Islamism/ Nazism: Kuntzel and Bostom cross swords

Front Page magazine hosts a debate between Matthias Kuntzel, author of award-winning Jihad and Jew-hatred, and Andrew Bostom,who has written The legacy of Jihad. In essence, Bostom argues that all the elements of Nazi-style antisemitism practised by the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood in the 1930s were already present in the Koran. Kuntzel argues that Islamic Jew-hatred has morphed into something new: modern antisemitism deems all evil to be Jewish.

Kuntzel: On 30 November 2007 FrontPage Magazine published a lengthy and hostile article by Andrew G. Bostom on my book Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, entitled “Brothers of Invention?”. I say “hostile” rather than “critical” since even the most negative critique of a book assumes that the reader gets to find out what the work in question is actually about.

Not so in this case.

Indeed, in the course of his 22-pages Bostom never once mentions my book’s subtitle, “Islamism, Nazism and the roots of 9/11”, which explains the purpose of the work. That purpose is to show how Islamism arose in the 1920s and 30s, what role National Socialism played in this development, and how there emerged that specifically Islamic antisemitism, drawing on both Koranic and modern European sources, which has characterized Islamist ideology from its inception to today.

Instead of dealing with the point I am making and assessing whether my analysis is right, Bostom is chiefly exercised by the fact that I failed to write a totally different book. The bulk of his piece consists of comments about the early centuries of Islam, a subject that clearly interests the reviewer much more than the topic of my work. In fact, I frequently refer to this early history, but the focus is on the historical period in which the most important Islamist organization – the Muslim Brotherhood – and the associated Islamic antisemitism were born.

It is true and well known that the separation from and hatred of the Jews began with Muhammad’s activities in Medina and is a constitutive element of Islam. Anti-Judaism as laid down in the Koran, however, is not the same as antisemitism as laid down in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion“. Mediaeval Jew-hatred considered everything Jewish to be evil. Modern antisemitism, on the other hand, deems all “evil” to be Jewish. In the former case the Jew could save his life through acceptance of the rules of dhimmitude or conversion to Christianity (or Islam). In the latter case, what is involved is not just oppression or conversion, but an irrational belief that the salvation of the world depends on the destruction of the Jews. My particular topic is not the root cause of dhimmitude but the root cause of modern antisemitism within the Islamic world.

What was the importance of Koranic Jew-hatred for the subsequent adoption of Nazi antisemitism in the Islamic world? Conversely, what role did this Nazi antisemitism play in the revival of Islamically motivated Jew-hatred? These questions have yet to find a definitive answer. They require a serious and scientific debate.

Take the example of the especially hate-filled hadith of al-Bukhari which comes closest to anticipating the rhetoric of modern antisemitism and for this very reason appears in the 1988 Hamas Charter: “The hour of judgement shall not come” it reads, “until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: ‘Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him’.” According to one of Israel’s leading Arabists, Yehoshua Porath, no mention of this hadith can be found anywhere in Arabic literature after at least 1870. It had fallen into oblivion until its reappearance in 1937 in a statement by the Mufti of Jerusalem. In 1938 it was publicized in German by the Nazis and then disseminated in the Arabic world via the Arabic-language short-wave radio transmitter set up by the Nazis in the vicinity of Berlin.

So the mere existence of a hate-filled text tells us nothing about social reality and the uses that may or may not be made of that text. My concern, however, is precisely with this reality in all its complexity.

I show that around 1925 the Jews were an accepted and protected part of public life in Egypt: they had members of parliament, were employed at the royal palace and occupied important positions in the economic and political field. 25 years later, all that was in the past: in 1945, the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Egyptian history took place.* My book analyses “the reasons, why, between 1925 and 1945, a shift in direction was effected in Egypt from a rather neutral or pro-Jewish mood to a rabidly anti-Jewish one, a shift which changed the whole Arab world and affects it to this day.”

Bostom devotes not a single syllable to this. My “quintessential argument“, he asserts, “is that Hassan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood (and associated 20th century ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb) ,invented’ jihad war as a sui generis phenomenon”. But the word “invention” does not appear in my book; I use the term “innovation”. Moreover I never deal with jihad “sui generis”, but in the context of the twentieth century and the Arab world.

