There is a simple truth that is unrecognized, or even challenged by many diplomats and scholars; political Islam is not based on faith, but fascism. A small amount of research and observation easily reveals the many similarities and connections.
Islamic fascism began in 1928 with the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood by Hassan al-Banna, who was fascinated by Adolph Hitler and shared with him a common hatred of Jews, democracy and Western Culture.
Other groups were also inspired and influenced by the Nazi’s in the 1930’s. The Young Egypt Party, known as the “Green Shirts,” closely resembled the Hitler Youth. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party even adopted Nazi symbolism. Its emblem, the red hurricane, was taken from the Nazi swastika and its leader, Anton Saada was known as al-Za’im (the Fuhrer). The party’s anthem was “Syria, Syria, uber alles,” sung to the same tune as the German national anthem. Saada founded his party upon the belief that Syrians were “a distinctive and naturally superior race.”
The Baath Party of Syria and later Iraq was born in the sidewalk cafes of 1930’s Paris. Its two founders, Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din Bitar were there as university students from the French colony of Syria. Aflaq was the party’s ideologue, preaching freedom from Western colonialism, Arab unity and national socialism. Early Baathist ideas showed a definite fascist influence, based on classless racial unity and a nationalized economy. Bitar was more of the practical politician, who would later become the prime minister of an independent Syria.
A pro-Axis coup in 1941 against the pro-Western monarchy of Iraq first brought the Baath Party to the forefront, as the group staged protests throughout Syria in favor of nationalist leader Rashid Ali al-Gaylani. The British sent troops a few months later and Gaylani fled to Berlin where he spent the rest of the war broadcasting Nazi propaganda in Arabic. Saddam Hussein’s uncle, Khairallah Talfah, participated in the regime of al-Gaylani and later influenced the beliefs of his nephew.
By 1948, the Muslim Brotherhood had gained enough strength to itself attempt an unsuccessful coup against the Egyptian monarchy. The government responded by disbanding the Brotherhood who then retaliated by killing the Egyptian prime minister. The monarchy then killed al-Banna and began an effort to destroy the organization that continues to this day. One casualty of this campaign was al-Banna’s successor, Saayid Qutb who was hanged by the Egyptian government in 1966.
Qutb is often viewed as the father of modern Islamic fascism, fusing fundamentalist Islamic theology with Nazi propaganda. Qutb replaced “German racial purity” with “Islamic religious purity,” thus turning the Nazi model into one suited for Middle Eastern culture. He furthermore adopted the tenets of Nazi anti-semitism and the rejection of Western capitalism and liberal democracy. Belief in the Nazi ideal of a world Zionist conspiracy was also retained by Qutb.
A young follower of Qutb was Ayman al-Zawahiri, the co-founder and current leader of Al Qaeda. Others with roots in, or inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood include Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
From this and much more evidence, it becomes evident that the roots of political Islam lie not in theology, but Nazi propaganda. It also explains why groups who appear to have differing agendas such as Iraq’s Baathists and ISIS and Al Qaeda and the Iranian regime are able to collaborate and work together. They all share the same fascist core!
Today, many of these groups are waging war against the West, Israel and minority groups in the Middle East who don’t share their beliefs. So, how do we combat them?
Recognizing that much of politics throughout the Middle East has roots in fascism, America should begin by seeking out peoples in the region who share our values and love of freedom. Due in large part to oppression by Arabs/Muslims, these tend to be ethnic and religious minorities including Alevis, Assyrians, Azeris, Balochs, Druze, Jews, Kurds, Maronites, Syriacs, Turkmen, Yezidis, Zoroastrians and others. Of these, the Kurds stand out, as they have shown a fierce resistance to tyranny and a determined struggle for freedom going back centuries.
In 1991, the Kurds heard the call of President George H.W. Bush and rebelled against Saddam Hussein, only to be crushed when the American administration failed to give them support. Despite this, they remained loyal to America and gave U.S. troops support when they invaded Iraq in 2003.
Today, their historic homeland is divided between the nations of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. At the time of this writing, Iraq is on the verge of collapse, as Sunni insurgents and terrorists are fighting under the banner of the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) against the Iranian supported Shia-led government. The civil war in Syria has continued now for over three years and has many of these same groups trying to topple the Iranian backed government of Bashar Assad. In both of these cases, the local Kurdish populations have chosen a path that should serve as a model for American policy in the area. Rather than choosing between Islamic, or secular fascism, they have decided that neither the government, nor the rebels represent their values of freedom, equality and tolerance and so have opted not to ally themselves with either side in the dispute. Instead, they have used their militias to create and defend local autonomous regions that protect not only Kurds, but thousands of refugees and minorities of different ethnicities and faiths who would otherwise be persecuted and/or slaughtered by either the rebels, or the government troops. Within these safe havens, democratic elections have been held, schools are functioning and commerce is thriving. Life is about as normal as can be expected while war rages on around them. But it is an existence that is in jeopardy, as they are constantly repelling attacks from ISIS, who threatens to overwhelm them with arms captured from the fleeing troops of the Iraqi Army.
Like the Kurds, we should choose freedom over fascism, pledging support for the Kurds in each of the four countries that govern them. By doing so, we can spark a flame for freedom that will eventually spread to other parts of the Middle East. Besides, it is the right thing to do, as they have stood by America for so long. We should similarly pledge support for other groups such as the democratic protesters in Iran and elsewhere who share our love of freedom.
This “third way” is the noble course that should form the basis of American policy in the Middle East. Rather than concern ourselves with the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, we should first support and protect those who share our democratic ideals. This same standard should be applied to Iran, Turkey and even elsewhere where authoritarian regimes rule. It is good strategy and reflects those values that make America exceptional in the world.
Sam Griswold is the author of the new historical thriller, True Identity, about an Israeli Mossad agent who loses his memory while working undercover in Iraqi Kurdistan. Available now on Amazon.com