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Thursday, November 18, 2004

In Their Own Words: Comparing the Rhetoric of Jihadism and Nazism

by Joseph D'Hippolito
Private Papers

In the twentieth century, genocidal, imperialist totalitarians wore swastika armbands, herded members of supposedly inferior races into concentration camps and shouted, "Heil Hitler!" In the twenty-first century, they wear black coveralls and hoods, decapitate civilian contractors, shoot children in the back, plow hijacked airplanes into buildings and shout, "Allahu Akbar!"

Jihadism is this century's equivalent of Nazism in more than just barbarity. The Osama bin Ladens and Abu Musab al-Zarqawis are the violent face of a coherent, ruthless ideology that imitates the Nazi method of winning popular support. Jihadists—whether terrorists, imams or intellectuals—exploit collective frustration by converting it into a pervasive sense of victimization, then offer the solution: embrace an inherent superiority, seize entitled power and destroy all opponents.

Just as the Nazis described Germans as victimized by a decadent West—as represented by democracy, jazz, "degenerate art" and the Versailles treaty—so do jihadist intellectuals describe Muslims. Consider the words of Mohammed al-Asi, a fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, an advisor to the Islamic Human Rights Commission and the imam of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.:

Muslims are living in a kafir (unbelievers') domain; they are virtually adrift and homeless. The inherent condition of today's Muslims who have lost sight of a Prophet as commander is a religious community of people who are beholden to the forces and powers of kufr (apostasy): secular kufr and religious kufr, mental kufr and military kufr, as well as kufr by choice and kufr by force.

Or consider this editorial in Crescent International magazine published immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon:

We know from past experience that people who feel themselves and their peoples to be under sustained and unrelenting attack can react in the most unbelievable ways.

The problem is that none of these [Americans] seem to realize that America has long been at war with numerous peoples all over the world. This is not the opening salvo of a new war; it is probably likely a stunningly successful attempt by one of America's many victims to hit back—very, very hard.

[The] argument is that democracy, freedom and civilization are under attack and must be forcefully defended; such words ring hollow from Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, Colin Powell and Tony Blair, each of whom has been responsible for far, far more death and suffering than seen in the US yesterday.

These excerpts explain that Muslims, victimized by the West, have an inherent right to avenge themselves by obliterating non-combatants. Like with the Nazis, in their view there is no such thing as innocent bystanders.

The chilling words of Magdi Ahmad Hussein, the secretary general of the Egyptian Labor Party, broadcast by al-Jazeera television are yet more direct:

We are the weak ones. They make demands on us that don't exist in international law. There must be reciprocity. Those who bomb Fallujah cannot prevent me from bombing Los Angeles. Why Fallujah? Why do we always feel inferior to them? If we had missiles, we should have bombed Los Angeles or any other city until they stopped bombing Fallujah, Samarra and Ramadi.

Just as the Nazis regarded Jews as the fundamental nemeses of humanity, so do jihadist intellectuals. Al-Asi, who often speaks at American universities at the behest of Muslim student groups, said the following at the University of California, Irvine in 2001:

The Zionist-Israeli lobby is taking the United States to the abyss. We have a psychosis in the Jewish community that is unable to co-exist equally and brotherly with other human beings. You can take the Jew out of the ghetto but you cannot take the ghetto out of the Jew.

Just as the Nazis believed that oppression prevented Germans from fulfilling a destiny mandated by their unparalleled superiority, so do jihadist intellectuals who view Muslim superiority as spiritual, not racial.

"Only Islam can achieve the synthesis between Christianity and humanism, and fill the spiritual void that afflicts the West," says Tariq Ramadan, a popular Muslim scholar who teaches in Switzerland and Germany, and who was appointed a post at Notre Dame's Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies before being barred from entering the United States. He is also the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, who in Egypt in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood, the spiritual precursor to groups like Hamas and al-Qaeda.

Al-Asi rejects Western values and asserts Muslim superiority more emphatically. "Obviously, all of this spells out an 'agenda' of Islamic political activity, not in the Western definition of politics, which is sullied and corrupt, but in the Islamic definition of politics, which is clean and healthy," he says. He criticizes his co-religionists for being seduced by "a cunning materialism that decays the Muslim will and causes the Muslims to join the 'modern and developed' world!"

