World War II: Arabs and the Axis


Figure 1.--Here some Arab children examined a British Bren gun some where in the Western Desert during 1941. The Axis tried to win the support of the Arabs. The Axis had major difficulties in developing support in the Arab world to undercut the Allies. The Italains had conducted a brutal campaign in Libya which included the use of poison gas. Nothing like this was carried out by the British and French when they became Mandate powers after World War I. And unlike the Italians, both the British and French in accordance with League standards had began attempts at introducing democratic instututions and self government. Britain granted Trans-Jordan autonomy (1928) and Egypt independence (1935). High Commissioner Samuels in Palestine offered the Palestinians a democratic constitutiin, but they rejected it because of its secular character and provisions guaranteeing minority rights. The Arabs rejected all of Samuels proposals, including a legislative council, an advisory council, and an Arab agency. NAZI racial doctrine classified the Arabs as part of an the inferior Semetic race. Despite all this, many in the Arab world turned to the Germans and NAZI totalitarinaism played a major role in important Afrab national movements, including the Bathists (Itaq and Syria), the Yojng Officers Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt). Important elements in this was the apparent meteroric success of NAZIism, NAZI anti-Semitism, and a potential ally against the British and French. None of the Arab nationalist leaders actively cooperating with the NAZIs or at least impressed with them seem to have given any thought to the future under NAZI control once the British and French were defeated.

The Axis relations with the Arabs was somewhat muddled. Italian foreign policy under Musollini was focussed on a Mediterreranean empire--Mare Nosom. This began with the brutal colonization of Libya which included the use of poison gas. Musollini was intent on other Arab colonies , but was blocked by the British in Egypt to the east and the French in Tunisia to the west. With the rise of the NAZIs in Germany an anti-colonial approach to the Arabs could be launched to undermine the British and French. This had considerable appeal to the Palestinian Arabs as well as other Arabs in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. The Axis achieved considerable success, Arab opposition to the British and French. For the most part the Arabs seemed to have ignored what the Italians did in Libya. The Arabs both in Palestine and most other areas supported the NAZIs. There was only the open revoly in Iraq (1941), but most Arabs supported the NAZIs. This was for the most part because the British were the colonial power and the Germans had no Arab colonies. Anti-Semitism was a further factor in Palestine, but much less so among other Arabs. Outside of Iraq, the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini issued a formal fatwa-- "a holy war against Britain" (May 1941). The Mufti's announced the fatwa in Iraq and helped to launch "the pro-Nazi" Iraqi uprising. At the time the NAZIs had just seized Greece and Crete, convincing the Iraqis that with Axis aid they could drive out the British. The uprising suprized the NAZIs who were not prepared for it. The NAZI Arab policy was in some way constrained because of Hitler's focus on Russia and his willingness to give deference to Musollini when dealing with the Arabs. The Arab revolt in Iraq was of considerable significance. Iraqwas the source of the oil used by the British Mediterranean Fleet and the 8th Army fishing the Afrika Korps in the Western Desert. The British supressed the Iraqi Revolt (March 1941) with a pick up force from Palestine and then an Indian Division rushed to Iraq. Husseini escaped first to Tehran and then to Italy, finally reaching Berlin. He was enthusiastic received by the "Islamische Zentralinstitut" and the small Islamic community of Germany which due deference to the NAZIs pronounced him the "Führer of the Arabic world." Husseini's first speech in Berlin denounced the Jews as the "most fierce enemies of the Muslims" and an "ever corruptive element" in the world. Arab supporters of the NAZIs seemed to have blithy assumed that they would be liberated by the Axis and thus achieve independence. It is difficult to see how any minimally educated observer in 1940-41 could have reached that conclusion, especially given Italian conduct in Libya and German conduct in the Occupied East. Another largely ignored question is the fact that the Arabs are also semmites. NAZI racist science claimed that the Jews had genitically carried diseases. One wonders why the Arabs did not carry these diseases. Of course the NAZIracist science was a pseudo science so they could invent an Arab people free of such contamination. Husseini was an honored guest of the NAZI's in Berlin. He was received by Hitler twice. He pressed Hitler on the last group of Jews left in NAZI hands--the Hungarian Jews. He did not want them to be allowed to escape, fearing they would come to Palestine. Adolf Eichman at the time was attempting to negotiate with the British to exchange 5,000 Hungarian children for German POWs. Husseini's point of view prevalied. The SS were dispatched the children to the NAZI death camps in Poland. Husseini is reported to have visited Auschwitz and encouraged the SS staff operating the gas chambers to work harder. Husseini was exploited by Goebbels' propaganda machine and made numerous broadcasts in Arabic to the Middle East promoting the NAZIs and giving virulently anti-Semitic sermons.

