Wolfgang G. Schwanitz







Yale University Press, available Feb 25, 2014, 360 p., 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 31 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300140903, Cloth: $35.00


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This book is co-authored by the renowned Middle East specialists Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz.


Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2014, xiii plus 340 pp.
Reviewed by Johannes Houwink Ten Cate

“The enemy of your enemy is your friend,” wrote the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, al-Hajj Amin al-Husaini, about his reverence for Nazi Germany that had fought his enemies, the (British) colonialists and the Zionists. While this may have been an understatement, it is common knowledge that the Palestinian Arab leader ruined his reputation by collaborating with the Nazis. The exact nature and extent of his collaboration and the solidity of its ideological foundations, however, were not fully explored until the publication of this study. It is to the credit of these two fine scholars, the late Israeli historian Barry Rubin and his colleague Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, that they discovered documentary proof in German, Yugoslav, Israeli, British and Russian archives of how the Grand Mufti made maximal efforts to provide the Nazis—who were notoriously short of allies—with as much assistance as he could.
Goebbels and Himmler were grateful to the Grand Mufti for his support. With his usual self-gratulatory tone, Goebbels wrote in his diary that al-Husseini was “intelligent and had good judgment.” With the help of the Mufti, the Nazis hoped that they could win the support of four hundred million Muslims. As late as May, 8, 1944, Himmler gave the Mufti an entire afternoon of his precious time. During this meeting the two men discussed horses, Arabic poetry and the achievements of the Muslim units that the Mufti had helped enlist and which fought for the Third Reich. These included the Hanzar (Khanjar) division which “had participated in the murder of thousands of Bosnian Jews, Christian Serbs and Roma (“Gypsies”).”
After the defeat of the Third Reich, al-Husseini wanted to persuade the world that he had collaborated out of opportunistic motives, essentially because other Middle Eastern leaders accommodated the British and French colonial powers, and Nazi Germany fought against those countries. During the war, however, and especially before Nazi audiences, al-Husseini quoted the Quran as proof that the Jews were terrorists, the bitterest enemies of the Muslims, and haters of Muhammad. Second on his list of worst enemies were the British. The Mufti added that he did his utmost to convince Muslims to join the Waffen-SS, the elite army of Nazi Germany. Thousands followed the call of the Mufti, although the contingent of Dutchmen outnumbered the Muslims among the foreign volunteers in the SS. According to the Mufti, Nazi Germany was the natural ally of the Muslims. He added that Germany was fighting against “World Jewry,” England and Communism which oppressed forty million Muslims and wanted to destroy Islam. However, there was much more to his collaboration. According to the Mufti, the most important feature of their alliance was the fact that Nazism and Islamism shared a common ideological basis.
The title of this seminal book, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East is appropriate because Rubin and Schwanitz document these ideological similarities. Indeed, Rubin and Schwanitz not only have written a study of the collaboration of the Mufti with Nazi Germany but also a study of the “making of the modern Middle East.” Both Islam and Nazism preached the necessity of a community living in a single state under a single, all-powerful leader [i.e., Das Führer Prinzip]. Furthermore, redemptive anti-Semitism was central to the worldview of the Nazi religion. Both Islam and Nazism glorified armed conflict and martyrdom as well as the notion of the common good (as opposed to individual liberty), the family, motherhood, physical labor and hatred of Jews. According to the Mufti, an Allied victory would mean the triumph of the Jews and a disaster for Muslims and Islam. If Germany and Islam would win the war, the Arabs would be united under their new leader, namely the Grand Mufti, and the Jews would be destroyed. Despite the setback of the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, Haj Amin al-Husseini remained the historic Palestinian Arab leader until Yasser Arafat succeeded him in 1968.
Rubin and Schwanitz have produced an extremely well-researched and documented book, both on the Mufti and on the common ideological ground shared by Nazi doctrine and political Islam in its radical form. However, some of the authors’ assertions are not entirely convincing. Along with Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, they state that the Mufti visited Nazi death camps. Nazi leaders usually did not show these camps to foreign sympathizers. They also note that the Mufti supported an “accelerated policy of genocide that the Axis’ partner intended to spread to the Middle East” (160). Had the Nazis been victorious in the Middle East, it is plausible that in planning the most universal of genocides (to paraphrase Professor Yehuda Bauer), they would have murdered the Jews there as well, since that was their policy toward all Jews, even in territories that they had not yet conquered. However, it is not likely that Hitler and his henchmen needed the support of the Mufti in making their genocidal decision to kill the Jews. In their discussion of the role of Haj Amin in the decision-making process of implementing the Holocaust, Rubin and Schwanitz are skating on thin ice. They repeat the common error of over-estimating the importance of the Wannsee Conference (20 January 1942). In fact, 1,100,000 million Jews had perished prior to that meeting. In addition, they appear to have ignored much of the recent scholarship on this decision-making process, particularly the works of Christopher R. Browning on the origins of the Final Solution.
In any case, the above is but a minor criticism. The main point is that Rubin and Schwanitz have provided a work based upon excellent original research and have produced a well-written and seminal book on the collaborationist policies of the Grand Mufti, who strove to become the most important Arab leader of his time. It is always important to remember that it was the Mufti himself who emphasized the ideological common ground of Nazism and radical political Islamism. Rubin and Schwanitz have demonstrated its continuity.
Johannes Houwink ten Cate is Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands;
co-author of “In het puin van het getto: het concentratiekampWarschau,” Jewish Political Studies Review 25(Fall 2013)3-4, 26 November 2014.



