THE JEWS everywhere are "the Muslim's bitter enemies," said a prominent Islamic leader. Throughout history, the "irreconcilable enemy of Islam" has conspired and schemed and "oppressed and persecuted 40 million Muslims," he said. In Palestine, the Jews are establishing "a base from which to extend their power over neighboring Islamic countries." And, he proclaimed, "this war, which was unleashed by the world Jewry," provided "Muslims the best opportunity to free themselves from these instances of persecution and oppression."
Sound like Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah? Or perhaps Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Nope. It was the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Husseini, in 1942. An ardent Nazi supporter, Husseini delivered his speech at the opening of the Islamic Institute in Berlin, one day after the Allies denounced the Nazis for "carrying into effect Hitler's oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe." Husseini's address was approved by Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Joseph Goebbels was in attendance. The Reich press office widely distributed the comments.
President Bush undoubtedly didn't have any of this in mind this week when he dubbed our enemies in the war on terror "Islamic fascists." But his comments -- analytically flawed as they may be -- added some much-needed moral clarity to our current struggle. They also helped to illuminate a much-overlooked point: Islamic fundamentalism and Nazism are historically and intellectually linked. (When the Israelis caught Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Final Solution, a leading Saudi Arabian newspaper read: "Arrest of Eichmann, who had the honor of killing 6 million Jews.") Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bush's remarks seem to have struck a nerve.
The Saudi government warned "against hurling charges of terrorism and fascism at Muslims without regard to the spotless history of Islamic civilization." Of course, no civilization is without sin, but it takes particular chutzpah for Saudis to preen, considering their civilization is as spotless as a leopard.
Still, the point isn't to dredge up ancient history about Muslims and Nazis. Many Swedes got along swimmingly with the Nazis but who worries about the Swedes today? The Muslim world is another matter. And unlike the Swedes, the similarities between Nazism and Islamic fascism are not all in the past. In what may be the most important book on the Holocaust in a generation, historian Jeffrey Herf explains why.
According to the standard Holocaust narrative, the Final Solution was the product of "hate" or racism or, often, both. Anti-Semitism became popular in the 19th century; the Nazis expanded on it, constructing a pseudo-scientific biological racism that saw the Jews as a "cancer" on the body politic and the Holocaust as an attempt to excise the tumor. Herf does not so much debunk this version of history as cut through it.
In "The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust," he concedes that hatred and racism were important, but he argues that they don't explain Germany's unique efforts to destroy the Jews. It's not as if no one hated the Jews until the 1930s.
The real answer isn't hate, but fear. Poring through miles of speeches, private comments, journal entries, party memoranda and all 24,000 pages of Goebbel's diaries, Herf concludes that the Nazis really believed that the Jews ran the world and wanted to destroy Germany. They believed that Jews controlled not only the Bolsheviks to the east but the capitalists to the west. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a mere pawn of his Jewish friends and advisors. The British Parliament, Goebbels wrote in one diary entry, was "in reality a kind of Jewish stock exchange." The "Jewish-plutocratic enemy" was everywhere, benefiting from, and responsible for, every piece of bad news for Germany. In fact, the Nazis were sure that the Jews had declared war on Germany first, giving them no choice but to respond to the Jewish campaign to "exterminate the Germans." This paranoia led the Nazis to believe that rounding up millions of Jews and gassing them was an act of self-defense.
What is so frightening is how similar this is to the sounds from the Middle East today. Ahmadinejad -- dismissed by "sophisticated" academics as a blowhard -- calls the Holocaust a myth. Indeed, there is no Jewish conspiracy theory too outlandish in the Muslim world. Huge numbers of Muslims -- even 45% of British Muslims -- believe that the Jews were behind 9/11. Theories that the Mossad is behind every bad headline, from the Indonesian tsunami to bad soccer performances, are common on the Arab street. According to Herf, this is only the second time the world has seen this sort of radical anti-Semitic paranoia. And, again, too many in the unspotless West are saying, "they can't be serious."