The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has reignited debates about moral culpability, civilian casualties, and the actual history of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. What drives both sides in the conflict? What are their ultimate goals? In a recent article, I examined the stated purpose of Hamas, a terrorist group with the self-articulated goal of destroying Israel and the Jews.
How can such a claim be taken seriously? In the West, we find it hard to grasp the fact that calls for genocide can be issued with utmost conviction and commitment. How can a movement of individuals desire the destruction of an ethnic group? Can it really be out of pure racism or hatred? Surely there must be another explanation.
And so we come to one of the darkest movements of our day: Islamism. The Islamist movement is defined by Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum as "an ideology that demands man's complete adherence to the sacred law of Islam and rejects as much as possible outside influence, with some exceptions (such as access to military and medical technology). It is imbued with a deep antagonism towards non-Muslims and has a particular hostility towards the West… Islamism is, in other words, yet another twentieth-century radical utopian scheme. Like Marxism-Leninism or fascism, it offers a way to control the state, run society, and remake the human being. It is an Islamic-flavored version of totalitarianism."
Again, the idea of Islamism as an ideology that is actually serious about promoting a totalitarian society strikes our Western sensibilities as strange. Surely, we may think skeptically, there must be some misunderstanding, some nuance to the situation that simply isn't apparent.
As complex as every movement is upon deeper examination, the core tenants of the Islamist movement are very black and white. At the root of Islamism is a desire for the establishment of Islamic government under Islamic law, and an accompanying hatred of and desire for the destruction of the Jews. Hamas' Charter is a clear example of this, but Islamism is much bigger than simply Hamas. The history and statements of the movement itself prove it.
Islamism, German analyst Matthais Kuntzel explains, was born in the 1930s, and it grew into an immediately recognizable organization. "It was the Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, that established Islamism as a mass movement," Kuntzel writes. It was and remains to this day the ideological reference point and organizational core for all later Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda and Hamas." Incidentally, Hamas was spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood, and Article Two of its own charter declared it to be one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine.
The Brotherhood itself was founded by Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian born in 1906. Middle East scholar David Meir-Levi writes, "While still in his teens, the young al-Banna and friends…met frequently to discuss the situation in the Middle East, to argue about the ills of Arab society, and to lament the decline of Islam. Their angst was in large part a reaction to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the end of the Muslim Caliphate, the British occupation of Egypt, and the resulting exposure of Arab society to Western values."
Though the group began as an organization which met to preach on the need for moral reform, the face of the Muslim Brotherhood soon changed. "As the group expanded during the 1930's and extended its activities well beyond its original religious revivalism, al-Banna began dreaming a greater Muslim dream: the restoration of the Caliphate. And it was this dream, which he believed could only become a reality by the sword, that won the hearts and minds of a growing legion of followers."
The "Caliphate," according to the Encyclopedia Britanica, is "the political-religious state comprising the Muslim community and the lands and peoples under its dominion in the centuries following the death of the Prophet Muhammad." () In other words, the goal of the Brotherhood is to re-establish Islamic hegemony over lands once ruled by Muslim leaders.
Kuntzel further analyzes the primary goals of Islamism in its formative days. He writes, "It is true that British colonial policy produced Islamism, insofar as Islamism viewed itself as a resistance movement against ‘cultural modernity.' The Islamists' solution was the call for a new order based on sharia. But the Brotherhood's jihad was not directed primarily against the British. Rather, it focused almost exclusively on Zionism and the Jews."
Meir-Levi introduces a major player in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood: the Hajj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, Al-Husseini "incited his followers to a three-year war against the Jews in Palestine and the British who administered the Mandate. In 1936 the Brotherhood had about 800 members, but by 1938, just two years into the ‘Revolt,' its membership had grown to almost 200,000[.]"
The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood was not peaceful, either. "To achieve that broader dream of a global jihad," Meir-Levi writes, "the Brotherhood developed a network of underground cells, stole weapons, trained fighters, formed secret assassination squads, founded sleeper cells of subversive supporters in the ranks of the army and police, and waited for the order to go public with terrorism, assassinations, and suicide missions."
Islamism has a history of violence and the pointed goal of re-establishing an Islamic Caliphate. Here, the history of Islamism grows even darker.
"It was during this time," Meir-Levi writes, "that the Muslim Brotherhood found a soul mate in Nazi Germany. The Reich offered great power connections to the movement, but the relationship brokered by the Brotherhood was more than a marriage of convenience. Long before the war, al-Banna had developed an Islamic religious ideology which previewed Hitler's Nazism. Both movements sought world conquest and domination. Both were triumphalist and supremacist: in Nazism the Aryan must rule, while in al-Banna's Islam, the Muslim religion must hold dominion. Both advocated subordination of the individual to a folkish central power. Both were explicitly anti-nationalist in the sense that they believed in the liquidation of the nation-state in favor of a trans-national unifying community: in Islam the umma (community of all believers); and in Nazism the herrenvolk (master race). Both worshipped the unifying totalitarian figure of the Caliph or Führer. And both rabidly hated the Jews and sought their destruction."
