Wolfgang G. Schwanitz—
Parliaments cry about a “pan-Islamic danger,” noted the Islam scholar Martin Hartmann. “But are fellow Muslims really our enemies?”1 He asked this 111 years ago as a humanist in the era of Balkan wars, Morrocco crises and a fear that in or near the Ottoman Empire as the “sick man of Europe” would start a great war. Are we at such a brink again—Islamists attacking Jews, Israel, America and the liberal order in a global hybrid war? Let’s look for patterns in the scholars text.
At Berlin’s University, this Arabist’s book Five Lectures on Islam gave nuances. He studied languages at Leipzig University, lived a decade in Beirut, traveled up to Chinese Turkestan and taught Arabic for three decades. He claimed that only Turkey and Afghanistan could defend themselves. Others Muslim nations risk colonial rule: Morocco by the French, and Iran by the British and Russians. Half of 230 million Muslims live under colonials—61 million in British India and 33 million in Dutch India: “Islam is broken as a religious and political power.”2
This faith shall integrate into the world, he opined. But there is the liaison of power and mosque. It endures, as contrasted with the separation of state and church. There grow conflicts with Jews and Christians. How can they be avoided? Make religion a private matter. In Islam, he said, are three groups, related by: blood, faith and the want for an Islamic State. The latter are known as Islamists, following Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani’s higher pan-Islamism. But as socialism rose, the Arabist advised modernity: mix capitalism and socialism to once again become cultural hubs.
He knew that kaiser Wilhelm II wanted to pit Islam against his rivals by inciting jihadist revolts in their colonies that would bog down Allied troops away from Europe. Berlin made a secret pact with Istanbul in mid-1914. When the war unfolded, Hartmann joined the kaiser’s Islam policy to jihadize Islamism via the sultan-caliph Mehmed V. The empires of the Allies—Great Britan, France and Russia—were to be shaken by jihad. As asked for by the kaiser in November 1914, Istanbul called for jihad with the Central Powers against the Allies as an individual duty for all Muslims.
War minister Enver Pasha tasked Salih ash-Sharif at-Tunisi to popularize the jihad coalition war of Islamic and Christian Central Powers. In his foreword Hartmann praised at-Tunisi’s 1915 pamphlet “The Truth of Jihad.” But this hit also Ottoman minorities, Jews and Christians, among them Armenians. Hartmann abandoned enlightened ideas, endorsed the abuse of other peoples’ faith. Berlin’s Foreign Office set up a News Bureau and its affiliate in Istanbul with 75 reading halls in and near the Ottoman Empire to use Muslim brotherhoods and native influencers.
The Egyptian Abd al-Malik Hamza edited a 1916 theory of Islamism and Abd al-Aziz Jawish showed how Islamic Colonialism expanded. The News Bureau dispersed three million texts in nine European and 15 Mideastern languages for joint jihad. Uniquely, it elevated this cause to a global war ideology. Since 1917 Soviets coopted it for world revolution against colonialism.
The Ottoman and the German Empires fell. Like the Republic of Turkey, three dozen national states emerged from old cultures. They looked for modern partners, advice and weapons. Adolf Hitler watched this in the trenches with the horrors of mechanized warfare and poison gas. He focused on racist Jew hatred and revenge, just as Italy’s leader Benito Mussolini. Both liked Turkey’s Mustafa Kemal for defying victors, but he stopped Islamism. However, the Islamist Abd an-Nafi Shalabi called in Germany for joint boycotts of Jews in Berlin and Jerusalem.
Since 1933 Hitler ruled and reached out to former Ottoman partners via Mideast envoys Fritz Grobba and Franz von Papen who had served in Palestine. In World War II the Nazis annihilated Jews in Europe, prepared it in the Mideast and globally. Leaders in Africa and Asia revived joint jihad. The Axis raised Bosnian, Indian, European and Arab legions. With the “Jewish Question” in mind SS-chief Heinrich Himmler acted under this evil motto: to preserve the own kind, the extermination of the other is needed.
The Nazi-Islamist axis lost, with them Muslim brotherhoods. Being persecuted by nationalists as Egypt’s president Abd an-Nasir, they regrouped in liberal lands and Germany. The Americans, British and French funded German studies on how Nazis used antisemitism to come to power and how they committed mass murder against civilians, above all six million Jews in the Shoah. The Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin coined genocide, defined as a group’s extermination. The UN made it a crime in 1948.
Except of Israel, this historical self-education rarely advanced in the Mideast, in spite of Muslims who fought against Nazis. Often admirers of Hitler gained power after 1945 and gave 4,000 Nazi criminals jobs in media, military and prisons. After 1979, Iran made the export of Islamist revolts a state policy. In 1987 Hamas branched out of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. Americans used joint jihad with the Taliban to push Soviets out of Afghanistan. Islamists around the world benefited from the West’s covert weaponization of jihad.
After the peaceful revolt of East Germans against a left dictatorship, Germany united in 1990, where al-Qaida’s Hamburg cell supported 9/11. For Islamists, joint jihad opens axes across the globe to Russia, China and the Americas. They work with revisionist states against the arrogant powers, as they call democracies. Since 2022 antagonists advance a hybrid global war, an asymmetrical mix of shooting and unrests, for an illiberal global order of totalitarian dogmata. Europe’s past shows the principle of indivisibility: do not tolerate racism like antisemitism, there is one humankind, born equal—if you allow hatred or genocide of one group, you might be next. For mass migration new cultures grow as natives become minorities.
There is hope. Since 2014, anti-Islamist sway grows in Egypt and gulf states. After the shock of Isis’ Islamic State, Muslims created the 2019 Makkah declaration. It echoes the Arabist’s humane position that Muslims are not “our enemies.” But there are those who want to liquidate groups or states from the “river to the sea.” Today Hartmann could see how the kaiser’s and caliph’s Islam policy radicalized Islamism: for some joint jihad and brotherhoods are still rewarding. The 10/7 attack alerted many to the need for a secure quality of life for Jews, Israel and Palestinians.
- Martin Hartmann, Fünf Vorträge über den Islam, (Leipzig: Verlag von Otto Wigand, 1912), 3.
- Ibid. p. 1.
Middle East historian Wolfgang G. Schwanitz is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is the editor of ten books as well as the author of ten books, including, with Barry M. Rubin, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East; Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945; Islam in Europe, Revolts in the Middle East; and the Middle East Mosaic yearbooks 2015-2019.