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The Cooper Union question: Was Arab anti-Semitism the same as Nazi anti-Semitism?

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Last night at Cooper Union, George Packer sought to expose some possibly embarrassing sources of Tariq Ramadan’s political commitments by reading a quotation from Ramadan’s grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Packer asked Ramadan why he had failed to address the import of such anti-Semitic utterances; he implied that the failure might indicate a less than candid approach, by Ramadan, to Islamic anti-Semitism generally. Ramadan said that the quotation seemed to him likely to have been taken out of context.

Packer insisted that the only relevant context was what it must have meant to ally oneself with an ally of Hitler. Packer incidentally acknowledged that he had drawn his quotation from a recent book by Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. That source, however, has, in fact, come under strong criticism precisely for its practice of de-contextualization–more particularly its synonymizing of Arab hostility toward Zionism in the 1940s and Hitler’s genocidal anti-Semitism. A revealing exchange between Richard Wolin and Herf, touching on this and related matters, was published last November in The Chronicle Review.

"One of Herf’s crown witnesses is the Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hassan al-Banna, whose well-documented anti-Semitic tirades in Herf’s view represent the missing link between the Nazis and the leading representatives of contemporary political Islam. But as Matthias Küntzel demonstrates in Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 (Telos Press, 2007)–a book for which Herf wrote the foreword–‘it would be wrong to characterize the Muslim Brothers as ardent followers of the Nazis.’ Here there is simply no squaring the circle; too many aspects of Nazi ideology–its paganism, its Aryan racial doctrines, its conception of Germanic geopolitical supremacy–are incompatible with the key tenets of political Islam. As Küntzel rightly concludes, Hassan al-Banna was too devout a Muslim to latch on to someone as impious as Hitler as a political role model. Such facts speak volumes about the tenuous nature of some of Herf’s ‘continuity’ claims."

David Bromwich
About David Bromwich

David Bromwich teaches literature at Yale. He is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and has written on politics and culture for The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and other magazines. He is editor of Edmund Burke's selected writings On Empire, Liberty, and Reform and co-editor of the Yale University Press edition of On Liberty.

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