Germany’s Similar Regional Policies in the Two World Wars

To supplement the award-winner on the the relationship between Islam and Nazism during WWII I’m reading Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz, 2014), which was published the same year. The books make similar points, apparently independently and unaware of each other. As I said before, I’d never realized how deep Germany was in with Islam and jihad during the first world war. I’d assumed the German-Ottoman alliance was much like any other.

At the end of one of the chapters, Rubin and Schwanitz list the following parallels between Kaiser Wilhelm’s and Fuhrer Hitler’s regional policies (pp 57-58):

1. Inciting Jihad. Germany’s policy in both wars was based on stirring Muslim revolt, and fomenting jihad, against its enemies. Germany cast itself as being the “friend of Islam” and of Muslim peoples, and as the sworn enemy of colonialism. The first world war, to be sure, was an awful conflict everywhere, in which hundreds of thousands of people died and poison gas was used, but Germany’s decision to launch a campaign of state-sponsored terrorism against civilians was nonetheless shocking at the time.

2. Racism. The second war needs no commentary on this point. In the first war, the Armenian Christians were vilified on racist grounds while the Turkish Muslims were praised as fellow warriors and rulers. Wrote one propagandist: “The Ottoman Turk will be cured, so thoroughly that when he wakes up from his sleep of recovery he will be difficult to recognize. One would think he has got blond hair, blue eyes, and looks quite Germanic. In our loving embrace we have injected so much German essence into him that he will be hard to distinguish from a German.”

3. Holocaust. In purposefully stirring racial hatred, Germany anticipated and accepted the idea that this would produce mass murders of minorities (Armenian Christians in WW1, Jews in WWII), as well as other non-combatant civilians who were not on Germany’s side. The mass murder of Ottoman Armenians (between 600,000 – 1,200,000) was the largest organized massacre against a civilian minority since medieval and probably ancient times. It was carried out by the Ottomans, but the Germans broadly inspired it and did nothing to interfere with it. While there is no concrete evidence for a later account that Hitler said Germany could get away with the Jewish Holocaust because no one remembered the Armenian massacres, that seems to be what he thought.

4. Delusional Leadership. German policymakers believed that powerful forces could be set in motion by charismatic individuals, and that they were able to ignite and control wildly fanatical forces. Wilhelm exhorted his officers to “awaken the fanaticism of Islam” and Hitler of course deeply admired Islam for its militant doctrines. In both wars the policymakers erred grievously. In the first, the “jihad” proclaimed by the secular Ottoman leadership was not taken seriously in the Muslim world, and in the second, pro-Aryan Nazi doctrine (for all the creative allowances it made for Arabs and Turks) was seen by Muslims as too problematic. In both wars, Muslims became acutely aware that they were being manipulated.

5. Personnel. In the first war, Germany accumulated a large cadre of experts and soldiers who knew the Middle-East well and had extensive contacts there. About one hundred of them remained active in key positions during the Nazi era. Likewise many Middle-Eastern people who cooperated with Germany during the first war did so during the second.

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