The Common Strategies of Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Mussolini and Hitler
by Norman Berdichevsky (April 2008)
For more than two centuries, major conflicts involving the European powers spilled over the Mediterranean, Bosphorus, Black Sea, Suez Canal, and Caucasus mountains to engulf the adjacent areas of North Africa and the Near and Middle East in intrigue, espionage and open conflict. From Napoleon’s entry into
As diverse as their political ideologies were, Napoleon, Wilhelm II, Hitler and Mussolini, at decisive moments of their careers, all posed in the role of “Protector of Islam” or called for a “jihad” by the Muslim world against their enemies. This proved to be the case even though it meant a humiliating subservience of Muslims to European authoritarian and dictatorial leaders and even ideologies that had claimed to be leading a Christian religious crusade or preached a racist ideology in which Nordic or “Aryan” supremacy was a fundamental tenet.
Napoleon’s Vision of a Modern Pharaoh with the Blessings of Islam
Louis XV was advised as early as 1769 to replace the French colonial efforts in the
On May 19, 1798 the major part of the expeditionary force had assembled and was embarked at
Upon his entry to Alexandria, Napoleon set the precedent of European leaders anxious to win the support of Muslims in their conflicts with a rival European power by proclaiming “You will be told that I have come to destroy your religion; do not believe it! Reply that I have come to restore your rights, to punish the usurpers, and that more than the Mamelukes, I respect God, his Prophet and the Koran”. One of his generals, Jacques Menou, even converted to Islam to help convince the Egyptians of the authenticity of Napoleon’s message and intent.
In an extravagant move, a French naval expedition landed an army of more than 30,000 troops in
The French occupying force and navy were badly defeated in the ensuing
Islam’s Geography of Religion
For Islam (literally “submission”, regarded as the camp that already has submitted to the will of Allah and Muhammad’s message, the so called Dar-al-Islam), success is to be measured on the political map as monitored and divided between two hostile camps, and it is incumbent upon Muslims to subject the other camp of non-believers (the infidels in the Dar-al-Harb or camp of war), to conquest and to subdue them under Islamic sovereignty. More than a matter of personal submission to the will of Allah, subjugation (the deeper meaning of “Islam” usually confused with salaam meaning “peace”) requires dominion over territory.
Dar al-Harb is used by Muslim scholars to refer to that part of the world where Muslims are not in power and therefore not able to “practice their religion” without interference. The residents of the Dar al-Harb are called harbi as opposed to a tolerated non-Muslim subject (dhimmi) A harbi has no rights, not even the right to live. If a harbi wants to enter the
Al-Qaradawi is a highly respected and popular theologian who appears regularly on Al-Jazeera and is the founder of IslamOnline – a popular website offering opinions and religious edicts (fatwa). He is considered to be a favorite Islamic scholar of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood in
During the twentieth century, such religious views were translated into policies by the Ottomans in World War I, encouraged by opportunistic European leaders, by Arab nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists in World War II, in the struggle with
In 1914, the only focus of Muslim power in the world was the Turkish Ottoman Empire whose sultan still commanded the respect and obedience of most of the world’s Sunni Muslims whether or not they were citizens. The Turkish Sultan, Mahomet V, was the only acknowledged “Caliph” and he and his court in alliance with the “Young Turk” movement followed a pro-German line, convinced that a German victory would help reverse the backward slide of the empire and enable them to recover territory lost to the hated Russians who had connived to help liberate the Christian Slavic peoples and the Greeks from Turkish rule.
The court of the previous Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid II (deposed in 1909), had welcomed and flattered Kaiser Wilhelm II on his visit to Palestine in 1898 and expressed a favorable attitude towards the construction of a German financed Berlin to Baghdad railway. German military officers were involved in the training of both the Turkish army and navy. The controlled Turkish press represented the Kaiser in the most favorable light and hinted that he was considering conversion to Islam and regarded himself as a European “Protector of Islam”.
The Hijaz Railway, begun in 1900 and linking
Although the British had previously tried to postpone the loss of Turkish possessions in the Balkans and limit the ambitions of the Russians and their claim to be the protector of Eastern Christians, the Railway profoundly changed their attitude. It made it clear that in a future European conflict, the Ottoman Sultan would endeavor to promote religious extremism by calling upon Sunni Muslims everywhere to join a “selective jihad” against the British, French and Russian infidels. The Germans with no Muslim subjects and
The visit by Kaiser Wilhelm II to Palestine in 1898, German technical assistance in the construction of the railway, and German military training of the Ottoman army and navy made Germany the natural focus of Turkish hopes to recover the territories lost to the Russians, Greeks, Slavs and the growing extent of British and French influence in traditional Muslim areas in what is today India and much of North and East Africa.