“Al-Banna called the Muslim Brothers’ concept of Islam ‘the Islam of Muslim Brothers’, as it represented a new understanding of Islam at the time” writes Abd Al-Fattah Muhammad Al-Awaisi, who also writes, “What concerns us here about this new understanding is the concept of jihad, which had been almost absent from Islamic education before the foundation of the Muslim Brothers. Muslim groups of the time paid no attention to it. Political parties were involved with political struggles and mosque Imams and preachers treated jihad as irrelevant to their religious brief.”

In analyzing the roots of Islamism as a modern mass movement which came into being during the same decade as Fascism and National Socialism I am concentrating on the particular. Bostom’s approach on the other hand is one of generalization. (..)

And here is Bostom’s reply:

Bostom: (…)Simply put, Kuntzel decided to ignore (all these) seamless doctrinal, and historical connections between ancient Islam, and modern totalitarianism, especially Nazism.

Kuntzel’s reply (and book) also fail to make clear that the early 20th century period he is lionizing in Egypt was one under British colonial rule during which a short-lived experiment in Western style secularism took place. This proves nothing about “flexible interpretations” of the Koran, since Koran-inspired Shari’a doctrines, i.e. dhimmitude, were precisely what was being sidelined. And even during this “ecumenical” period, in 1910, when the Coptic Prime Minister Boutros Ghali was assassinated by a Muslim, the assassin (Wardani) became a national hero, acclaimed by hordes of students taking to the streets and proclaiming, “Wardani, Wardani, that slew the Nazarene.” It is also completely ahistorical for Kuntzel to claim, “…in 1945, the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Egyptian history took place.” Kuntzel blithely ignores all of the following events which wrought tremendous devastation to Egyptian Jewry under Muslim rule, up to a millennium before the advent of the Muslim Brotherhood: the murderous persecutions of al-Hakim during the early 11th century, one of which was timed for Passover in 1012; Jews in Alexandria and Cairo being pogromed and plundered in 1047, 1168, 1265, and 1324; and Sultan Baybars in the 13th century blaming Jews for starting a plague, and subjecting them to extortion, massacre, and expulsion. Moreover, even the 1945 pogrom itself was not an isolated attack on Jews, but involved general anti-dhimmi (i.e., indigenous Christian, especially Copt), and anti-colonial (European) ravages perpetrated by the Muslim rioters.*

Despite the false assertion by al-Awaisi cited in Kuntzel’s reply, teaching Egyptian school children anti-infidel jihad hatred is clearly a long, ongoing , and ignoble tradition even within the modern era, which was also not an invention, or “innovation” of the Muslim Brotherhood. As the scholar E. W. Lane reported after several years of residence in both Cairo and Luxor (initially in 1825-1828, then in 1833-1835),

I am credibly informed that children in Egypt are often taught at school, a regular set of curses to denounce upon the persons and property of Christians, Jews, and all other unbelievers in the religion of Mohammad.

An updated 19th century publication of Lane’s original work included this jihadist prayer, below, recited daily by Egyptian Muslim schoolchildren, containing a typical curse on non-Muslims, translated (by Lane’s nephew) from a contemporary 19th century Arabic text:

I seek refuge with God from Satan the accursed. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O God, aid El-Islam, and exalt the word of truth, and the faith, by the preservation of thy servant and the son of thy servant, the Sultan of the two continents (Europe and Asia), and the Khakan (Emperor or monarch) of the two seas [the Mediterranean and Black Seas], the Sultan, son of the Sultan (Mahmood) Khan (the reigning Sultan when this prayer was composed). O God, assist him, and assist his armies, and all the forces of the Muslims: O Lord of the beings of the whole world. O God, destroy the infidels and polytheists, thine enemies, the enemies of the religion. O God, make their children orphans, and defile their abodes, and cause their feet to slip, and give them and their families, and their households and their women and their children and their relations by marriage and their brothers and their friends and their possessions and their race and their wealth and their lands as booty to the Muslims: O Lord of the beings of the whole world.”(Emphasis added.)

