Over the last several months a number of articles have come out comparing the atrocities of ISIL to that of the Nazis during World War II. In response, others have decried this comparison since those same articles often carry within them the implication that the U.S. should do something about ISIL and many believe that Americans have done too much in the region to aggravate the situation already.
Still, the nagging sense of comparison remains, as illustrated by a conversation that yours truly had with a student several weeks ago.
The student came up after class with a photo he’d taken of a sticker that had been slapped on a light pole somewhere in Poughkeepsie, NY. He wanted to know whether it was a sticker advertising the now infamous ISIL flag and if that meant that the rogue terrorist group had sympathizers in the Hudson Valley.
Fortunately, the sticker only depicted a common anarchist symbol that is used by many rock groups and ravers. While yours truly was worrying a bit about how the student could make that kind of mistake (somehow it was the black and white format that threw him), he then asked, “Who are these people and why do they do such terrible things? They seem like the Nazis or something.”
It was a child’s question to be sure, but suggestive nonetheless. There were probably many people asking similar questions about the SA after the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923. Ten years later they would begin to find out.
There was no way to answer simply, but it was clear some more research had to be done. And the results have been most unsettling.
In fact, there is much that connects the methods and motives of ISIL to what the Nazis attempted. This is not because Islam is like Nazism at all, which seems to be one of the reasons why this line of thinking is dismissed by some. Rather, it’s due to the fact that Nazism gave the world a dark method of trying to staunch wounds of cultural pride and resentment and because of the ravages of colonialism, there are many in the Islamic world who experience being deeply hurt in this way.
Not only that, there are direct lines of inheritance between what the Nazis bequeathed and the rise of specific forms of Islamic and Christian fundamentalisms both in the Middle East and in the United States. Author Peter Levenda has laboriously researched and summarized this legacy in his “Hitler” trilogy “Unholy Alliance: A History of Nazi Involvement with the Occult” (2002), “Ratline: Soviet Spies, Nazi Priests and the Disappearance of Adolf Hiter” (2012) and “The Hitler Legacy: The Nazi Cult in Diaspora” (2014).
Specifically, not only did elements of the Catholic Church (and the Red Cross) and the CIC/CIA aid numerous Nazi war criminals to escape, but often set those escapees up in rather cushy positions in the quest to curtail the advance of “godless” Communism.
While many armchair historians may be familiar with the role that Franco’s Spain and certain Latin American countries played in this venture (and let us not forget about those Nazis who were brought to the United States through Operation Paperclip in defiance and right under the nose of Truman), they may not be as conversant about the literally hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of former SS and SA officers who were ushered into behind-the-curtain positions of authority in post- colonial Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Iran and Indonesia.
These Nazi officers, all of whom are openly known and named in declassified CIA documents, official public records from the countries mentioned, or from dozens of other reputable sources, trained security and police forces, rebuilt armies, aided their new employers in procuring trafficked weapons, created the Egyptian air force and rocketry defense systems, provided intelligence and helped Arab/Islamic despots create violent, tyrannical regimes. Many of these officers converted to Islam to cement their efforts.
Furthermore, as if to refine and maximize the damage, the CIA encouraged specially chosen Nazi officers to work with Islamic insurgents in the newly formed, but yet nascent, Muslim Brotherhood in order to “weaponize Islam” as a further tool against the Soviets, since it was never completely clear to them that all the tyrants they had helped created could be entirely trusted. This part of the story is detailed in “A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, The CIA, and the Rise of The Muslim Brotherhood in the West,” written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Ian Johnson.
It is well known that Hitler encouraged an alliance with minority Muslim communities in Soviet Georgia and other parts of Soviet Central Asia as part of his war against Russia and that, during WWII, Emir al Husseini, the grand Mufti of Jerusalem, openly courted Hitler and mustered a division of Muslim fighters, the SS-Handschar Division, drawn from hand picked Bosnian-Muslims, to assist in the Eastern European arena.
Again, what isn’t so well known is how deep and far flung these connections have remained. Using declassified materials and first hand sources that he personally ferreted out, Levenda has traced ideological, material and financial ties that link virtually every post-colonial Islamic regime to both CIA influence and Nazi money, including, and probably most importantly, the founding of the Al-Taqwa Bank of Switzerland, co-created by “Swiss Nazi and Islamist Ahmed Huber,” which was used to fund Maummar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Yassar Arafat. among others.
