Sunday, January 06, 2008

Jihad and Jew-Hatred

A recent book by Matthias Küntzel called "Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11" has caused a minor kerfuffle over at FrontPage Magazine where Andrew Bostom critiqued Küntzel's book, Küntzel responded and Bostom responded back.

The New York Times just reviewed the book as well. (I have not yet read it.)

It appears that Küntzel's thesis is that the virulent brand of anti-semitism that Islam has espoused since after the first World War was the result of Haj Amin al-Husseini's philo-Nazism, and the Nazi bankrolling of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Bostom seems to take exception to the implication that today's Jihad is of a more recent vintage, rather than a continuation of the ancient forms of jihad. Both of them seem to be talking past each other, as the point of Küntzel's book is specifically to discuss the influence of Nazism over current Islamism while Bostom wants to emphasize the continuous historic evolution of jihad.

It sounds to me that, from the specific viewpoint of anti-semitism, Küntzel has a valid point. Traditional Islamic anti-semitism was not nearly as hateful as Christian anti-semitism has traditionally been, and the current Islamist caricatures and accusations against Jews and Zionism are virtually identical to Nazi imagery. The Muslim Brotherhood does represent a newer strain of Islamism than had been prevalent beforehand, and even if they had ancient hadiths to back them up that doesn't mean that those same hadiths were given the same importance in Islamic thinking before the 20th century.

I think, with my tiny amount of research compared to both of Küntzel and Bostom, that the influence of Christian Palestinian Arabs cannot be ignored - they seemed to take the lead in the anti-semitism in early 1900s Palestine, and the Muslim Arabs took some of their ideas before the Brotherhood asserted its influence throughout the Arab world. Similarly, Husseini's Jew-hatred pre-dates Nazism but was no less toxic. In Egypt, though, Küntzel seems to have a valid point.

The NYT excerpts part of Chapter One, and it includes some fascinating tidbits about early Arab-Zionist relations that I hope to write about more in my upcoming review of Army of Shadows. Here is part of it:

On November 2, 1917 the British government, through its Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, announced its support for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. The Balfour Declaration has since then been accepted as the starting point for the Jewish-Arab conflict.

This view, however, overlooks the fact that important representatives of the Arab world of the day supported the Zionist settlement process. They hoped that Jewish immigration would boost economic development thus bringing the Middle East closer to European levels. For example, Ziwar Pasha, later Egyptian Prime Minister, personally took part in the celebrations of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Five years later Ahmed Zaki, a former Egyptian cabinet minister, congratulated the Zionist Executive in Palestine on its progress: "The victory of the Zionist idea is the turning point for the fulfilment of an ideal which is so dear to me, the revival of the Orient." Two years later the Chairman of the Zionist Executive, Frederick H. Kisch, travelled to Cairo for talks with three high-ranking Egyptian officials on future relations. These officials "were equally emphatic in their pro-Zionist declarations", noted Kisch in his diary. All three "recognized that the progress of Zionism might help to secure the development of a new Eastern civilization." In 1925 the Egyptian Interior Minister Ismail Sidqi took action against a group of Palestinians protesting against the Balfour Declaration in Cairo. He was at the time on his way to Jerusalem to take part in the opening of the first Hebrew university.

Twenty years later scarcely anything remained of this benevolent attitude. In 1945 the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Egypt's history were perpetrated in Cairo. On November 2, 1945, on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, demonstrators "broke into the Jewish quarter, plundered houses and shops, attacked non-Muslims, and devastated the adjacent Ashkenazi synagogue before finally setting it on fire." The event left some 400 people injured and a policeman dead. Meanwhile in Alexandria, at least five people were killed in the course of even more violent riots "which according to a British embassy official were clearly anti-Jewish and, to his relief, not directed against the British." A few weeks later Islamist newspapers "launched a frontal attack against Egypt's Jews as being Zionists, Communists, capitalists, bloodsuckers, traffickers in arms, white slave-traders and, more generally, a 'subversive element' in all states and societies", and called for a boycott of Jewish goods.

In the following sections, we shall look at the reasons why, between 1925 and 1945, a shift in direction was effected in Egypt from a rather neutral or pro-Jewish mood to a rabidly anti-Zionist or anti-Jewish one, a shift which changed the whole Arab world and affects it to this day. The driving force behind this development was the "Society of Muslim Brothers" (Gamiyyat alikhwan al-muslimin), founded in 1928. The significance of this organization goes far beyond Egypt. For today's global Islamist movement the Muslim Brothers are what the Bolsheviks were for the Communist movement of the 1920s: the ideological reference point and organizational core which decisively inspired all the subsequent tendencies and continues to do so to this day.

It would be a bit simplistic to ascribe the sea change in Arab opinion towards Zionism to the Muslim Brotherhood, as it is a bit dishonest to represent the Arab world's reaction to Zionism, depicted here, as being wholly positive. Nevertheless, it appears that this is an important book in showing how Al Qaeda's antecedents may be just as much Hitlerian as Koranian.