The ideology of the Islamists whose ranks today include not only al-Qaeda but also Hamas and Hezbollah — originated with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (al- khwan al- uslimoon) founded in 1928 by Sheikh Hassan al-Banna. 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.
Hassan al-Banna (1906 – 1949) was born into the family of a poor watchmaker in southern Egypt. As a child, he 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. While still in his teens, the young al-Banna and friends (they referred to each other as ‘brethren’) met frequently to discuss the situation in the Middle East, to argue about the ills of Arab society, and to lament the decline of Islam. Their angst was in large part a reaction to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the end of the Muslim Caliphate, the British occupation of Egypt, and the resulting exposure of Arab society to Western values.
For al-Banna, as for many other Muslims worldwide, the end of the caliphate, although brought about by secular Muslim Turks, was a sacrilege against Islam for which they blamed the non-Muslim West. It was to strike back against these evils that al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. It began as a kind of youth club where the members preached, to anyone who would listen, about the need for moral reform in the Arab world. But al-Banna’s antipathy towards Western modernity soon moved him to shape the Brotherhood into an organization seeking to check the secularist tendencies in Muslim society by asserting a return to ancient and traditional Islamic values. Al-Banna recruited followers from a vast cross-section of Egyptian society by addressing issues such as colonialism, public health, educational policy, natural resources management, social inequalities, Arab nationalism, the weakness of the Islamic world and the growing conflict in Palestine. Among the perspectives he drew on to address these issues were the anti-capitalist doctrines of European Marxism and especially fascism.
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. […]
To achieve that broader dream of a global jihad, the 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 Muslim 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 worshiped the unifying totalitarian figure of the Caliph or Führer. 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, with all the pomp and panoply of formal state visits, de facto ambassadors, and overt as well as sub rosa joint ventures. 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, including Der Sturmer hate-cartoons, adapted to portray the Jew as the demonic enemy of Allah.
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.
Enter the Palestinians
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 3000-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 [o]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. Christian as well as Muslim women were forced to veil themselves. Opponents were liquidated.
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. […] 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 (and especially the Muslim populations of the Balkans and Albania) 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 goal, with the help of the Nazis, was “to solve the question of the Jewish elements in Palestine and in other Arab countries as required by national interests, and in the same way as the Jewish question in the Axis lands is being solved.” 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.”=
– The text above is excerpted from the pamphlet, The Nazi Roots of Palestinian Nationalism and Islamic Jihad (by David Meir-Levi, 2007). To read the full pamphlet, click here.
The Nazi Roots of Palestinian Nationalism and Islamic Jihad
By David Meir-Levi