Italy and Libya

Italy began the assault on the Ottomon Empire by declaring war in this case to secure a new colony in North Africa--Libya. The Italo-Turkish War (1911-12), while fought outside the Balkans, weaked Ottomon troops. In this case the Ottomons largely ceeded to Italian demands because of the worsening situation in the Balkans. Italy attempted to seize Libya, but he Libyans resisted. Fighting broke out, but the British brokered a truce after Italy joined the Allies in World War I (1915). Libyan nationalists were torn during World War I. Some were pro-British, but since the Italians which were turning Italy into a colony joined the Allies, some were now more favorably disposed toward the Ottomons, their former colonial masters. Senussi tribesmen supported by the Ottmons staged an uprising against the Italians (November 1915). The uprising was a relatively limited action. It did, however, cause the deployment of a substantial Allied force--some 110,000 British, French and Italian troops. Peace or more accurately truce terms were reached (April 1917). After the War, Italy would continue efforts to colonize Libya. Mussolini with his dreams of reconstituting the Roman Empire would wage a merciless campaign to end Libyan resistance to Italian rule. The Italian campaign in Libya to supress rebels, including the use of poison gas. This was generally seen as an internal colonial matter.

Axis Middle Eastern Policy

The Axis relations with the Arabs was somewhat muddled. Hitler's focus was ob Europe and after the fall of France his interest was on the Soviet Union. Some advisers like Raeder tried to concince him about the advantages of a Middle Eastern strategy. Hitler was unconvinced and saw anyrging except an invasion of the Soviet Yunion to be a diversion. As a result, he tend to difer to Mussolini on the Niddle East. Italian foreign policy under Musollini was focussed on a Mediterreranean empire--Mare Nostrom. This began with the brutal colonization of Libya which included the use of poison gas. Musollini was intent on gaining other Arab colonies, but was blocked by the British in Egypt to the east and the French in Tunisia to the west. Considerable pro-NAZIsentimnt developed in the countriesinfluence (Egypt, Iraq, and Iran, as well as Palestine.

Arab Revolt (1936-39)

The Jerusalem Grand Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini helped inspire riots and disorders throughout Palestine (April 1936). Six prominent Arab leaders formed the Arab High Command to to protest Zionist activities, especially land purchases and immigration. The Arab High Command organized a general strike of Arab workers and a boycott of Jewish products (April 1936). Soon the initial peaceful actions escalated into attacks on Jews as well as the British authorities. Riots occured in Jerusalem and other cities . These dusorders, seen as the first stage of the "Arab Revolt" continued until November, 1936. Another stage of disorders began in September, 1937. The cause was the Peel Commission which suggested the partition of Palestine. The second stahe was much more violent. There were more intense fifgting with British forces as well as attacks on more Jewish settlements. The British were hard pressed at the time and actually authorized the arming of the Haganah. The British and the Haganah worked togrther. Effecive operations were organized by Charles Orde Wingate who later became famous in Burma. Wingate established Special Night Squads of Jewish volunteers. The British sucessfully defeated the Arab Revolt. Husseini was able to find refuge in Iraq. The British government cocerned about the British position in the Arab world sought to apease Arab opinion with the 1939 White Paper.