Middle East Quarterly

Middle East Quarterly FALL 2014 • VOLUME 21: NUMBER 4

Reviewed by Lionel Gossman
Princeton University

With Islamist groups taking advantage of uprisings across the Middle East, notably in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded for a time in gaining power and is still widely viewed as the democratically elected government of Egypt, the publication of this richly researched book, a joint production of two leading Middle East scholars, could not be timelier. While many analysts ascribe the so-called "Arab Spring" to a yearning for democracy, Rubin and Schwanitz remind us of a deep and abiding connection between radical Islamism and imperial, then later, Nazi Germany.

It was Kaiser Wilhelm II who first set the template in his cynical World War I strategy of fomenting jihad among Muslim subjects in British, French, and Russian territories in the Near East and North Africa. One side-effect of this strategy was German complicity in the Armenian massacres, which could well have served as a model for Hitler's treatment of the Jews.

Most of the book is devoted to demonstrating the close collaboration between National Socialism and Islamism, based on a common deployment of racism, nationalism, religious bigotry, and intolerance. Begun before World War II, this collaboration continued for decades after the Nazi defeat with the help of numerous war criminals who found refuge in Arab lands. The key figure in this dark saga was the British-installed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, al-Hajj Amin al-Husaini, an eager associate of Hitler, and just as viciously anti-Semitic.

The authors contend that al-Husaini was himself partly responsible for the Holocaust. It was almost immediately after his meeting with Hitler on November 28, 1941, at which time the Palestinian leader demanded and received the cessation of all Jewish emigration to Palestine in exchange for Muslim support for the Axis, that Hitler convoked the Wannsee Conference. Having closed the door on the last possible escape route for the Jews, genocide became the "final solution."

The authors' essential thesis is that, without al-Husaini influence, more moderate Arab voices might have prevailed over radicalism, and "there might have been other options" to war in 1948: "Once al-Husaini was allowed to re-establish himself as unchallengeable leader of the Palestinian Arabs, this ensured that no compromise or two-state solution would be considered, while making certain that Arab leaders would be intimidated and driven to war. Al-Husaini's and the radical legacy have continued to dominate the Palestinian national and the Islamist global movement down to the present day."

The failure of al-Husaini's plan to expunge all Jews from Palestine led him to adapt the hitherto rejected notion of partition to his own ends. The two-stage strategy—essentially gaining a foothold in the West Bank and Gaza and using this land as a base for destroying Israel—was crafted by al-Husaini and passed along to his protégé Yasir Arafat.

Rubin and Schwanitz offer a compelling and somber insight into Islamism that must be taken into account when reflecting on the problems of the Middle East today, not least by thoughtful and open-minded Muslims. Sadly, Rubin did not see the finished product of collaboration with Schwanitz. He died just as their book was coming off the presses.




The odd-couple marriage between Nazis and Arab nationalists has come under increasingly revealing scrutiny over the last decade. Here, fresh research from previously unexamined archives explicitly ties that frightening nexus to today’s Middle East.


Gene Santoro, World War II History Magazine, (5/6 2014)83, Arlington, Virginia


"Rubin and Schwanitz take care to make a necessary distinction: al-Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husaini and his successors and imitators are not themselves actual Nazis, but the process of interaction led them to adopt whatever they found congenial in that inhuman ideology. Thoroughly researched and closely argued, this book exposes the reality that the selfsame follies and crimes that wrecked the continent of Europe are now wrecking the Muslim Middle East."


David Pryce-Jones, National Review Online, March 10, 2014, Author of Treason of the Heart: from Thomas Paine to Kim Philby


“During the 1930s and 1940s, a unique and lasting political alliance was forged among Third Reich leaders, Arab nationalists, and Muslim religious authorities. From this relationship sprang a series of dramatic events that, despite their profound impact on the course of World War II, remained  secret until now. In this groundbreaking book, esteemed Middle East scholars Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz uncover for the first time the complete story of this dangerous alliance and explore its continuing impact on Arab politics in the twenty-first century.

Rubin and Schwanitz reveal, for example, the full scope of Palestinian leader Amin al-Husaini’s support of Hitler’s genocidal plans against European and Middle Eastern Jews. In addition, they expose the extent of Germany’s long-term promotion of Islamism and jihad. Drawing on unprecedented research in European, American, and Middle East archives, many recently opened and never before written about, the authors offer new insight on the intertwined development of Nazism and Islamism and its impact on the modern Middle East.” 


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center of the Interdisciplinary Center, Israel. He is the author of many books and publishes frequently on Middle East topics. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. Middle East historian Wolfgang G. Schwanitz is visiting professor at the Global Research in International Affairs Center of the Interdisciplinary Center, Israel, and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum of Pennsylvania. He lives in New Jersey.
Available Feb 25, 2014
360 p., 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
31 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300140903
Cloth: $35.00