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Strange Allies

George Michael's "The Enemy of My Enemy" details the unlikely alliance between militant Islam and the extreme right.

12:00 AM, Aug 9, 2006 • By DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS
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FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS, there have been rumblings among terrorism analysts about an unlikely alliance between Islamic radicals and the neo-Nazi far right. This union seems counterintuitive on the surface: The far right tends to see Muslims as racially inferior, while Islamic radicals disdain most members of the far right as infidels. However, the immediate urgency of a shared enemy can sometimes take precedence over long-term differences. In his new book The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right (University Press of Kansas 2006), University of Virginia professor George Michael argues at length that this is now the case for certain factions within the far right and radical Islamic movements.

In reality, this peculiar convergence of interests isn't new. There have been four distinct phases of cooperation between militant Islam and the extreme right, stretching back to Germany's Third Reich and World War II. During this time, much of the Muslim world sympathized with the Axis alliance, and Muslim Brotherhood members even prayed for the defeat of the Allies during their meetings.

Michael notes that the Muslim world's sympathy with the Axis alliance was "best exemplified by the cordial relationship between Hitler and the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini." Although al-Husseini's followers had already been involved in one anti-Jewish rampage by 1922, the British appointed him grand mufti that year. During the 1930s, as the Nazi government implemented a number of ordinances abridging the rights of Jewish citizens, al-Husseini lent his support to the German project and requested reciprocal assistance in his own fight against the Jews. Eventually, as World War II progressed, al-Husseini helped organize a Bosnian Muslim division of the Waffen SS, and propagandized for the Nazi cause by writing an anti-Semitic tract entitled Islam and the Jews.

The second phase of cooperation between militant Islam and the extreme right began after Hitler's defeat. As Nazi Germany crumbled, Hitler's erstwhile officers had to flee to new homes lest they face prosecution for their role in the regime's atrocities. Given the Muslim world's support for Germany, it was natural that many of Hitler's men went to the Middle East. There, out of work Nazis proved useful to their host countries by helping develop their militaries and intelligence agencies.

After Gamal Abdel Nasser became Egypt's president, for example, a number of Nazis were given prominent positions in his government. Nazi commando Otto Skorzeny trained thousands of Egyptians in guerilla and desert warfare, and even organized early Palestinian terrorist forays into Israel and the Gaza Strip in the mid-1950s. Johann von Leers, who had been a high-ranking assistant to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, produced material for Nasser attacking the United States and Israel. Von Leers even converted to Islam during this period, adopting the name Oman Amin von Leers. Corresponding with a fellow fascist, von Leers opined that "if my nation had got Islam instead of Christianity we should not have had all the traitors we had in World War II."

The third phase of cooperation came with the rise of Palestinian terrorism in the late 1960s. After witnessing such incidents as the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the extreme right recognized a shared hostility toward Zionism--and several times tried to collaborate with Palestinians on terrorist operations.

Some neofascists did participate in anti-Israel operations. Robert Courdroy of the Belgian SS and neo-Nazi Karl von Kyna were killed in the late 1960s while fighting for the Palestinians. Some neo-Nazi groups reportedly helped the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine carry out attacks against Jewish targets in Europe, while a neo-Nazi group called Freikorps Adolf Hitler reportedly participated in the Black September war in Jordan. Yet despite these and other incidents, no enduring bonds between the two movements were forged. As Michael writes, "At best, the ties were sparse, shallow, sporadic, and ephemeral."

THE FOURTH, CURRENT PHASE BEGAN in the 1990s. The Soviet Union's fall caused the extreme right to turn away from Communism as their prime enemy, and toward the new world order (often seen as a convergence of "international corporate finance, Jewish media, and American military power"). At the same time, the Internet's rise allowed divergent extremist groups to recognize shared interests.