Hitler and the Arabs

Adolf Hitler saw the Arabs as an inferior race, yet he did not hate them like the Jews. They were just one more of the inferior people destined for a servile place in the New Order he desired to create. Hitler made a private remark in 1939 in which he clearly displayed his view of the Arabs and other people of the Middle East. He referred to the people of the Middle East as 'painted half-apes that ought to feel the whip'. In contrast, he had considrable respect for Islam as a religion--especially the war-like ideology expressed again and again in the Holy Koran. After publishing Mein Kampf (1924), Hitler began to realize that it was politic to keep some of his ideas to himself which is why he did not publish his second vlume. Hitler's archcitect and Armaments Minister, with whom he was on espcially intiment terms, provides us Hitler's assesment of both the Arabs and Islam. [PP. 142-43.] While looking down on the Arabs as a people, he saw them as a useful and easily disposable ally in his war on both the Jews and the Allies (British and French). Atually, he was apparently quite willing to leave the Arabs in British hands if the British would agree to a Vichy-like arrangementb and grantbhim afree-hand on the Continent. Most amazing is the degree to which the Grand Mufti and other Arab leaders fell for it. For Hitler, the Arabs were a useful inferior race. This was largely because where they were located. The Arabs were largely on territory that controlled both Suez and valuable new oil resources--the most important natural resource that Germany needed and could derail Hitler's war plans. And Arab uprisings could destabilize or at least detract the Allies. And they Arab land contained a large Jewish poplation that would eventually need to be destroyed. Thus while Hitler's focus was on the East, the Middle-East and North Africa was a never beyond Hitler's geo-political calculations. One historian describing Hitler and the Arabs stresses, "... the Nazis were clear in their minds that the Arabs were racially inferior, and there would, therefore, be no pleasure to be had from helping them in anything except for the extermination of Jews in their region." [Rothwell, p. 41.]

Arab Interest in the NAZIs

With the rise of the NAZIs in Germany an anti-colonial approach to the Arabs could be launched to undermine the British and French. This and the anti-Semetic obsession of the NAZIs had considerable appeal to the Palestinian Arabs as well as other Arabs in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. This may sound strange given the fact that the arabs were a Semetic people and thus ranked very low in the NAZI racial ladder. But this does not seem to have penetrated the Arab conciousness. The NAZIs did not emphhasize their racial attituses toward the Arabs and unlike the Jews did not live in Geramany. Arab leaders like the Mufti either did not fully understand NAZI racist thinking or was so obssessed with anti-Semtiism and opposition to the British that he did not care. And the Fascist ideology of the NAZIs seems more in sinc with the evolving nationlist movements in Arab societies tham representative dmocracy and liberal secular constitutions. Thi would become all to obvious after the War with the governments that emerge in the Middle East.

Axis Propaganda

The Axis achieved considerable success, Arab opposition to the British and French. For the most part ehe Arabs seemed to have ignored what the Italians did in Libya. The Arabs both in Palestine and most other areas supported the NAZIs. There was only the open revoly in Iraq (1941), but most Arabs supported the NAZIs. This was for the most part because the British were the colonial power and the Germans had no Arab colonies.

Arab Sympathies

Many Arabs, especially those in Egypt, Palestine, and Iraq hope for what they saw as liberation from NAZI armies in North Africa and Russia. And for a time in 1942 it look like Rommel in the Western Desert and the Paulis in the Ukraine might just deliver such a victory. The ironic aspect of this was Grand Mufti and the NAZI supporting Arabs seem to have been oblivious to the fact that the NAZIs saw Semetic people in genereal as inferior and not just the Jews. And thus they would have been destimed to an infrior status in a NAZI controlled world. And the NAZIs while anti-British were not anti-imperialists. They were in the process of converting Europe into a vast German colony. All of this was missed or ignored by the pro-NAZI Arab leaders.

Palestine

Husseini escaped first to Tehran and then to Italy, finally reaching Berlin. He was enthusiastic received by the "Islamische Zentralinstitut" and the small Islamic community of Germany which due deference to the NAZIs pronounced him the "Führer of the Arabic world." Husseini's first speech in Berlin denounced the Jews as the "most fierce enemies of the Muslims" and an "ever corruptive element" in the world. Husseini was an honored guest of the NAZI's in Berlin. He was received by Hitler twice. He pressed Hitler on the last group of Jews left in NAZI hands--the Hungarian Jews. He did not want them to be allowed to escape, fearing they would come to Palestine. Adolf Eichman at the time was attempting to negotiate with the British to exchange 5,000 Hungarian children for German POWs. Husseini's point of view prevalied. The SS were dispatched the children to the NAZI death camps in Poland. Husseini is reported to have visited Auschwitz and encouraged the SS staff operating the gas chambers to work harder. Husseini was exploited by Goebbels' propaganda machine and made numerous broadcasts in Arabic to the Middle East promoting the NAZIs and giving virulently anti-Semitic sermons. There are no lack of Western journalists who adopt the line that the Mufti ws simply an anti-colonist allying with Hitler to defeat the British. They reach this conclusin by simply ignoring the mountain of evidence showing that the Mufti knew of the Holocaustcand supported it. And his Radio Berlin broadcasts leave no doubt where he stood, like this diatribe, "Kill the Jews whereever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion." (1944)

