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.
Citing (or referring to) the relevant foundational text sources (i.e., Koran 13:36; 8:55-58; 59:1-15; the sira and canonical hadith descriptions of the fate of individual Jews such as Abu Afak and Ka’b ibn Ashraf and the Jewish tribes Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadir, Banu Qurayza, as well as the Jews of the Khaybar oasis), von Leers chronicles Muhammad’s successful campaigns that vanquished these Jews, killing and dispersing them, “or at most allow[ing] them to remain in certain places if they paid a poll tax.” Von Leers further describes the accounts (from the hadith, and, more elaborately, the sira) of Muhammad’s poisoning by a Khaybar Jewess, and also notes the canonical hadith that records Caliph Umar’s rationale for his putative expulsion from northern Arabia of those remaining Jews who survived Muhammad’s earlier campaigns.
On his deathbed Mohammed is supposed to have said: “There must not be two religions in Arabia.” One of his successors, the caliph Omar, resolutely drove the Jews out of Arabia.
And von Leers (like Hajj Amin el-Husseini) even invokes the apocalyptic canonical hadith that forty-six years later became the keystone of Hamas’s 1988 charter sanctioning a jihad genocide against the Jewish State of Israel:
Ibn Huraira even communicates to us the following assertion of the great man of God: “Judgment Day will come only when the Moslems have inflicted an annihilating defeat on the Jews, when every stone and every tree behind which a Jew has hidden says to believers: ‘Behind me stands a Jew, smite him.’”
Von Leers concludes his 1942 essay by acknowledging and endorsing the chronic, humiliating oppression imposed upon the Jews under Islam, while contrasting their perfidy with the nobility of Muhammad and the contemporary Muslims of the World War II era he idealized, before eventually converting to Islam himself, in the mid-1950s:
They [the Jews] were subjected to a very restrictive and oppressive special regulation that completely crippled Jewish activities. All reporters of the time when the Islamic lands still completely obeyed their own laws agree that the Jews were particularly despised. ... Mohammed’s opposition to the Jews undoubtedly had an effect—oriental Jewry was completely paralyzed by Islam. Its back was broken. Oriental Jewry has played almost no role in Judaism’s massive rise to power over the last two centuries. Scorned, the Jews vegetated in the dirty alleys of the mellah, and were subject to a special regulation that did not allow them to profiteer, as they did in Europe, or even to receive stolen goods, but instead kept them fearful and under pressure. Had the rest of the world adopted a similar method, today we would have no Jewish question—and here we must absolutely note that there were also Islamic rulers, among them especially the Spanish caliphs of the House of Muawiyah, who did not adhere to Islam’s traditional hostility to Jews—to their own disadvantage. However, as a religion Islam has performed the immortal service of preventing the Jews from carrying out their threatened conquest of Arabia and of defeating the dreadful doctrine of Jehovah through a pure faith that opened the way to higher culture for many peoples and gave them an education and humane training, so that still today a Moslem who takes his religion seriously is one of the most worthy phenomena in this world in turmoil.
I was able to obtain (from the Russian State Military Archive of captured Nazi documents), and have translated from the original German, an unpublished, approximately six-thousand-word essay Leers wrote during World War II (apparently in 1942–1943), titled, “Philosophies of Peace and War in Islam.” The views expressed by von Leers on jihad during the same era, prior to his formal conversion to Islam, were remarkably concordant with those of the classical Islamic legists, and modern-era traditionalists. Disingenuously ignoring the explicit imperial designs of jihad—to subjugate all of mankind under Islamic law, as detailed with lucidity in the Koran, sunna, and a millennial continuum of Muslim jurisprudence—von Leers provides this hagiographic overview of Islam’s bellicose institution for global conquest, linked to his condemnation of Western European Christendom:
For quite a long time, however, the great colonial powers have been using treaties between themselves and smaller nations merely as a mutual means of help, that is, until one nation has become stronger than the other in its leadership and its means of war. The Qur’an intends and demands that treaties be established upon the bases of justice and equal rights of access, without ulterior motives or underhanded intentions—otherwise, there will never be peace upon the earth.
Leers amplifies the traditional Muslim apologetic in his assessment of the Koranic injunction—verse 9:29—for timeless jihad against Judeo-Christian societies:
“Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden—such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book—until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled” (9:29, Arberry translation). One must therefore fight against those who possess the Book and who threaten the land and life of the Muslims, who oppress the people or want to convert the Muslims to their faith. This enemy, when defeated, must pay tribute. . . . This payment, therefore, is not a “payment of reparations” in the European sense, by which the enemy is completely ruined.
Predictably, Leers also highlights this traditional Koranic statement of Jewish perfidy in relation to wartime treaties. But again, Leers' “exegesis” on Koran 8:55 is entirely consistent with the gloss on this verse in the authoritative Koranic commentary Tafsir al-Jalalayn (p. 390), which maintains that 8:55 refers specifically to the Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza:
The Qur’an considered the Jews, who never remained true to the treaties they made with the Prophet, to be lower than cattle. It says concerning them, “Surely the worst of beasts in God’s sight are the unbelievers, who will not believe, those of them with whom thou hast made compact, then they break their compact every time, not being godfearing” (8:55–56, Arberry translation).
Until his death in 1965, von Leers remained unrepentant about the annihilationist policies toward the Jews he helped advance serving Hitler’s Reich. Indeed he was convinced of the righteousness of the Nazi war against the Jews, and as a pious Muslim convert, von Leers viewed the Middle East as the succeeding battleground to seal the fate of world Jewry. His public evolution over the course of three decades illustrates starkly the shared centrality to these totalitarianisms—both modern and ancient—of the Jews as “first and last enemy” motif.
Fifty years after Leers’ death, ignorance, denial, and delusion have engendered the sorry state of public understanding of this most ominous conversion of hatreds, by all its potential non-Muslim victims, not only Jews. This lack of understanding is little advanced by the spate of contemporary analyses which seek “Nazi roots” of the cataclysmic September 11, 2001, acts of jihad terrorism, and see Nazism as having “introduced” anti-Semitism to an otherwise “tolerant,” even philo-Semitic Islamic world beginning in the 1930s. Awkwardly forced, and ahistorical, these analyses realign the Nazi cart in front of the Islamic steed which has driven both global jihadism and Islamic anti-Semitism, since the seventh-century advent of the Muslim creed, particularly during the last decade of Muhammad’s life.
An October 1957 U.S. intelligence report on von Leers’ writing and activities for Egypt and the Arab League confirmed his complete adoption of the triumphal Muslim worldview, desirous of nothing less than the destruction of Judeo-Christian civilization by jihad:
He [Dr. Omar Amin von Leers] is becoming more and more a religious zealot, even to the extent of advocating an expansion of Islam in Europe in order to bring about stronger unity through a common religion. This expansion he believes can come not only from contact with the Arabs in the Near East and Africa but with Islamic elements in the USSR. The results he envisions as the formation of a political bloc against which neither East nor West could prevail.