Many contemporary Muslim rulers have troubling ties with National Socialism, an ideology known for its dangerous and fanatical extremes. While mainstream Muslims have tended to distance themselves from their extremist counterparts, fanaticism threatens to push the entire Muslim world into the arms of its Fascist fringe. This situation begs examination of both present day and historical intersections between Muslim ideologies and the virulent components of National Socialist extremism: racism, anti-Semitism, death, and destiny.
National Socialism and the Baath Party
Saddam Hussein embraces the Baath Party -- formally the Baath Arab Socialist Party -- a nationalist movement especially prominent in Syria and Iraq, borne of the Arab world's perceived need to "produce a means of reasserting the Arab spirit in the face of foreign domination," claims Al-Baath, the daily party newspaper. "Articulated as the principle of Arab nationalism, the Baath movement was one of several political groups that drew legitimacy from an essentially reactive ideology."
Similar reactionary principles guided Adolf Hitler's vision of a people united in the face of foreign (particularly Western) dominance after Germany's crushing defeat during World War I. The motives of both parties seem frighteningly interchangeable, as this passage from Al-Baath, with editorial insertions, illustrates:
"Moral and cultural deterioration, it was felt, had so weakened the Arabs [Germans] that Western supremacy had spread throughout the Middle East [Germany]. Arabs [Germans] needed a regeneration of the common heritage of people in the region to drive off debilitating external influences."
Similarities between German and Arab nationalist extremes are not lost on political analysts.
"The Baathists," writes National Review editor Jonah Goldberg "see the destiny of Arabs in very similar terms as the Nazis understood the destiny of Aryans."
The Nazi party and the Baath party express concepts of destiny with a common theme: the superiority of their respective racial demographic over others, particularly Jews, a circumstance that invites comparisons between Saddam Hussein, a notorious Baathist, and Adolf Hitler, a notorious Nazi.
"Saddam's ambitions are very similar to Hitler's," Goldberg continues. "Saddam uses the Palestinians the way Hitler used the Sudeten Germans. Saddam sees hostile domestic populations as little more than vermin." Saddam, however, "is a much bigger admirer of Stalin," Goldberg offers, in a note of little comfort.
Fanatical Baath and Fascist ideologues embrace more than just an ideology -- they embrace its ultimate, physical expression: death. Hitler wrapped his party's death wish in the epic operas of Wagner inspired by the medieval German Nibelung saga of Teutonic gods, funeral pyres, Valkyries, and the fiery destruction of Valhalla, the great Norse hall of deceased nationalist heroes. Sinbad, the Arabian Knights, and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam similarly populate Arab lore with outsized warriors and god-defying mortals who seek glory through death over defeat through submission.
"The Nazi wish of death or education for death can be compared to the brand of (quite new) Moslem fundamentalism that sees death as the highest goal of life, if it is related to martyrdom," said Omer Bartov, the John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History at Brown University. "This suicidal urge, in which one first must destroy one's own natural survival instincts and then justify one's death by the extermination of others, is related to extremes of Nazism and Fascism, both in personal psychology and a theological or ideological system," Bartov told FrontPage Magazine.
Unfortunately, fanatical adherence to the National Socialist death wish is hardly confined to mythology. Recent history has recorded two potent and alarming real-life incidents: the suicide of Adolf Hitler, accompanied by the deaths of millions of innocent civilians; and the suicides of the September 11th hijackers -- accompanied by the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.
When Worlds Collude
History has also recorded the physical intersection of the Muslim and the Nazi, where a shared disdain of Jews forged a queer cooperation between Muslim soldiers in Eastern Europe and Hitler's SS during the liquidation of Jewish ghettoes in Poland and the operation of concentration camps.
"There were Muslims, especially in the later phases of World War II, in the service of the SS, such as those recruited in Bosnia and in the Caucasus," explained Bartov, who is also a fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. "I believe there was an entire Waffen-SS division made primarily of Muslims in 1944," Bartov told Front Page.