Iraq

Outside of Iraq, the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini issued a formal fatwa-- "a holy war against Britain" (May 1941). The The Mufti's announced the fatwa in Iraq and helped to launch "the pro-Nazi" Iraqi uprising. At the time the NAZIs had just seized Greece and Crete, convincing the Iraqis that with Axis aid they could drive out the British. Prime Minister Rashid Aali al-Gaylani attempted to gain support from the Axis to end British influence in the Kingdom. The uprising suprized the NAZIs who were not prepared for it. The Arab revolt in Iraq was of considerable significance. Iraq was the source of the oil used by the British Mediterranean Fleet and the 8th Army fishing the Afrika Korps in the Western Desert. The British supressed the Iraqi Revolt (March 1941) with a pick up force from Palestine and then an Indian Division rushed to Iraq. Gaylani like the Grand Mufti found refuge in first Iran and then NAZI Germany. Hitler met with him and the NAZIs recognized him as the legitimate leader of the Iraqi government in exile. While in Germany he was a close associate of the Grand Mufti. With NAZI Germany colapsing, Gaylani fled again, this time finding refuge in Saudi Arabia (1945). Gaylani did not return to Iraq until the overthrow of the monarchy (1958). He attemted another coup, this time against the new government of Abdul Karim Kassem. The revolt failed. Gaylani was arrested and sentenced to death. He was eventually pardoned. He lived in exile in Beirut, Lebanon. He died in 1965.

Iran

Shah Reza Pahlavi developed ties with NAZI Germany after Hitler seized power. This was noted by the British and a matter of increasing concern as Hitler moved to rearm Germany. The Shah waslooking for an ally agaiunst the Siviers to the niorth abd British to the south. More was involved here than anti-colonialism. The Shah was impressed by what he saw in Germany. He saw this as the creatrion of a truly modern state. Like many others, democracy and free market capitalism did not seem the way of building a modern state. Soon there were hundreds of Germans working in Iran and involved in every many important development projects, including opening factories and building roads, railroads and bridges. [McLachlan] The Shah decided to change the name of the county from Persia back to the native name of Iran (1935). Iran in Perian means 'Land of the Aryans. This is a reference to Airyanem Vaejah--the Avestan name of the original homeland of the Aryans. Iran was the name used by the country for centuries, most other countries referred to it as Persia because of classical Greek accounts. NAZI officials granted Iranians in Germany Aryan status. NAZI diplmats presented the Iranian Government what they described as a Germany Scientific Library. This ibrary contained more than over 7,500 books. They were carefully selected to address issue of race and etnicity. Many were pseudo-scientific research, the work of the academic racial industry indutry spawned by the NAZIs. The NAZIs wanted to "convince Iranian readers ... of the kinship between the National Socialist Reich and the Aryan culture of Iran". [Lenczowski. p. 161] The Germans promoted the idea the Shah and Hitler were modern, progressive leaders and the Fuhrerprinzip was thebasis for modrn government. [Rezun, p. 29.] These ideas appeared in publications, lectures, speeches, and ceremonies. Iran also directed its trade increasinly with Germany. About 50 percent of Iran's trade was with Germany (1839-41). This significantly improved communications connections. [Keddie] After the German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941), Britain and the Sobviet Union intervened in Iran. They forced Reza Shah to abdicate the throne in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Allies moved against the Shah's pro-Nazi followers including Fazlollah Zahedi and Mohammad Hosein Airom.

