In February of this year, the anti-Islamisation street protest group PEGIDA held their first rally in the UK, which was covered by an article in Newsweek. Predictably, the article was mostly dedicated to smearing the group as "far-right", citing its viewpoints on Islam as being self-evidently evil and extreme. And yet paradoxically, given where the piece tried to place PEGIDA on the political spectrum, it clearly expressed some sort of semi-concealed ire at one particular banner which had been displayed at the rally. It read "Islam=Nazism". Apparently such sentiments are beyond the pale and make those who express them akin to Nazis themselves (that's assuming we can even call Nazism "far-right" in the first place).
And yet, it is clear that Islam does have an ideological kinship with Nazism. Winston Churchill described Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, as “the new Qur’an of faith and war, turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message.”
There is no doubt that Hitler viewed Islam and Nazism as ideological bedfellows. Evidence for this can be found in the memoirs of Albert Speer, who was Hitler's Minister of Armaments and War Production:
Hitler had been much impressed by a scrap of history he had learned from a delegation of distinguished Arabs. When the Mohammedans attempted to penetrate beyond France into Central Europe during the eighth century, his visitors had told him, they had been driven back at the Battle of Tours. Had the Arabs won this battle, the world would be Mohammedan today. For theirs was a religion that believed in spreading the faith by the sword and subjugating all nations to that faith. Such a creed was perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament. Hitler said that the conquering Arabs, because of their racial inferiority, would in the long run have been unable to contend with the harsher climate and conditions of the country. They could not have kept down the more vigorous natives, so that ultimately not Arabs but Islamized Germans could have stood at the head of this Mohammedan Empire.
His admiration for Islam is confirmed by other sources, as well. Dr. Herman Neubacher, the first Nazi Mayor of Vienna, wrote that Hitler had told him Islam was a “male religion”, and reiterated the belief that the Germans would have been far more successful conquerors had they adopted Islam in the Middle Ages. Additionally, General Alexander Loehr, a Luftwaffe commander, maintained that Hitler had told him that Islam was such a desirable creed that he longed for it to become the official religion of the Nazi Secret Service.
Heinrich Himmler also championed the violent nature of Islam. He was of the opinion that religion in general was a negative influence on soldiers – with the exception of Islam. He wrote: “I must say I have nothing against Islam; for it preaches to its members in this division and promises them paradise if they have fought and died. A practical and agreeable religion for soldiers!” He oversaw the creation of several Muslim-only divisions of the Waffen SS in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also sought to create a modern equivalent of the janissary system employed for centuries in the Ottoman Empire, whereby non-Muslim children were kidnapped or captured in battle and turned into soldiers fighting against their own communities. This prompted SS General Gottlob Berger to remark: “For the first time a connection is being established between Islam and National Socialism on an open, honest base, since it will be ruled from the North where blood and race are concerned, and from the East ideologically and spiritually.”
This spiritual connection to Islam was also espoused by yet another of the main architects of the Holocaust: Adolf Eichmann. Writing in 1956, while he was still in hiding in Argentina, Eichmann lamented the fact that, in his view, he would never get a fair trial in Europe, because Christianity, “to which a large part of Western thought clings,” had been irrevocably corrupted by the Jews. He therefore turned to those he called his “large circle of friends, many millions of people”, to whom he wrote:
But you, you 360 million Mohammedans, to whom I have had a strong inner connection since the days of my association with your Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, you, who have a greater truth in the suras of your Qur'an, I call upon you to pass judgment on me. You children of Allah have known the Jews longer and better than the West has. Your noble Muftis and scholars of law may sit in judgement upon me and, at least in a symbolic way, give me your verdict.
Ultimately, Eichmann’s dying wish was that his “Arab friends” could complete the total annihilation of the Jewish people that he had started.
The intimate connection between Islam and the horrors of Nazism is widely known to historians, but apparently not to the public at large. The Nazis collaborated closely with Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem prior to World War II. In 1943 they produced an illustrated biographical booklet which declared al-Husseini to be Muhammad’s direct descendant, an Arab national hero, and the “incarnation of all ideals and hopes of the Arab nation.”
Husseini played a major role in the horrific events of the Holocaust. He provided active support for the Germans by recruiting (under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler) Bosnian Muslims for dedicated Muslim-only Nazi SS units, which brutally suppressed local resistance movements in Yugoslavia. During a 1944 radio broadcast to the Arab world, he also directly ordered local Muslims: “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion.”
In a 1954 essay, the Mufti himself confirmed the inspiration the Nazis derived from Islamic jihad, noting that during a speech in 1938, “Hitler Noted the Jihad of the Palestinian Arabs as a Worthy Example” for the German-speaking residents of the Sudetenland, urging them to undertake an armed rebellion against Czechoslovakia.
Nearly seventy years later, the majority of analysts appear to be ignorant of these facts. While it is commonplace to hear people (falsely) attributing Christian motivations to Hitler's actions, and blaming Christianity for the horrors of the death camps, we almost never hear about the role of Islam and Muslims in the Holocaust, or about Hitler's admiration for the Islamic faith.
Not only was there an ideological affinity between Nazism and Islamic ideals, but Muslims themselves played a major role in the Holocaust. This convergence of classical Islamic jihad and antisemitism with Nazi ideals has gone in both directions – for example, Mein Kampf is still a bestseller in some Muslim countries (see here, here, here, here and here for examples), while numerous modern neo-Nazi groups consider Islamic jihadists to be their natural allies. Many Nazis also converted to Islam and continued their hate campaigns against Jews after the war, with help from their fellow Muslims.
With very rare exceptions, almost all Muslims in the Arab world were either indifferent to or actively supportive of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust, and there was no large-scale effort on the part of any Muslim group or individual to save beleaguered Jews in Arab lands, comparable to those of, say, Raoul Wallenberg.
I have not written all of this in order to imply that Hitler was a Muslim. But it remains true that Hitler - despite his racist loathing of Arabs - appears to have believed that Islam was ideologically consistent with his own worldview, and drew inspiration from its perceived successes. Muslims also seem to have been, and continue to be, far more admiring and sympathetic towards Nazism than most Christians have ever been.
It is not "far-right" or "hateful" to notice any of these facts. Rather, it is a key step in understanding the nature of the threat we face, and how we can defeat it.