This week, an amazing and unprecedented interview will appear in the Egyptian newspaper, Almasry Alyoum. It is one of the leading Cairo newspapers, and has an average readership of 200,000 people. What the paper features is an interview with Jeffrey Herf, the University of Maryland historian, about his new and important book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, published by Yale University Press.
The interview has already appeared online in English. Given the almost constant barrage of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda throughout the Arab world, the Herf interview comes as a fresh antidote that will undoubtedly shock many Egyptians and cause great consternation. As the interviewer says to Herf, “Most Arab historians agree that the Nazis did not contribute great ideas that grew in the region, but you posit the opposite.” Herf tells him:
The absurd and false notion that an international Jewish conspiracy existed and was a major force in world politics was a key theme of Nazism’s wartime propaganda. Conspiratorial thinking focused on the supposed power of the Jews persisted after the war in the Middle East. The pejorative and hateful depictions of Jews in Nazi propaganda, the belief that they were inherently evil and that they should be punished as a result found echoes in the postwar publications of the Muslim Brotherhood, the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the postwar activities of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Egyptian government’s propaganda under Nasser and in the Hamas Covenant of 1988.
Remember, these words by Herf will hopefully be read throughout the Arab world. Contrast it, for example, with the sermon about Jews broadcast recently on the official Palestinian Authority TV station, approved by Mahmoud Abbas. The speaker said the following: “The Jews, the enemies of Allah and of His Messenger, the enemies of Allah and of His Messenger! Enemies of humanity in general, and of Palestinians in particular – they wage war against us using all kinds of crimes.” These words are akin to those regularly broadcast to the Arab world during World War II by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Palestine, from his radio studio in Nazi Berlin. Keep in mind that Husseini was given asylum in Egypt after the war, and for years, the Nasser regime spread similar words of anti-Semitic hate.
Herf also makes the following point, which must come as dynamite to many Arab readers:
Nazi officials dealing with propaganda aimed at Arabs and Muslims concluded that a selective reading of the Quran and the commentaries about it was their most effective means of reaching this audience. In so doing they drew out the already existing anti-Jewish themes. They presented Islam — not radical, fundamentalist, political or jihadist Islam, but Islam in general –as a religion infused with and inseparable from hatred for the Jews. In their view, from the time that the Jews rejected Prophet Mohammed’s demands that they convert to Islam, the Jews became an “enemy” of Islam. In so doing, Nazism’s Arabic-language propaganda placed the events of the mid-20th century into the far longer context of a supposed, but actually false, Jewish antagonism to Islam as a religion.