The SS indoctrinated these Muslim fighters, variously called Trawniki men, Hilfswillige, Hiwis, or Askaris, at training camps or "Ausbildungslager" in towns such as Trawniki, Poland. The Askaris, who generally hailed from the Ukraine and the Baltic states, shared with the Nazis a rapacious anti-Semitism that may have eased their transition from mediocre combat warriors to soldiers specifically trained for the ugly task of genocide.
"The Askaris were native soldiers (Muslims) in former German colonies, mostly Lithuanians, Latvians, White Russians and Ukrainians," writes Halina Gorcewicz, a Warsaw Jew who penned an exhaustive and hard-bitten account of life in the ghetto under Nazi occupation. "Not the best of soldiers in the eyes of the Germans, the most important thing for the SS was the fact that they were great anti-Semites."
Muslim fighters from Eastern Europe were not forced to fight alongside the Nazis, but rather "the 'Askaris' were volunteers in auxiliary service to the SS, recruited from the indigenous population of conquered territories in Eastern Europe," Gorcewicz explains.
The Askaris functioned as "police auxiliaries who were employed in Operation Reinhard, particularly in carrying out deportations and in guarding the killing centers," writes Elizabeth White in "Majdanek: Cornerstone of Himmler's SS Empire in the East." Named for Reinhard Heydrich, the father of the eastern front death camps, Operation Reinhard referred to the systematic extermination of Jews and other "undesirables" throughout Poland, particularly at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
The Germans accorded these non-Aryan volunteers little respect, viewing them more as human cannon fodder than trained enlistees, a circumstance that reminds of Hussein's Palestinian perspective.
The name "Askaris" is a "contemptuous reference to the black troops who had helped defend Imperial Germany's African colonies before and during World War I," says Jon Guttman, editor of World War II Magazine and a research director for Primedia Enthusiast Publications.
Muslim fighters populated the first Nazi detachments dispatched in the spring of 1943 to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto, a hellhole decimated by nearly four years of privation, combat, and unfathomable brutality. "Thus came April 18th -- Palm Sunday -- when the Germans brought in reinforcing detachments of 'Askaris,' who surrounded the whole of the ghetto," Gorcewicz writes.
"The Germans and the Askaris (Ukrainian and Latvian auxiliaries) surrounded individual houses and dragged everyone out to deport them," Holocaust survivor Eugene Bergman explained in Gallaudet Today. "They broke open doors of apartments and shot everyone who would not go down to the courtyard. Sick people, cripples -- they were shot dead in their homes."
Muslim and Fascist stood as one in the Askaris, says Guttman, ready to serve the architect of the Holocaust, Heinrich Himmler.
"By April 16, Himmler had arrived in Warsaw for a series of secret conferences" Guttman writes. "The forces at his disposal were comprised of the following: 2,000 officers and men of the Waffen SS; three Wehrmacht divisions; two battalions of German police; 360 Polish police; about 35 security police; and a 337-man battalion of Ukrainian and Lithuanian Fascist auxiliaries called 'Askaris.'"
The Lessons of History
The outrage of Muslims openly cooperating with Nazis in the single greatest incidence of genocide -- the Holocaust -- is not widely known, ignored perhaps in favor of similar -- but probably lesser -- outrages. The press has lavished much attention on the "see no evil, hear no evil" indifference many Christians allegedly embraced during the same period. Holocaust survivors have accused Swiss banks of sheltering Nazi plunder. German corporations fight lawsuits over profiting from the Nazi war machine.
Ignorance is hardly bliss in matters of national security. We can wait -- as we did in the case of Adolf Hitler -- to take appropriate action against fanatics who would see history repeat. However, "if we wait forever," says Jonah Goldberg, "Saddam will certainly do his best to replace Hitler in our imaginations as the gold standard in questions of evil."