Review: Jihad and Jew-Hatred


“Until September 11, I was not particularly interested in Islamic anti-Semitism,” Matthias Küntzel explains in the introduction to Jihad and Jew-Hatred. “My main focus was German anti-Semitism.” The collapse of the Twin Towers changed that, and the result is commendable: Küntzel have given us a work that is as accessible as it is profound.

Few writers today, particularly on the Left, seem able to fully understand the general challenges that Islamist ideology pose to secularism, universalism, and democracy. Usually, the radical Left—Trotskyists, autonomists, Maoists, and anarchists—ignore the challenges altogether, as if acts of terrorism were merely convenient pretexts for Western governments to tighten social control, limit civil liberties, and introduce racist policies. Or they tacitly support Islamist movements and anti-social terrorism with knee-jerk arguments from the 1960s about “anti-imperialism” and “self-determination.” Not so with Matthias Küntzel.

Jihad and Jew-Hatred traces the roots of 9/11 by exploring the ideology – and the historical development of this ideology – that prompted and justified the attacks on The World Trade Center. The ideology, and the ideologists, behind the terror attacks in 2001, Küntzel argue, was informed by deep-felt hatred of Jews. This book was originally published in German in 2002, with the telling title, Djihad and Judenhaß: Über den neuen antijüdischen Krieg (2002). Although updated, it is still based largely on German sources, but this in no way diminishes Küntzel’s findings or analysis; the facts are illuminating and the argument is solid.

Küntzel starts out by discussing the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its history in Palestine, with a particular focus on the role of Amin al-Husseini, the notorious Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He describes how Nazism and Islamism both emerged in the aftermath of World War One, largely as similar answers to the challenges of modernity; he even details extensive cooperation between the two movements, before, during, and after the Second World War. Küntzel then traces the development of Egyptian Islamism under the rule of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak – before he returns to Palestine with a presentation of the jihadist policies of Hamas. Throughout this book, Küntzel provides a well-grounded analysis of Islamism as an ideology by presenting central figures like Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Osama bin Laden; and he demonstrates in historical detail how anti-Semitism have been central to this political ideology.

To his credit, Küntzel does not argue that there is anything inherently anti-Semitic in the Islamic tradition; he carefully describes how central ideological elements have been imported from European conspiracism, Nazism, and genocidal anti-Semitism, and that these have been consciously melded with archaic religious prejudices. Küntzel believes that the intransigent and deadly hatred of Jews – so pervasive in the Middle East today – was imported to the region by religious reactionaries with a clear political agenda, heavily influenced and supported by Nazi ideologists and their propaganda. Few can remain untouched by the detailed account of the collaboration between the Palestinian national leadership and the Nazi regime during the Second World War. With the downfall of German Nazism in 1945, and the subsequent European taboo on anti-Semitism, this poisonous legacy was carried over to the Middle East, where countries like Nasser’s Egypt even put former Nazi officials in prominent government positions. Through Küntzel’s historical lens, we see how the recent rise of Muslim anti-Semitism – although it created a distinctive, domestic brand of Jew-hatred – to a great extent emerged under the direct (as well as indirect) influence of European Nazism. We are provided compelling documentation of how European genocidal anti-Semitism and Nazism were indispensable in shaping Islamism into a unique brand of fascism.

The book ends with a brief discussion on the confusion, and the disturbing resonance, between the Left and Right in the aftermath of September 11; bringing in the chilling prospects of more permanent alliances with extremists rejoicing in the wanton attacks on civilians in America and Israel. Unfortunately, suicide bombings, arbitrary killings of civilians on a massive scale, and explicit calls for extermination policies, are no longer considered wholly reactionary by the Left:  It is with great historical irony that “progressives” today all too often condone the anti-social policies of outright religious reactionaries.

We must understand the trajectory and legacy of anti-Semitism and National Socialism in the Arab world, Küntzel argues: To reduce this to a European phenomenon is Eurocentrism of a very naïve and dangerous sort. This book effectively undermines any of the vulgar arguments that Muslim anti-Semitism is purely a consequence of current conflicts in the Middle East; that without the state of Israel and its defensive capacities there would be no hatred of Jews. No, Küntzel argues, Muslim anti-Semitism cannot be reduced purely to reactions on the current Middle East conflict and Israeli policies. Islamist hatred of Jews reaches far beyond questions of Israel and Zionism. Küntzel concludes by insisting that without confronting anti-Semitism forcefully and consistently, it is impossible to counter Islamism, as this hatred lies beneath their political ideology: Jew-hatred is as central to Islamism as it was to Nazism.

Matthias Küntzel has received several awards and wide acclaim for Jihad and Jew-Hatred. This, in my view, is well deserved: The book is an essential read for social ecologists; indeed, for all serious leftists and antifascists today.

– Eirik Eiglad

Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11
By Matthias Küntzel (Translated by Colin Meade; Foreword by Jeffrey Herf)
Telos Press, 2007, 180 Pages