The historical ties between the Nazism and Islamism are not simply ideological similarities. The relationship between the two movements is frightening. Meir-Levi adds:
When the Second World War broke out, al-Banna worked to firm up a formal alliance with Hitler and Mussolini. He sent them letters and emissaries, and urged them to assist him in his struggle against the British and the westernized regime of King Farouk. The Intelligence Service of the Muslim Brotherhood vigorously collected information on the heads of the regime in Cairo and on the movements of the British army, offering this and more to the Germans in return for closer relations. During the ‘Great Arab Revolt' of 1936-9, which al-Husseini helped organize and which Germany funded, the swastika was used as a mark of identity on Arabic leaflets and graffiti. Arab children welcomed each other with the Hitler salute, and a sea of German flags and pictures of Hitler were displayed at celebrations.
Additionally, when al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, fled from British troops sent to end the Arab Revolt, he found his way to Berlin, where he worked with the Nazis for the remainder of World War II. Kuntzel notes, "Based in Berlin from 1941 to 1945, he had directed the Muslim SS divisions in the Balkans and had been personally responsible for blocking negotiations late in the war that might have saved thousands of Jewish children from the gas chambers."
Chuck Morse, a journalist, radio show host, and author who has written extensively on the ties between Islamism and the Nazis, states, "It should be noted that the main line of propaganda used by Hitler and the Mufti against the Jews was that there was a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. This was the basic thesis used against the Jews by Hitler in Mein Kampf and previously, in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery that was widely disseminated in those years."
Al-Husseini's actions are further documented by Meir-Levi: "On March 1, 1944, the Mufti called out in a broadcast from Zeesen: ‘Arabs! Rise as one and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your teeth if need be. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor.' His goal, with the help of the Nazis, was ‘to solve the question of the Jewish elements in Palestine and in other Arab countries as required by national interests, and in the same way as the Jewish question in the Axis lands is being solved.' His own memoirs, and the testimony of German defendants at the Nuremberg trials later on, showed that he planned a death camp modeled on Auschwitz to be constructed near Nablus for the genocide of Palestine's Jews."
After the end of World War II, however, Western leaders allowed al-Husseini to escape punishment "to avoid spoiling their relations with the Arab world," as Kuntzel puts it. It was this same al-Husseini who, along with al-Banna, spearheaded the movement to reject a two-state solution in 1947.
[W]hen the question of Palestine came before the United Nations, he and Hassan al-Banna urged the Arab world to unite in opposition to it. The two men saw in the UN resolution for the partition of Palestine an example of the ‘Jewish world conspiracy,' even though the plan provided for an Arab state in Palestine alongside of the Jewish one. But in their view a state for the Arabs of Palestine took a back seat to the eradication of Zionism and the annihilation of Palestine's Jews. No Arab head of state had the courage to contradict al-Husseini's rejectionism, and the Arab world's enthusiastic reception of his message of hate and genocide ended any possibility of the peaceful implementation of the UN resolution and the creation of an Arab and a Jewish state side by side in the Palestine Mandate (80% of the Mandate had already been allocated to Jordan, whose population was more than two-thirds Palestinian Arab).
The wars against Israel in the following years further illustrate that the hatred of the Jews was not merely rhetoric. It was a firm belief which drove the Islamists to action.
As the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Arabia and Morocco invaded Israel in 1948, the general-secretary of the Arab League, Abd al-Rahman Azzam (aka Azzam Pasha), who had previously stated privately that he considered the partition of Palestine to be the only rational solution, now stood shoulder to shoulder with the Mufti. ‘This war,' he declared on the day of the Arab attack, ‘will be a war of destruction.' It was: but it was the armies assembled by Arab generals, many of whom had fought with Rommel in behalf of the Third Reich that were destroyed.
Islamist writer Sayyid Qutb, who visited the United States in the 1950s and was upset by what he perceived as the West's cultural corruption, perpetuated the core ideologies of Islamism and the hatred of the Jews. Meir-Levi examines Qutb's influence on Islamism:
But whatever America's intentions, Qutb declared in his seminal essay, ‘Our Struggle against the Jews,' it was crucial to understand that the Jew was the root of all the world's evil. Picking up on the Nazi ideology he had ingested as a member of the Brotherhood, Qutb wrote that Jews were responsible for the world's moral decay, and the West's animalistic sexual depravity. It was the Jews who had created the anti-Islamic doctrines of atheistic materialism, godless socialism, and democratic individualism. The Jews, therefore, were the perpetual enemies of Islam. This essay, arguably the single most important manifesto of Islamic fascist anti-Semitism in the modern world, was distributed in millions of copies throughout the Islamic world with the help of Wahabbist Islamic sect in Saudi Arabia."