The legendary “Arab Revolt” of 1916 in which Lawrence of Arabia played such a notable role was engineered by British intelligence to hinder as much as possible the Ottomans’ call for the pan-Islamic jihad that would threaten their Empire. The title of Caliph was first clamed by the Ottomans in the fifteenth century but largely confined to ceremonial use. It was later employed as a political, instead of symbolic religious title, by the Ottoman Sultan in a 1774 peace treaty with
His claim received considerable notoriety among the Muslims in
The Sultan encouraged donations from Muslims around the world towards the construction of the Hijaz Railway. Muslims in
The Young Turks
Although The “Young Turk” movement that came to power in 1908 had sought to replace the Sultan with a modern form of government and create an “Ottoman nationality” embracing Turks, Arabs, Armenians, Kurds, Druze, Assyrians, Jews and Greeks, they soon came to the realization that such a program was hopelessly unrealistic. Led by Enver Pasha and Talaat Bey, the officers in the Young Turk movement hoped the replacement of a reactionary sultan with an attractive more liberal constitutional monarchy would save the Empire.
They, like Gorbachev, had underestimated the centrifugal forces of the subject nationalities they had liberated. Instead of rallying the subject non-Muslim dhimmi peoples to identify with the state, the result of the 1908 revolution was the perceived weakness of the empire abroad that encouraged further loss of territory to the Christians in the Balkans – the independence of Bulgaria, the annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by the Austrians and the union of Crete with Greece.
The reaction of the Young Turks was first to seek a new identity around which they could rally the mass of the Turkish people. For a brief time, they played with the idea of pan-Turkism or “Turanism” that would unite the Muslim Turkic-speaking peoples (Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Azerbaijanis) of central Asia with the vast Turkish majority in
In April 1909, army units joined theological students in mass demonstrations chanting “we want Sharia” (Islamic religious law). Ironically, when Turkey committed itself to war, the Young Turks drew increasingly upon Islamic religious fervor to martial the resources of the Empire’s Muslim majority and even encouraged the genocidal slaughter of the Armenians and Greeks, traditional allies of the hated Russians and perceived as the traditional infidels.
Ironically, the Kaiser had originally been favorably impressed by the Zionist settlements and Herzl’s proposals that involved a pro-German orientation. German speaking Protestant colonists (The Templars) had also established modern prosperous settlements in
The representative of the philanthropic and cultural German-Jewish Association (Hilfsverein der deuschen juden), in a meeting in July 1911 with the German ambassador to Constantinople Freiherr von Wangenheim, told him on the eve of the war, that “90% of world Jewry spoke Yiddish, a German dialect, had a natural friendly inclination towards Germany, and would be invaluable allies in furthering German economic and cultural interests.” Yet these expressions of good will and a friendly disposition of some of the “Young Turk” leaders towards Zionism proved to be of little value and were shunted aside as German policy to back its Turkish allies exploited the jihad issue to mobilize Muslim support of the war against the British, French and Russians.
Shortly after the outbreak of war in July, 1914, the Ottomans joined the side of the Central Powers. Good relations with
The Young Turks, their pro-German orientation and the Hijaz Railway set in motion three major developments that would characterize the political use of Islam in world politics during the reminder of the twentieth century. The first was the failure of many Muslims outside of
The Turks spread the notion that the German Kaiser was a “Protector of Islam”, a title that was accepted by many Muslims who were angry at the democratic western powers and
Mussolini’s Interest in “Mare Nostrum” and Zionism, Philo-Semitic Views and Opposition to Nazi Racism
Like the Kaiser, Mussolini was originally favorably inclined towards the Zionist movement, toyed with the idea of supporting a Jewish state, appreciated the patriotic contributions of many notable Italian Jews to their homeland and to the Fascist movement and for a decade, had a brilliant and beautiful Jewish mistress (Margherita Sarfatti) who encouraged these feelings. For more than sixteen years since Mussolini’s regime came to power, anti-Semitism was rejected by Fascist Italy. Like Kaiser Wilhelm however, Mussolini felt that considerations of power politics ultimately required favoring Muslim sensitivities to keep them as allies or acquire new ones rather than the potential benefits that
The Fascist movement in
Mussolini’s Opportunistic Role as Protector of Islam
It was however, Mussolini’s quest for a new and grand version of ancient Rome with colonial possessions in North Africa, naval supremacy in the Mediterranean (“Our Sea” – “Mare Nostrum”), the Italian desire for revenge against Abyssinia for the disastrous defeat suffered at Ethiopian hands at Adowa in 1896 that resulted in a total change of his position on a possible alliance with Zionism. In his view
In March 1937, Benito Mussolini proclaimed himself as “Protector of Islam” following a state visit to the Italian colony of
This policy included secret Italian support of the most extreme anti-Zionist of the Palestinian Muslim political figures, Haj Amin al-Husseini who had been installed in office by the British in 1931 even though he finished fourth in an election of
Mussolini, in a typically extravagant and bizarre dramatization of his manly image, and newly established title of Protector of Islam, arranged for a ceremonial girding on of the “Sword of Islam” in
In the Italian campaign of aggression against
The Muslims in Northeast Africa had a long hereditary grudge against the Christian majority in the highland areas of
Haile Selassie’s original name was Ras Tafari Makonnen. He had come to the throne and defeated supporters of the former Emperor Li Jasu, a Christian who had converted to Islam. In spite of Italian propaganda, Haile Selassie represented an ancient Christian civilization and a ruler who aspired to modernize his country along European lines. His eloquent stand in the League of Nations that culminated in Italy’s expulsion was a great moral victory and one that made Haile Selassie into a hero of Black African nationalism yet Mussolini, like Napoleon and Wilhelm before him, and Hitler and Franco later, could not resist striking a heroic pose before the world’s Muslims to further their aggressive ambitions.
