Was Netanyahu Right That Islam Changed Nazism and Not Vice-Versa?

During a recent speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appropriately decried the “apologetics” which have minimized the role played by ex-Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin el-Husseini (1895-1974) -- founder of the modern Palestinian Muslim movement -- in fomenting genocidal Islamic Jew-hatred. Netanyahu made these simple, irrefragable points, demonstrating how from the 1920s through (in particular) the World War II era:

… the father of the Palestinians at that time, with no [Jewish] state and no so-called “occupation,” no territories and no settlements, already sought, through systematic incitement, to annihilate the Jews. Regrettably, Hajj Amin el-Husseini is still a venerated figure in Palestinian society, he appears in study books and is exalted as the father of the nation, and this incitement that began then, incitement to kill Jews, continues.

As I noted in what was the first full English translation and detailed analysis (here, here) of Hajj Amin el-Husseini’s 1937 fatwa on the Jews -- which re-affirms canonical Islam’s Jew-hating motifs used to foment murderous violence against them by Muhammad himself, since the advent of Islam, till now -- this seminal proclamation of incitement by the “Godfather” of the Palestinian Muslim movement was pure Islamic dogma devoid of any themes from the writings of Nazi racial theorists, epitomized by Johan (aka, Johann, Johannes) von Leers. (See Foreword by Julian Huxley, History on a Racial Basis, an abridged translation of Geschichte auf Rassicher Grundlage, London, 1936.)

Leers is a fascinating case study. By any objective standard, his career trajectory -- as a favored contributor in Goebbels’s propa­ganda ministry, to his eventual adoption of Islam (as Omar Amin von Leers) while working as an anti-Western and anti-Semitic/anti-Zionist propagandist under Nasser’s regime from the mid-1950s until his death in 1965 -- represents the “Islamification of Nazism,” rather than a “Nazification of Islam.” (The discussion which follows is drawn from, and referenced in, my The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, pp. 168-169, 204-205, 619-625; and Sharia Versus Freedom, Amherst, N.Y., 2012,  pp. 252-259, 610-614.)

None of the important data summarized below have been described by Jeffrey Herf, an avatar of the “Nazification of Islam” hypothesis. In his The Jewish Enemy -- Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust, Cambridge, 2006, pp. 180–81, Herf included a very limited English translation extract of von Leers’ conclusions from the 1942 essay “Judentum und Islam als Gegensatze” (in Die Judenfrage in Politik, Recht, and Wirtschaft 6, no. 24, December 24, 1942): 275–78), whose fully annotated  translation (as “Judaism and Islam as Opposites”) I provided in The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism (pp. 619-625). Herf even failed to mention von Leers’ subsequent conversion to Islam, and was also oblivious to the Nazi author’s thorough grounding in, and accurate representation of, the pious Muslim sources (i.e., Koran, hadith, and sira). This negationist approach of German-fluent “Nazification of Islam” historians such as Herf compounds their failure to deal with the quintessential, canonical Islamic motifs of el-Husseini’s 1937 Islamic fatwa—available in German since 1938—in an informed, intellectually honest manner.

Upon his arrival in Egypt in 1956, it was Hajj Amin el-Husseini who oversaw von Leers’ formal conversion to Islam, and remained one of his confidants. Leers described the origins of the Muslim “forename” Omar Amin, which he adopted as part of his conversion to Islam in a November, 1957 letter to American Nazi H. Keith Thompson:

I myself have embraced Islam and accepted the new forename Omar Amin, Omar according to the great Caliph Omar who was a grim enemy of the Jews, Amin in honor of my friend Hajj Amin el Husseini, the Grand Mufti.

Already in essays published during 1938 and 1942, the first dating back almost two decades before his conversion to Islam while in Egypt, von Leers produced analyses focused primarily on Muhammad’s interactions with the Jews of Medina. These essays reveal his pious reverence for Islam and its prophet and a thorough understanding of the sacralized Islamic sources for this narrative, that is, the Koran, hadith, and sira, which is entirely consistent with standard Muslim apologetics.

Leers’s 1942 essay simultaneously extols the “model” of oppression the Jews experienced under Islamic suzerainty and the nobility of Muhammad, Islam, and the contemporary Muslims of the World War II era, foreshadowing his own conversion to Islam just over a decade later. And even earlier, in a 1938 essay, von Leers sympathized with “the leading role of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the Arabians’ battles against the Jewish invasion in Palestine.” Von Leers observes that to the pious Muslim:

... the Jew is an enemy, not simply an “unbeliever” who might perhaps be con­verted or, despite the fact that he does not belong to Islam, might still be a person of some estimation. Rather, the Jew is the predestined opponent of the Muslim, one who desired to bring down the work of the Prophet.

Leers’ 1942 essay also provides a reverent summary characterization of Muhammad’s activities in Mecca, and later Medina, which is entirely consistent with standard Muslim apologetics.

[Mecca] For years Muhammad sought in Mecca to succeed with his preaching that there was only one God, the sole, all-merciful king of Judgment Day. He opposed to the Christian Trinity the unity of God, rejected the Christian doctrine of original sin and salvation, and instead gave every believer as a guiding principle the complete fulfillment of the commands of the righ­teous, given by a compassionate and just God, before whom every individual person had to account for his acts.

[Medina] September 622 he left Mecca for Medina, where he took up res­idence. Here he encountered the Jewish problem for the first time. He believed in the victorious power of good in the world, he was firmly con­vinced that the religion of the one and only God, with its easy, practical, reasonable, basic laws for human life was nothing other than the original religion. He wanted to take mankind out of the current turmoil and lead it toward the original, clear vision of God. But since he had to deal with people who had been influenced by both Christianity and Judaism, he said that it was the religion in which Abraham (Ibrahim) had already believed, and which Christ and Moses had proclaimed, only each time it had been distorted by human beings. He said that this had been revealed anew to him by God. He wanted to make the path easy to follow for both Christians and Jews; thus at first he allowed his followers to pray facing toward Jerusalem. He repeatedly emphasized that he only wanted to purify the existing reli­gions, to establish the restored, newly revealed faith. At the same time he was a skilled statesman. When the Arab tribes were unified, the Jews became a minority in Medina. Muhammad provided them with a kind of protectorate agreement: they were to retain their administration and their forms of worship, help the faithful defend the city, not ally themselves with Muhammad’s opponents, and contribute to the faithful’s wars. The Jews could have been satisfied with this. But they began a general hate campaign against Islam, which proclaimed a pure conception of God.