Qutb, whose understanding of American history reads a like a junior high parody, even hated the fact that Americans have green grass lawns. He was instrumental in providing continuing momentum for the Islamist movement.
Kuntzel brings us full circle in his statement addressing how we interpret these behaviors from a Western mentality.
The refusal…to recognize the substance of Islamist ideology -- the death cult, the hatred of the Jews, and the profound hatred of freedom -- leads back again and again to the mistaken ‘discovery' that the ‘root cause' of terrorism is U.S. policies. Ultimately, the refusal to recognize al-Qaeda's true motives results in a reversal of responsibility: The more deadly the terrorism, the greater the American guilt."
The same pattern explains the bizarre reaction to the Middle east conflict that is widespread in the West: The average observer, ignorant of the anti-Jewish content of the Hamas Charter, has to find some other explanation for terrorism against Jews, which must be -- Israel. It is not the terrorists who are guilty, but their victims. Finding suicide terrorism incomprehensible, Westerners rationalize it as an act of despair that invites sympathy…Here, too, following the principle of ‘the more barbaric the anti-Jewish terror, the greater the Israeli guilt,' the bombers' victims become the scapegoat for global terrorism. The old stereotype of Jewish guilt is thus amplified in contemporary form -- and only encourages the terrorists.
The hatred of the Jews within Islamism is not an antiquated notion that has died away through the years. It continues to this day. Meir-Levi observes, "The long legacy of Arab and Palestinian Nazism, and the Hitlerite themes of lebensraum, ethnic cleansing and genocide, continue to echo in the Middle East today. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, said of the Jews after the Lebanon war of 2006: ‘If they gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them nationwide.' Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas Foreign Minister, says: ‘I dream of hanging a huge map of the world on the wall at my Gaza home which does not show Israel on it.' And most chillingly, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former President of Iran, looks ahead to the next holocaust and final solution: ‘The use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once said, "Now, as for Israel, if history has taught the Jewish people anything, it is that we must take calls for our destruction seriously. We are a nation that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. When we say ‘Never again,' we mean never again."
The infamous al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, expressed a hatred toward the Jews which even played into his opposition toward America. He said in a letter addressed to the American people, "The Jews have taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense…Your law is the law of rich and wealthy people…Behind them stand the Jews who control your policies, media and economy."
In a post-9/11 trial in Hamburg, the ideas of Mohamed Atta, one of the pilots who flew aircraft into the World Trade Center, and the others among the conspiracy came under scrutiny. Kuntzel reports, "One participant in the Koran circle meetings, Shahid Nickels, said Atta's Weltanschauung was based upon a ‘National Socialist way of thinking.' Atta was convinced that the Jews were striving for world domination and considered New York City the center of world Jewery, which was, in his opinion, Enemy No. 1. Fellow students who lived in Motassedeq's [another of the al-Qaeda cell responsible for the 9/11 attacks] dormitory testified that he shared these views and waxed enthusiastic about a forthcoming ‘big action.' One student quoted Motassedeq as saying ‘The Jews will burn and in the end we will dance on their graves.'"
The violence of the Islamist movement is especially clear today within Iraq, where the self-proclaimed Islamic State has declared itself to be the new Islamic Caliphate. The article "ISIS and the Birth of Early Islam" compares the violence in Iraq today to the violent expansion of Islam in its early years, stating, "When an invading force entered a non-Muslim land, individuals had three choices: convert to Islam, pay a tax (jizya), or die. Fast-forward to today and this is the very same thing that is happening to Christians in Iraq by the Islamic State." The same article observes, "Christian homes are being marked with the Arabic letter ? (nun) for Nazarene, reminiscent of the Jewish Star of David in the early days of Nazism in Germany. Thousands are fleeing, dying, or being left for dead by having food and water sources cut off from them." Other Islamic nations and organizations are not happy with the creation of ISIS, but one fact is clear: ISIS is the product of a virulent Islamist ideology that utilizes violence against those who do not adhere to its tenants.
The movement of Islamism and its calls for genocide of the Jews now and throughout history are real. Let us recognize the Islamist movement as the threat it is, and stand up against the perpetuation of a belief that calls for the annihilation of Israel and all Jews.