Hitler in the Levant: How Arabs Reacted to the Third Reich in Syria and Lebanon

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Hitler in the Levant: How Arabs Reacted to the Third Reich in Syria and Lebanon Nazism in Syria and Lebanon. The Ambivalence of the German Option, 1933-1945, by Götz Nordbruch, Routledge, 2009, 209 pp.

Reviewed by Wolfgang G Schwanitz

The whole Arab youth is enthused by Adolf Hitler, wrote Kamil Muruwa, the young editor of the Beirut paper An-Nida ', to the German Foreign Minister in Berlin. The year after Hitler came to power, Muruwa translated Mein Kampf from English into Arabic and published it in daily installments in An-Nida \ Now he wants to edit the series as a book. But for this, he explains in his letter, he needs an additional 600 marks. Therefore he is asking the German government for financial support in this endeavor.

Thus Götz Nordbruch catches the spirit of the time in his book about Nazism in Syria and Lebanon. Since both countries were under French occupation, the Berlin-based Islamic scholar has investigated French, Israeli, and Arab sources. He has found root causes as to why youth movements similar to the Hitler Youth sprouted in those Arabs regions, and why the Arab Ba'th party learned a lot from Hitler's National Socialist Party. For the first time we have a solidly researched and comparative study on the Nazi influences in Syria and Lebanon and on the attitude of their populace toward the rising German power in the Middle East.

The above mentioned example shows that from the beginning there were points of mutual interest between the Arab world and Nazi Germany. In 1934, Mein Kampf appeared daily for four months "in the francophobe paper of the German friendly SuIh clan." Although the translator Muruwa worked without permission of the Munich Eher publishing house, a German officer went on to explain, the translation is good. For the purpose of propaganda, an Arabic version of Hitler's book would be desirable. Thus, he recommended that the money Muruwa had requested should be granted. Indeed, it was the second translation of this book into Arabic. Yunus as-Sabawi of Bagdad, a Nazi follower, had completed the first in 1933 and published it in the Iraqi paper AlAlom Ai-Arabi, known for its hatred toward Jews.

Nordbruch presents such developments as nationalistic reactions to National Socialism. As Muruwa explains in his forword, Mein Kampf reveals the secret of how Hitler gained influence over millions of educated people, how he rose from soldier to dictator, from a friend of the Jews to their strongest enemy. The reader may easily grasp the parallels between the German and Arab situations: both were losers in the First World War; they were allied with each other via the Ottoman Empire; and both were frustrated by the terms which the winners of the war dictated at Versailles. There, the Germans paid a heavy price: they lost large chunks of their homeland, African and other colonies, and parts of their domestic sovereignty - limits on armament and military were imposed on them.

After 1918, the Arabs, for their part, were also left unreconciled. Although some Arab nations did soon gain statehood in Iraq, Transjordan, and Syria - as promised as compensation for the revolt in the desert - the League of Nations placed other areas, namely Southern Syria or Palestine, under the Mandatory regime which strengthened British and French power in the region. Subsequently, the Arab nationalists were expected to accept the reconstitution of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The German and Arab cases were placed under the tutelage of the same democracies against which Hitler proclaimed war in his "Germanic dictatorship." When Hitler painted his picture of a larger European unity and his clear hostility toward a Jewish home in Palestine, his views resonated with those of Arab thinkers who were looking for greater unity in a Greater Arab Empire.

As Nordbruch shows, it was on this congruence that Nazis on both parts of the German- Arab divide capitalized. Both sides viewed the French, the British, and the Jews as their their enemies. …