Jeffrey Herf: Hate Radio, a Review of 'Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11'





[Jeffrey Herf is a professor of modern European and German history at the University of Maryland at College Park and author of The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust (Harvard University Press, 2006). His latest book is Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, published this month by Yale University Press.]

Between 1939 and 1945, shortwave radio transmitters near Berlin broadcast Nazi propaganda in many languages around the world, including Arabic throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and Persian programs in Iran. English-language transcripts of the Arabic broadcasts shed light on a particularly dark chapter in the globalization of pernicious ideas. The transcripts' significance, however, is not purely historical. Since September 11, 2001, scholars have debated the lineages, similarities, and differences between Nazi anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitism of Islamic extremists. These radio broadcasts suggest that Nazi Arabic-language propaganda helped introduce radical anti-Semitism into the Middle East, where it found common ground with anti-Jewish currents in Islam.

In a 2007 book, Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 (Telos Press), the German political scientist Matthias Kuentzel details how Nazi ideology influenced Islamist ideologues like Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as the Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini. More recent examples abound. The founding charter of Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, recapitulates conspiracy theories about Jews that were popular in Europe in the 20th century. Al Qaeda's war against "the Zionist-Crusader Alliance" and the anti-Zionist rants of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran also display a blend of anti-Semitic themes rooted in Nazi and fascist, as well as Islamist, traditions. To be sure, each of these movements and ideologies have non-European, local, and regional causes and inspirations. But the formulation of Nazi propaganda during World War II and its dissemination stand as a decisive episode in the development of radical Islamism.

After Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, German embassies and consulates were closed throughout North Africa and the Middle East, hampering Nazi propaganda efforts. Between 1941 and 1943, as German forces were engaged in heavy fighting in North Africa, millions of leaflets were dropped from airplanes and distributed on the ground by propaganda units operating with Rommel's Afrika Korps. But in a region where fewer than 20 percent of adults were literate, radio was considered a much more effective medium of communication. Radio stations like Radio Berlin and the Voice of Free Arabism adapted Nazi propaganda to the circumstances of the Middle East.

Only a fraction of the Nazi regime's broadcasts in Arabic survived the war in the German archives. But in the fall of 1941, the American Embassy in Egypt began to produce verbatim English-language translations of Nazi broadcasts. Every week for the remainder of the war, the embassy sent a digest, "Axis Broadcasts in Arabic," to the secretary of state in Washington. In the parlance of contemporary intelligence operations, "Axis Broadcasts in Arabic" would be described as "open source" intelligence gathering, that is, an examination of what adversaries say in public. As far as I have been able to determine, "Axis Broadcasts in Arabic" comprise the most complete record of Nazi Germany's efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Arab and Islamic world.

That task was made more difficult because of ideas about Aryan racial superiority and purity that were central to Nazi ideology. Nazi diplomats had long been sensitive to the fact that such views made it difficult to garner Arab allies. Before the war, German officials went to great lengths to reassure Arabs that Nazi policies, like the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935, were aimed strictly at Jews, not non-Jewish Semites. In addition, Arab leaders were given private assurances that the Third Reich opposed British and French colonialism, as well as Zionist aspirations in Palestine. But Mussolini's imperial ambitions around the Mediterranean remained at odds with an open declaration of support by the Axis powers for Arab independence. By the summer of 1942, however, when Hitler and Mussolini believed that they were on the verge of victory over the Allies in North Africa, the two leaders publicly called for an end to colonialism in the region. And for the remainder of the war, Nazi radio broadcast an unrelenting flood of anti-British, anti-American, anti-Soviet, and especially anti-Jewish propaganda into the Middle East. It was hate radio with a vengeance.

The Nazi Arabic-language broadcasts were the result of a collaboration between officials in the German foreign ministry and pro-Nazi Arab exiles who found refuge from the British in Berlin, most notably Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the most important Palestinian religious and political figure of the era, and Rashid Ali al-Kilani, leader of a pro-Axis coup in Iraq in 1941, which was quickly reversed by the British military. Husseini's and Kilani's arrival in Berlin in 1941 provided the Axis with a rare asset: Arabs who could communicate Nazi ideas in colloquial, fluent, and passionate Arabic. Previously, the Arabic broadcasts drew on the expertise of German Orientalists and the local knowledge of German diplomats who had served in the Middle East...


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