and General Ribbentrop to concentrate Germany’s considerable industrial and military resources on the extermination of European Jewry. The foremost Muslim spiritual leader of his time helped in his own way by lobbying to prevent Jews from leaving Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, even though those governments were initially willing to let them go. As Eichmann himself recounted: “We have promised him [the Mufti] that no european Jew would enter Palestine any more.”
But Germany’s defeat in North Africa meant that the Einsatsgruppen, which had murdered more than one million of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, never took its ghastly show to Palestine. Al-Husseini’s boundless ambitions against both Palestinian and world Jewry were halted ---he believed only temporarily--by the German surrender on may 8, 1945.
The Mufti suddenly found himself a prisoner of war in France, and condemned as a war criminal by the Nuremberg prosecutors. But with the Cold War looming, the British and the Americans sought to curry favor with the Arab world (and to prevent the USSR from making political headway there) by allowing him to escape. He fled first to Egypt, and later to Syria. From Damascus, Al-husseini reestablished himself as the foremost spokesman for the Arabs of Palestine.
A few years later, when the question of Palestine came before the United Nations, he and Hassan al-Banna urged the Arab world to unite in opposition to it. The two men saw in the UN resolution for the partition of Palestine an example of the “Jewish world conspiracy,” even though the plan provided for an Arab state in Palestine alongside of the Jewish one. But in their view a state for the Arabs of Palestine took a back seat to the eradication of Zionism and the annihilation of Palestine’s Jews.
No Arab head of state had the courage to contradict al-husseini’s rejectionism, and the Arab world’s enthusiastic reception of his message of hate and genocide ended any possibility of the peaceful implementation of the UN resolution and the creation of an Arab and a Jewish state side by side in the Palestine Mandate (80% of the Mandate had already been allocated to Jordan, whose population was more than two-thirds Palestinian Arab).
As the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Arabia and Morocco invaded Israel in 1948, the general-secretary of the Arab league, Abd al-Rahman Azzam, who had previously stated privately that he considered the partition of Palestine to be the only rational solution, now stood shoulder to shoulder with the Mufti. “This war,” he declared on the day of the Arab attack, “will be a war of destruction.” It was: but it was the armies assembled by Arab generals, many of whom had fought with Rommel in behalf of the Third Reich that were destroyed.
Al-Husseini’s Nazi ambitions, even though they were now seen as part of the Holocaust that he had helped in his small way to engineer, continued to be a source of pride for his Arab supporters after his death in 1948. And he found admirers elsewhere in the decades ahead as well. Professor Edward Said praised Al-Husseini as “the voice of the Palestinian people.” Yasser Arafat, a cousin of Al-Husseini, referred to him as “our hero.”
Nazism was eradicated in Europe after World War II, but it was alive and well in the Arab world. The new amalgam of Nazi and Muslim Jew-hatred created by the preaching of Hassan al-Banna and Husseini continued to grow in influence. As it did, extremist intellectuals and Imams created a fascist form of Islam to justify their ideology. The chief architect of the new fanaticism was the supreme ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb.
Qutb declared in his seminal essay, “Our Struggle Against the Jews,” it was crucial to understand that the Jew was the root of all the world’s evil. Picking up on the Nazi ideology he had ingested as a member of the Brotherhood, Qutb wrote that Jews were responsible for the world’s moral decay, and for the West’s animalistic sexual depravity. It was the Jews, he said, who had created the anti-Islamic doctrines of atheistic materialism, godless socialism, and democratic individualism. The Jews, therefore, were the perpetual enemies of Islam.
This essay, arguably the single most important manifesto of Islamic fascist anti-semitism in the modern world, was distributed in millions of copies throughout the Islamic world with the help of Wahabbist Islamic sect in Saudi Arabia.
When he returned to Egypt in 1950, Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood and became editor-in-chief of its weekly al-ikhwan al-Muslimin, and later head of its propaganda section. His popularity soon brought him to the highest levels of leadership in the Brotherhood. His writings gave philosophical stature to the Nazi goals of the Brotherhood. As he saw it, the confrontation between the secular West and the Muslim world was over Islam and nothing but Islam. He believed that the confrontation had arisen from the efforts by Christians (referred to as “Crusaders” in his works) and world Zionism to annihilate Islam. The motivation for this ideological war, Qutb asserted, was that the Crusaders and Zionists knew that Christianity and Judaism were inferior to Islam. They needed, therefore, to annihilate Islam in order to rescue their own flawed and failed doctrines from the inevitable victory of Islam over the hearts and minds of the entire world. Qutb said that the Muslim Brotherhood must ‘open people’s eyes” to the danger that modernity, Western culture, Judaism, and Zionism posed to Islam.
Qutb, who died in 1966, left behind 24 books, novels, contemplations, literary criticisms, and his two most important and influential tomes: In The Shade of the Koran and Milestones in the Road. The consistent message throughout his life’s works can be described as an adaptation of fascism to Islamic society and governance: violent and uncompromising overthrow of secular, insufficiently “pure” regimes; terrorism and armed revolution from the top down; imposition of his interpretation of Islam by force on all Arab peoples; and ultimately the conquest of the entire world through jihad.
Qutb's books, his place in the Muslim Brotherhood, and his martyrdom as a Muslim hero, have made him the ideologue par excellence for every Islamofascist movement in the world today. his greatest impact has been through his influence on al-Qaeda.
In her report on the trial of Adolf eichmann in 1961, Hannah Arendt commented on the incredible degree to which anti-Jewish vitriol and praise for Hitler, mixed with regret that “he did not finish the job,” dominated the news reports in the Arab press. For decades thereafter, the same grudging homage to Hitler, and the same earnest desire to see all Jews annihilated, was expressed in the second largest, state-controlled Egyptian daily, Al-Akhbar (April 18, 2001): “Our thanks go the late Hitler who wrought, in advance, the vengeance of the Palestinians upon the most despicable villains on the face of the earth.”
The long legacy of Arab and Palestinian Nazism, and the Hitlerite themes of lebensraum, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, continue to echo in the Middle East today. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, said of the Jews after the Lebanon war of 2006: “If they gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them nationwide.” Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas foreign minister, said: “I dream of hanging a huge map of the world on the wall at my Gaza home which does not show Israel on it.” AndAli Akabar hashemi Rafsanjani, former President of Iran, looks ahead to the next Holocaust and Final Solution: “The use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.”