‘It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion,” Hitler complained to his pet architect Albert Speer. “Why did it have to be Christianity, with its meekness and flabbiness?” Islam was a Männerreligion—a “religion of men”—and hygienic too. The “soldiers of Islam” received a warrior’s heaven, “a real earthly paradise” with “houris” and “wine flowing.” This, Hitler argued, was much more suited to the “Germanic temperament” than the “Jewish filth and priestly twaddle” of Christianity.This review is being translated to Arabic websites, without comment.
For decades, historians have seen Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 as emulating Mussolini ’s 1922 March on Rome. Not so, says Stefan Ihrig in “Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination.” Hitler also had Turkey in mind—and not just the 1908 march of the Young Turks on Constantinople, which brought down a government. After 1917, the bankrupt, defeated and cosmopolitan Ottoman Empire contracted into a vigorous “Turanic” nation-state. In the early 1920s, the new Turkey was the first “revisionist” power to opt out of the postwar system, retaking lost lands on the Syrian coast and control over the Strait of the Dardanelles. Hitler, Mr. Ihrig writes, saw Turkey as the model of a “prosperous and völkisch modern state.”
Through the 1920s and 1930s, Nazi publications lauded Turkey as a friend and forerunner. In 1922, for example, the Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi Party’s weekly paper, praised Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the “Father of the Turks,” as a “real man,” embodying the “heroic spirit” and the Führerprinzip, or führer principle, that demanded absolute obedience. Atatürk’s subordination of Islam to the state anticipated Hitler’s strategy toward Christianity. The Nazis presented Turkey as stronger for having massacred its Armenians and expelling its Greeks. “Who,” Hitler asked in August 1939, “speaks today of the extermination of the Armenians?”
As David Motadel writes in “Islam and Nazi Germany’s War,” Muslims fought on both sides in World War II. But only Nazis and Islamists had a political-spiritual romance. Both groups hated Jews, Bolsheviks and liberal democracy. Both sought what Michel Foucault, praising the Iranian Revolution in 1979, would later call the spiritual-political “transfiguration of the world” by “combat.” The caliph, the Islamist Zaki Ali explained, was the “führer of the believers.” “Made by Jews, led by Jews—therewith Bolshevism is the natural enemy of Islam,” wrote Mahomed Sabry, a Berlin-based propagandist for the Muslim Brotherhood in “Islam, Judaism, Bolshevism,” a book that the Reich’s propaganda ministry recommended to journalists.
By late 1941, Germany controlled large Muslim populations in southeastern Europe and North Africa. Nazi policy extended the grand schemes of imperial Germany toward madly modern ends. To aid the “liberation struggle of Islam,” the propaganda ministry told journalists to praise “the Islamic world as a cultural factor,” avoid criticism of Islam, and substitute “anti-Jewish” for “anti-Semitic.” In April 1942, Hitler became the first European leader to declare that Islam was “incapable of terrorism.” As usual, it is hard to tell if the Führer set the tone or merely amplified his people’s obsessions.
... The Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, recruited thousands of these “Musligermanics” as the first non-Germanic volunteers for the SS. Soviet prisoners of Turkic origin volunteered too. In November 1944, Himmler and the Mufti created an SS-run school for military imams at Dresden.
Haj Amin al-Husseini, the founder of Palestinian nationalism, is notorious for his efforts to persuade the Nazis to extend their genocide of the Jews to the Palestine Mandate. The Mufti met Hitler and Himmler in Berlin in 1941 and asked the Nazis to guarantee that when the Wehrmacht drove the British from Palestine, Germany would establish an Arab regime and assist in the “removal” of its Jews. Hitler replied that the Reich would not intervene in the Mufti’s kingdom, other than to pursue their shared goal: “the annihilation of Jewry living in Arab space.” The Mufti settled in Berlin, befriended Adolf Eichmann, and lobbied the governments of Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria to cancel a plan to transfer Jews to Palestine. Subsequently, some 400,000 Jews from these countries were sent to death camps.
Mr. Motadel describes the Mufti’s Nazi dealings vividly, but he also excels in unearthing other odious and fascinating characters. Among them: Zeki Kiram, the Ottoman officer turned disciple of Rashid Rida, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Johann von Leers, a Nazi professor who converted to Islam and became Omar Amin, an anti-Semitic publicist for Nasser ’s Egypt.