Furthermore, according to their own released records, the CIA has been utilizing a system of resource/money transfer modeled on, and sometimes employing outright, the traditional Arabic ‘hawala’ system of exchange which uses single, trusted individuals who can transform and transfer funds and resources directly without reference to any banking system. Apparently, before the war was lost, Nazis began setting up the funding for their escape, and hiding the extent of their ill gained booty, using precisely their Islamic connections to this network, which has existed since the Middle Ages.
Levenda and Johnson basically have this to say about Nazism and the rise of global jihad in the forms of Al Qaeda and ISIL: These are best understood as new religious-political movements that create a “myth of golden lost origins” that must be regained. To do this the “holy and divine people” must be purified. For Nazis, this means getting rid of the racial undesirables; for Islamists, this means getting rid of all the defiled kinds of Islam and anyone else that gets in the way. These movements share a hatred for Communism, Capitalism, the West, democracy and the Jews/Israel (not necessarily in that order). Purification demands that one be prepared to commit unparalleled acts of violence in the name of love for one’s community of faith, the Fuhrer/Caliph and God.
Needless to say, these doctrines do not represent any kind of traditional understanding of Islam, so the argument of whether Islam is “more violent” than other faiths is clearly a distraction. Traditional Islam is what ISIL is trying to kill because it’s regarded as impure and weak. It didn’t keep the colonial powers out. It didn’t keep Muslims safe from their enemies.
Levenda also reveals that this strain of ideological poison may well have infected certain elements of Buddhist regimes in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar, due in no small part to personal relationships that a certain young Dalai Lama and the famous Japanese Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki had with ranking Nazi officials and sympathizers
That many of these same precepts can be found in certain strains of Neo-Conservative Christian fundamentalist thinking in the U.S. should not be surprising. As Levenda also reveals, there is a long lineage of pro-Nazi Christian thinking that has been present in elements of the American electorate since the 1920’s. Industrialist Henry Ford’s embrace and economic underwriting of Hitler is only the tip of a large and now threatening iceberg.
If the reader is interested in directly accessing one piece of evidence for themselves, they need only search for and then peruse the translated online document “The Management of Savagery,” a propaganda piece present online since 2004, written by a rather mysterious figure, Abu Bakr Naji, but whom many believe to have been Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah. He apparently came out of the most militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and rose to prominence in Al Qaeda as their foremost political theorist. Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah was reported killed by a drone attack in 2008.
This document outlines the role and purpose of the new Islamic Caliphate, in much the same terms as Josef Goebbels created the Nazi vision of the thousand year, Third Reich. For Naji, the true Umma (the name given to the early Muslim community under Muhammad) is eternal, transcendent, and can only be physically expressed through the instrument of one specific school of Shari’a, which he calls Salafism.
This jihad is empowered to engage in terrorism, deliberate deception, as an agent of confusion and brutal violence, if need be, to return Islam to a pristine, united state and throw its enemies off course. Elements of this document have been endorsed by Al Shabaab (Somalia), Boko Haram (Nigeria), al Qaeda in Yemen and ISIL/Da’esh in Syria and Iraq.
And so here it is, in the words of Levenda: “We thought we could control the Devil that was the Nazi Party and the SS, using them to protect ourselves against Russia. We used the strategies developed by the Germans in two world wars to coerce and cajole Muslim believers to declare a holy war–a holy war that would one day be aimed at us.”
So it’s true that simply sending in troops here or there will effect nothing. We thought we’d beaten the Nazis but they just went into hiding and came out in other forms. Ideas are really hard to kill–and the only way to do it is to come up with a better one, without becoming the very image of the evil that you’re trying to combat. From the Nazi perspective, they were/are simply trying to rid the world of filth that it might be reborn for the ‘chosen ones.’ And the core of the Islamic wound is the desire for simple self-determination. To paraphrase the words of King Theoden in the Battle for Helm’s Deep, ‘How indeed did we come to this?’ Well, we know now a bit more than we did before.
And we are way past due for some better ideas.