And Lane’s testimony on the difference between the attitude of Egyptian Muslims toward the Jews and the Christians again highlights the influence of Koran 5:82, a century before such verses would be “exploited” by the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hajj Amin el-Husseini, let alone Nazi propagandists:

They [the Jews] are held in the utmost contempt and abhorrence by the Muslims in general, and they are said to bear a more inveterate hatred than any other people to the Muslims and the Muslim religion. It is said, in the Koran [quoting 5:82] “Thou shalt surely find the most violent all men to those who have believed to be the Jews…” 3

Lane further notes,

It is a common saying among the Muslims in this country, “Such one hates me with the hate of the Jews.” We cannot wonder, then, that the Jews are detested far more than are the Christians. Not long ago, they used often to be jostled in the streets of Cairo, and sometimes beaten for merely passing on the right hand of a Muslim. At present, they are less oppressed: but still they scarcely ever dare to utter a word of abuse when reviled or beaten unjustly by the meanest Arab or Turk; for many a Jew has been put to death upon a false and malicious accusation of uttering disrespectful words against the Koran or the Prophet. It is common to hear an Arab abuse his jaded ass, and, after applying to him various opprobrious epithets, end by calling the beast a Jew.

Kuntzel’s discussion also omits a series of subsequent 19th century accounts which validate and expand upon Lane’s narrative regarding the pervasive Egyptian Muslim Jew-hatred which was endemic well before the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, the French surgeon A.B. Clot who resided in Egypt from 1825 to1848, and served Muhammad Ali as a medical adviser, earning the honorific title, “Bey”, made these confirmatory observations written in 1840, five years after Lane’s travelogue first appeared in 1835: 5

The Israelite race is the one that the Muslims hate the most. They think that the Jews hate Islam more than any other nation…Speaking of a fierce enemy, the Muslims say: “He hates me the way the Jews hate us.” During the past century, the Israelites were often put to death because they were accused rightly or wrongly to have something disrespectful about the Koran.

And three decades later, such hateful attitudes directed at the Jews specifically, persisted among Egyptian Muslims, as recorded in 1873 by Moritz Lüttke: 6

The Muslim hates no other religion as he hates that of the Jews…even now that all forms of political oppression have ceased, at a time when such great tolerance is shown to the Christian population, the Arabs still bear the same contemptuous hatred of the Jews. It is a commonplace occurrence, for example, for two Arabs reviling each other to call each other Ibn Yahudi (or “son of a Jew”) as the supreme insult…it should be mentioned that in these cases, they pronounce the word Yahudi in a violent and contemptuous tone that would be hard to reproduce.

Jacob Landau’s modern analysis of Egyptian Jewry in the 19th century elucidates the predictable outcome of these bigoted archetypes “constantly repeated in various forms”—the escalation from rhetorical to physical violence against Jews: 7

…it is interesting to note that even the fallahin, the Egyptian peasantry (almost all of them Muslim) certainly did not know many Jews at close quarters, but nevertheless would revile them. The enmity some Muslims felt for the Jews incited them to violence, persecution, and physical assault, as in 1882…Hostility was not necessarily the result of envy, for many Jews were poverty-stricken and even destitute and were sometimes forced to apply for financial assistance to their co- religionists abroad.

Finally, Kuntzel’s reply invokes an unreferenced observation by the Israeli scholar Y. Porath to assert that “no mention” of the apocalyptic canonical hadith from Sahih Muslim [Book 041, Number 6985] and Sahih Bukhari [Volume 4, Book 52, Number 176] (famously included in the Hamas Charter, in article 7) can be found in Arabic literature until “after at least 1870.” Really? Just how do we know that this canonical hadith was not invoked by those whom a serious scholar of Islam’s anti-Jewish polemic, Moshe Perlmann, referred to in this assessment?

The Koran, of course became a mine of anti-Jewish passages. The hadith did not lag behind. Popular preachers used and embellished such material.

Even if for the sake of argument, one were to accept Kuntzel’s entirely unproven assertion regarding these apocalyptic hadith, his related discussion demonstrates a complete ignorance of how Islamic jihad, dhimmitude, and Jew-hatred operate within a coherent theology-jurisprudence, expressed during 14 centuries of history.

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*My emphasis

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