dolf Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf is as vile as any book ever published. Written in 1923 while he was in prison as a revolutionary agitator and at that point unlikely ever to be anything else, Hitler built on the connected emotions of hatred and self-pity. It is the work of a failure, what is more of a man who knows himself to be a failure. The failure is everyone's fault except his own. And all these people are against him because they belong to different races: That is the key. In the book he invents a "racial ladder" with Germans naturally at the top of it and Jews down at the bottom. If only they had been properly German, all those other people would have recognized his greatness. But by definition they couldn't be German, and they stood in his way, and so he had to kill them, stamp them out. On the one hand, thwarted ambition; on the other hand, a hatred of humanity. The combination still has the power to send a shiver down the spine.
Hitler's fate, and the mass-murder he inspired, did not put an end to the malignant appeal of his book. There are plenty of people who know themselves to be failures and blame everyone for it except themselves. They too fantasize that they have enemies who can never be anything else because they belong to another race, and the only solution is to massacre the lot. Almost 80 years after its first appearance, Mein Kampf remains an international hit. The Bavarian state owns the copyright but whether it collects royalties is unclear. The book is banned in Germany, but for some years Random House has been marketing an English translation, defending itself with the argument that it is a historic text which has to be studied.
Communism was perhaps the most spectacular political failure in history, killing tens of millions, and wasting the lives of hundreds of millions more. These victims mostly came from societies that were still traditional, usually agricultural. How were they to explain to themselves the calamity which Communism visited upon them? The arrival of democracy in Russia and its former satellites has brought into these countries fresh editions of Mein Kampf in half a dozen languages. In Poland the initial print-run was 20,000 copies (a significant quantity there). A minority evidently believes that Communism was all a Jewish plot, and Hitler had got things right. The authorities crack down half-heartedly.
Muslim and Arab society is today a failure much as Communism used to be. Muslims and Arabs live under absolute and despotic government which prevents them from enjoying anything like the freedom and prosperity that they see in the West and wish for themselves. On the whole they realize that they have long ago taken their history and destiny into their own hands, and so are responsible for themselves. But so dire are the injustices and the poverty, and so threatening is the tyranny over their heads, that many are lost in pity for themselves, and hatred of everyone else. A slew of racists, radicals, and Islamists share a frame of mind that the West is selfishly conspiring against them, with the Jews once again secretly in charge. Catering to such people since the early '60s, editions of Mein Kampf have been put out in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, and it is reported to be a bestseller in the Palestinian Authority area. It is available in London stores selling Arabic books. As its Arabic translator Luis al-Haj expresses it in his preface, "National Socialism did not die with the death of its herald. Rather, its seeds multiplied under each star."
In traditional society in the Middle East, Arabs were the masters and Jews were second-class subjects, protected though under rather demeaning conditions. European-style anti-Semitism, usually spread by missionaries and diplomats, came in during the 19th century. Zionism, another import from Europe, redefined Jews according to nationality rather than religion, and the accompanying improvement in their lowly status abruptly challenged Arab assumptions of superiority. These second-class people could surely never have done it on their own; they could only be obtaining their new power from outside it had to be a plot. Hitler says so too in his book. He believed Zionism was "nothing but a comedy," and he could see through "this sly trick of the Jews." He wrote in Mein Kampf:
They have no thought of building up a Jewish state in Palestine, so that they might inhabit it, but they only want a central organization of their international world cheating, endowed with prerogatives, withdrawn from the seizure of others: a refuge for convicted rascals and a high school for future rogues.
The Third Reich and the Arab East, by Lukasz Hirszowicz, a Polish-born scholar, was published almost 40 years ago but remains a definitive work. It examines in careful detail how Hitler's Germany sought to woo Arabs through anti-British and anti-Jewish policies. Nazi personalities like Josef Goebbels and Baldur von Schirach of the Hitler Youth carried out goodwill tours. Various German agents financed and armed clandestine Arab fascist groups. The first Arabic translation of Mein Kampf appeared in 1938, and Hitler himself tactfully proposed to omit from it his "racial ladder" theory.
Of all the Arabs convinced of Hitler's coming triumph, none was so eager as Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the Palestinian Arabs in the Hitler years. Vincent Sheean, the Thomas L. Friedman of the day, thought that Haj Amin had "great gifts." Along the lines that "my enemy's enemy is my friend," Haj Amin converted the Palestinian cause into a local branch of Hitler's worldwide anti-Jewish persecution. Fleeing from the British, he spent the war in Berlin. A friend and admirer of Himmler's, he raised a division of Bosnian Muslims for the SS. Hitler made grandiose promises to him, but was cautious enough to add that they could be met only after victory.
Fanaticism had led
Haj Amin into utter delusion. Hitler, the expected savior, had in reality
the settled conviction that Arabs were Untermenschen and he had
no intention of doing them any favors. On that racial ladder of his, Arabs
occupied a servile place, held in much the same contempt as the Jews.
All sorts of Arab leaders were to follow Haj Amin's example and fall into
the racist trap Hitler set for them, including Gamal Abdul Nasser and
Anwar Sadat, the Syrian and Iraqi Baathists, and King Ibn Saud of Saudi
On the contrary: It is only natural in an absolute ruler to seek to kill off his enemies. Ahmad Ragab, a columnist for the Egyptian government paper Al-Akhbar, is only one example among many opinion-makers to "give thanks to Hitler, of blessed memory," and regretting only that Hitler had not extracted revenge for Palestine by murdering every last Jew. Arab propagandists contradictorily go in for versions of Holocaust denial. The present mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, said quite typically before his recent meeting with Pope John Paul II that the numbers of Holocaust victims had been exaggerated. "The Jews are using this issue, in many ways, [including] to blackmail the Germans financially." That has become a standard notion and it chimes perfectly with Mein Kampf and its lies about "rogues" endowed with "prerogatives."
But if really Hitler and his henchmen are role models to be imitated, then it is confused and confusing that Arab media regularly publish articles and cartoons caricaturing Israelis as Nazis, twisting the Star of David into a swastika, and so on. In today's Muslim and Arab world, Hitler and the Holocaust are labels bandied about without regard to historical truth, in order to promote hatred on the one hand, and self-pity on the other twin signals of intellectual and moral failure.