Hitler and Germany’s Endorsement of Jhad against the Jews
Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers’ Halbmond und Hakenkreuz. Das “Dritte Reich”, die Araber und Palästina, (Crescent Moon and Swastika: The Third Reich, the Arabs, and Palestine) published in September, 2006 documents the Arab sympathies for Nazism, particularly in Palestine and German attempts to mobilize and encourage the Arabs with their ideology, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, and the forces around the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in Palestine. Nazi radio broadcasts to the Arabs between 1939 and 1945 constantly proclaimed the natural German sympathy for the Arab cause against Zionism and the Jews. German Middle East experts stressed “the natural alliance” between National Socialism and Islam. Such experts as the former German Ambassador in
Cüppers and Mallmann quote many original documents from the Nazi archives. From the late 1930s, the planning staffs dealing with the external affairs of the Reich in the Head Office of Reich Security sought to engulf the Arabian Peninsula and win control of the region‘s oil reserves. They dreamt of a pincer movement from the north via a defeated Soviet Union, and from the south via the Near East and
In a telegram to the mufti on November 2, 1943, Heinrich Himmler wrote” The National Socialist Movement of greater
When the British quelled an Arab revolt in
Following the successful British recovery campaign in
The Naive European and American Patrons of Islam
With the exception of Hitler, whose consistent anti-Jewish ideology made him a natural ally of “selective jihad” and was therefore in a win-win situation, the European leaders, ministers, officials, and politicians who at one time or another thought that their country’s objectives in war or international relations could be advanced by some sort of alliance through encouraging the world’s Muslims to rise up in a “selective jihad” against other Western Christian nations, were abysmally ignorant of the genie they had let out of the bottle for whom all the infidels were ultimately to become their target. Napoleon derived no benefit whatsoever from his Egyptian adventure and wasted valuable resources and manpower. The Kaiser and Mussolini gained little of value by their proclamations as Protectors of Islam and rejected the potential friendship and alliance with Jewish forces that could have aided their cause immeasurably.
What is the relevance of this history for today? Al-Qaeda and its supporters and a multitude of other similar groups –Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hizbollah, etc. have taken responsibility for atrocious acts of murder and terror around the world in their campaign of global jihad. In an incisive article in the Middle East Quarterly in January 2002 by authors Daniel Pipes and Mimi Stillman, aptly entitled “The United States Government – Patron of Islam?”, documentation is made of repeated American governmental excuses that Islam is a “noble” religion, that there is NO clash of civilizations, and that a few extremists have “hijacked” Islam. The authors include every American President, Secretary of State, officials of the State Department and even former heads of the CIA for the last three administrations (i.e. both parties). Their motivation is easy to understand. They believe any criticism of the doctrine of jihad will be regarded as denigrating Islam.
The same “party line” rules in
In an address to Congress and interview on NBC's “Dateline,” Sept. 12, 2001, President Bush declared that …”the terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics.” Apart from the Saudi government, apparently under overwhelming pressure to respond to the fact that 19 of the 21 hijackers were Saudis, condemned the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Apart from this, no references were given as to who and where these “moderate Muslim clerics and scholars” are and what their standing is as recognized by Muslim institutions of learning or important positions sanctioned by governments anywhere in the Muslim world. There is certainly no such scholar or authority to match Al-Qaradawi. Since then, numerous and equally atrocious attacks in Jerusalem, Madrid, Bali, Algiers, Amman, Chechnya, Kashmir, India and Pakistan have not produced unequivocal public or highly visible condemnations of the Al-Qaeda concept of jihad by these many unnamed and unknown “moderate” clerics and scholars in any international forum. No internationally recognized Muslim scholar has condemned murderous suicidal attacks on Israeli civilians.
Pipes and Stillman correctly contend that the State Department has, in effect, become a “Patron” of Islam, yet if we are to learn anything at all from history, it is that the Islamic concept of jihad was unequivocally understood as “violent holy war” against the infidels and not subject to interpretation. It remains a political weapon that has been used quite similarly by the last Ottoman Caliph, the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs, Al-Qaeda and even rival extremist Sunni and Shi'ite clerics in Iraq today. It is still attractive to much extremist opinion in parts of the Arab world, Chechniya, the
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