Egypt

The Mufti's and the NAZI's strongest supporter in the Middle East after Gaylani fled to Berlin was Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna was impressed with Hitler and was know to express his favorable impression. Tariq Ramadan is an Islamic professor at Oxfird University. He is Al-Bann's grandson and teaches that Al-Banna was an 'upstanding' democrat. He claims that what Al-Banna saw in Hitler was an anti-imperialist, not a mass murder. Many Western journlists have adopted this same theme.

Anti-Semtism

Anti-Semitism was a further factor in Palestine, but much less so among other Arabs.

Hitler's Interest

The NAZI Arab policy was in some way constrained because of Hitler's focus on Russia and his willingness to give deference to Musollini when dealing with the Arabs.

Arab Assessment of the NAZIs

Arab supporters of the NAZIs seemed to have blithy assumed that they would be liberated by the Axis and thus achieve independence. It is difficult to see how any minimally educated observer in 1940-41 could have reached that conclusion, especially given Italian conduct in Libya and German conduct in the Occupied East. The NAZI treatment of their allies was also instructive. Romanian oil was key to the German war effort, yet Germany essentially expropriated Romanian oil. The only allies that the NAZIs actually paid for natural resources were the unoccupied countries that remained neutel (Portugal anbd Spain). One wonders what the Arabs thought would happen obce the Germans or Italians occupied the Niddle East.

NAZI Racial Docrine

Here we are unsure about the specifics of NAZI racial doctrine. We know that the NAZIs defined Jews in racial terms. We also know that the NAZIs made other Semites, the Arabs, allies in World War II. I do not know at this time, the racial theory they must have developed explaining why Jews were dangerous and Arabs acceptable. We suspect that had the NAZI won the War that the Arabs would have been very surprised at what the New Order meant for them. Arab and Jewish ethnic backgrounds are very similar. Most Arabs and many Jews are of the same ethnic family--the Semites. Hebrew and Arabic are related Semitic languages. Many Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews have common ethnic origins. Some Arab Palestinians are related to Isreli Jews because some Jews converted to Islam after the Arab conquest. In the same sence some ancient Canaanites (an Arab people) had earlier converted to Judaism. Jews and Arabs are thus closely related ethnically. Interestingly the persecution of the Jews is traditionally defined as anti-Semitism or policies targeting semetic peoples. This actually is a flawed term. Because of the various diasporas, the Jewish people were spread out throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. While Jewish communities were successful in maintaining their religious identity for three millenia, there was always some degreee of assimilation and inter-marriage with the lasrger populatuon in which they lived. Thus Jews are much less ethnically Semetic than Arabs. This mixing of course made NAZI anti-Semitism particularly non-sensical. While they attacked European Jews, NAZI propaganda appealed to Arab nationalism and the Arabs were much more ethnically pure Semites than the Jews. The varied ethnicity of Jews is one reason the NAZIs decreed laws requiring Jews to wear yellow stars. Many Jews had varied ethnivity and did not look like the NAZIs though Jews should look. The Arabs on the other hand did have the Semetic features the NAZIs so despised. I do not know if DNA studies have addressed this subject. Notice that while the NAZI anti-Jewish propaganda (films, book and newspaper illustrations, and posters) often had distored images of Jewish "racial" features. The Arab anti-Jewish propaganda does not feature these images because they are also Arab facial features.

Hitler and the British Empire

Nor do the Arabs seem to have understood that Hitler did not want to demolish the British Empire. His concept was to use the British to help control the "inferior" peoples outside Europe. British resistance forced Hitler to persue the War against Britain, but it was not his desire. He wanted the British as an ally. Actually the Axis had one Arab colony during the War--Libya. The brutality of the Italians in Libya might have given the Grand Mufti and other Arabs pause about an Axis victgory in the Mikddle East, but it never seems to have done so.

Hitler and Colonialism


Sources

Keddie, Nikki R. Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution (Yale University Press).

Lenczowski (1944).

McLachlan, Keith Stanley. The Neglected Garden: The Politics and Ecology of Agriculture in Iran (1988).

Rezun (1982).

Rothwell, Victor. War Aims in the Second World War: The War Aims of the Major Belligerents.

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich (Avon, New York, 1971), 734.






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Created: 1:27 AM 12/24/2006
Last updated: 8:41 PM 1/5/2014