The Magazine

The Third Jihad

When radical Muslims distort Islam.

Apr 28, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 31 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Jihad and Jew-Hatred

Islamism, Nazism, and the Roots of 9/11

by Matthias Küntzel

Telos, 180 pp., $29.95

Army of Shadows

Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948

by Hillel Cohen

California, 352 pp., $29.95

Hitler's New Disorder

The Second World War in Yugoslavia

by Stevan K. Pavlowitch
Columbia, 256 pp., $34.50

The German historian Matthias Küntzel's Jihad and Jew-Hatred is an important contribution to the analysis of radical Islam. Like Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism (2003), but with greater attention to historical detail, Jihad and Jew-Hatred argues that present-day Islamist extremism is, in great part, directly imitative of Nazism and other European fascist movements. Also like Berman, Küntzel appears to have crafted his discourse to appeal to Western liberals and leftists for whom fascism was anathema.

Further, as with Terror and Liberalism, Jihad and Jew-Hatred is concerned with the political aspects of Muslim radicalism rather than its theological background, or alleged justifications, in Wahhabism and other fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. Küntzel, echoing Berman, correctly assumes that, in the longer scheme of Islamic history, radical interpretations are newer rather than older, and modern rather than ancient. Islamist extremism is also utopian rather than conservative, and reformist or "purificationist," rather than traditional. All these insights should be implicit in any serious discussion of Islamofascism.

Unlike Berman, however, Küntzel concentrates on that aspect of radical Islamist ideology with the highest profile in the West: Muslim Jew-baiting. Not all Muslim radicals have selected the Jews or Israel as a single or even main enemy. Extremists claiming the legacy of Muhammad find the greatest number of their victims among Muslims who do not accept their interpretation--only then followed by the believers in other faiths, including Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus, as well as Jews and the nonreligious.

Still, Küntzel finds a rationale for his own focus on the Egyptian Muslim -Brotherhood, or Ikhwan--as Berman did before him. Founded in 1928 by a then-obscure figure called Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood proclaimed the revival of an imaginary original purity in religion, asserting that a diluted and distorted Muslim devotion had undermined Islamic resistance to European imperialism. Yet the Muslim Brotherhood was modernistic in its reaction against modernity, adopting the characteristics of competing leftist and rightist militias in Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany. It flourished as an aggressive, paramilitary formation, and established a network in the Arab East, India, Turkey, and Indonesia. While some of these branches were no more than fantasies typical of radical conspiracies, the Muslim Brotherhood did become an open ally of Hitler in seeking enhanced German influence in the Islamic world. Decades later, its Palestinian wing gave birth to Hamas, one of its most successful offshoots, and it has grown very powerful in many Muslim countries.

The Muslim Brotherhood introduced an innovation to the concept of jihad in which civil/political organization assumed priority over military action. While it has been common in Islam to distinguish between a "lesser jihad" of armed combat and a "greater jihad" of spiritual discipline, the Brotherhood looked toward an entirely novel "third jihad." This entry into the world of ordinary politics was a predictable development in an Egypt governed within the British Empire. (The failure of the 1857 Indian mutiny against the British similarly gave rise to the fundamentalist Deoband school of Islam, which eventually produced the Taliban in Afghanistan.) The Muslim Brotherhood's third jihad also found imitators in Iran.

Unfortunately, the political jihad of the Muslim Brotherhood, replacing military means, has fooled some Western commentators into support for the jihad of the ballot over the bullet, with arguments for Western accommodation of the Brotherhood as well as the disastrous welcome granted Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian general election. The principle of a third, political jihad is also visible in radical Islamist agitation in some Western countries, including the demand for introduction of sharia law in Britain. While there are differences in tactics between the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, and Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, their aim--a purificationist Islamic state--remains identical.