Just as the Nazis regarded Blitzkrieg as critical in the fight against an oppressive West, so do sympathetic intellectuals regard jihad, as Ramadan himself implies:

Today the Muslims who live in the West must unite themselves to the revolution of the anti-establishment groups from the moment when the neoliberal capitalist system becomes, for Islam, a theater of war.

Hamid Algar, professor of Persian and Islamic Studies at UC Berkeley, was more blunt when he praised Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1994:

Let us remember the comprehensive Jihad that should also embrace our communal and political lives and if necessary go to the point of taking weapons in our hands to defeat the enemies of Islam.

Let us remember the clear analysis of the West that the Imam [Khomeini] gave us—as a collection of international bandits—which has consolidated itself since Imam's death. Let us also remember his insistence that the abominable genocide state of Israel completely disappear from the face of the globe.

Just as the Nazis believed that war provided the primary means for the Volk (racial community) to acquire its rightful Lebensraum (living space), so do Islamic fanatics believe that jihad is fundamental for the ummah (Muslim community) to re-establish the worldwide caliphate, Islam's ultimate geopolitical goal.

Explains Mohammed al-Asi:

The contemporary Muslim mind has to become "preoccupied" with how the Prophet went about putting together an Islamic state. Therefore the information about this state-building has to occupy center stage in our discussions, in our lectures, in our khutbahs (public sermons), in our studies and in our research. Islamic institutions and resources have to be committed to this urgent task.

We should not be studying hair-splitting fiqhi (legalistic) issues in halaqat (study sessions and circles). We should be learning how to consolidate our social will-power and how to form active and status-quo-challenging units throughout our African and Asian lands to reclaim them for Islam.

In the constitution of Iran, Article II, it is written: "All Muslims are one nation, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is duty bound to rest its general policy on the unity of Islamic nations and undertake efforts to realize the political, economic and cultural unity of the Islamic world."

What about potential opponents? Consider the fate of Theo van Gogh, an independent Dutch filmmaker and the great-grandnephew of Vincent van Gogh who made a controversial documentary entitled Submission, which depicted violence against women in Muslim societies. Jihadists saw Theo van Gogh as a blasphemer who deserved death. A Muslim website in the Netherlands published a picture of van Gogh with a red target over his chest. The caption read, "When is it Theo's turn?"

On November 2, van Gogh was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam. His assailants shot him with an automatic gun, then slit his throat and pinned to his corpse with a knife a note bearing threats to Netherlanders and quotations from the Koran. Police arrested a man of Moroccan descent whom authorities say is affiliated with terrorists.

Finally, listen to Algar's views on Palestinian suicide bombers, made in California Monthly, Berkeley's alumni magazine:

That term, an invention of the West, does not represent the perspective of those who engage in such action and is not very helpful. [It] seems to me that a greater degree of moral condemnation should be reserved for those who continue, daily, with impunity, to kill and to humiliate the Palestinian people.

In other words, there is definitely a cause-and-effect relationship here, and to criticize or condemn an effect while overlooking the cause is not very helpful.

Algar is no hypocrite in his defense of terrorism and murder. In 1998, he verbally harassed and spat on members of Berkeley's Armenian Student Association, who were commemorating the genocide of Armenians by the Turks.

"It was not a genocide, but I wish it were, you lying pigs," said Algar, quoted by Shake Hovsepian in Usanogh: Periodical of Armenian Students. "You are distorting the truth about history. You stupid Armenians; you deserve to be massacred!" The students filed a grievance and Berkeley's Associated Students demanded that the administration force Algar to issue a written public apology or censure him.

It should surprise nobody that scholars promote such opinions. During the 1920s, German professors despised the Weimar Republic and longed for the return of authoritarian government. But those professors did not expect the Nazis' brand of totalitarianism. Today's Islamic scholars in the West not only expect it. They welcome it.

Nearly six decades after defeating the Nazis, civilization confronts a distressingly similar—and equally ruthless—ideological enemy that deserves the same fate. It's all there, in their own words.