Born in Trinidad, British by adoption, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, he is just about the only person with the authority to compare the twin totalitarianisms of Islamic State and Nazi Germany. Travels in Muslim countries have given him a lot of experience. His essential quality as a writer, I would say, is the insistence that the world is to be understood only through reason and the use of the mind.
The Islamic State, the self-defined new caliphate, exemplifies mindlessness. Its dedication to the general mass-murder of “Shias, Jews, Christians, Copts, Yazidis and anyone it can” is pure Nazism. Other similar characteristics include a belief in racial superiority; and pride in anti-democratic and anti-Semitic bigotry. Hitler’s Germans constructed a false past, and Islamists have the conviction that their history is so unique and important that the history of other people counts for nothing. These ignoramuses are destroying ancient cities and archaeological sites like Nimrud and Hatra. As Naipaul puts it, we all lose “everything that arises from the human impulse to beauty.” Decolonization gave rise to the idea that every advance in civilization is to be condemned as “colonial.” Barbarism, in this perspective, is confused with independence and freedom.
I’m not sure how apt the comparison is — “Without the loudspeaker, we would never have conquered Germany,” Hitler said in 1938, admitting that the Nazis viewed Germany as an essentially foreign nation to be occupied and conquered. But one with a rich cultural heritage and superior technological base for their conquerors to exploit and build upon, with the first nascent television network, and by the waning days of WWII, the first viable jet air craft and suborbital rockets, alongside the boxcars full of human beings being shipped to the gas chamber. ISIS will exploit foreign-developed technology as long as it keeps working, on the way back to a stone age culture the envy of Earth Hour enthusiasts throughout the world. Or as Kathy Shaidle wrote at the start of the month:
Because as wiser men than I have noted since 9/11, at least Germany and Japan were highly advanced civilizations. Some might say too cultivated for their own good (or make that “the good of the rest of us”), making a crashing, bloody regression toward the (other kind of) “mean” nigh on inevitable.
So after we bombed the crap out of them (although not enough in Germany’s case to suit me), at least some survivors retained memories of their culture’s rational past, all the better to reconstruct or even surpass it. (With an infusion of American billions, that is.)
Today’s Muslim belligerents either have no such past, or are busily trying to eradicate any trace of it. When we bother destroying their strongholds, who can even tell? You can’t bomb people back to the Stone Age if they never left. And in any case, this time we reinstituted the Marshall Plan before we half wiped them out—a fatally ass-backwards move.
Of course, to build on David Gelernter’s article today in First Choice (and Naipaul as well), there’s another connection between ISIS and the Nazis:
The totalitarian tyrannies of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Stalinist Russia had something crucial and telling in common. Amazingly, many of us don’t see it. All three were officially pagan regimes. The cult of the fuehrer (and the separate SS-cult), Shinto emperor-worship and the Stalin personality cult depended on the suppression of more sophisticated religions—in the first and third cases, Christianity.
Historians have too often misread the Nazis, who did not hate Christians but did hate Christianity. They saw it as a form of weakness, as a Jew-concocted poison that had helped ruin Germany. Historians have mostly failed to write about the importance of state paganism under the Nazis—both fuehrer-and-homeland worship (complete with scriptures and liturgy) in the schools and everyday life, and the special ceremonial of the SS, which had its own chapels and marriage ceremonies. Hatred of Christianity fed hatred of the Jews. Nor have we given the credit they deserve to the Christian heroes and martyrs of the anti-Nazi cause, not just Niemoller and Bonhoeffer and a few well-known others but the whole membership of the small yet robust German confessing church, and other nameless Protestants and Catholics who would not be reduced to animals.
Did German Christians rise en masse? No. But death-defying bravery is a trait not many of us have. Historians owe us a deeper, truer account of the nature of Nazism than most have provided. Nazi Jew-hatred swept the best-educated country in Europe because (many say) centuries of Christian anti-Semitism had paved the way. But Nazi denunciation of Christianity as weak Jewish nonsense also paved the way. Germans had been more restive under Christianity than any other major European people. Which paving counted more? Historians should be trying to answer that important question.
We must understand (not ignore!) Nazi hatred of Christianity so we can understand Germany, the moral character of the war in Europe, and the similarities between the three most bestial regimes in human history.
And as with the Nazis, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union, (and their current “Progressive” descendents in both Europe and America), ISIS is none too fond of Christianity either.