Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda For The Arab World

Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda For The Arab World

Jeffrey Herf is a history professor primarily interested in the nuts and bolts of the Nazi propaganda machine. Nazi Propaganda For The Arab World is his third book on the subject, building on his interest in “reactionary modernism”—using the most modern technologies of World War II to push its most antiquated and hideously racist notions—and investigations into the archives of Nazi propaganda. Nazi Propaganda is exactly what it sounds like, a deep-digging close reading of the under-studied Nazi courting of Arabs during World War II.

Since little has been written in English on the subject, Herf is as much providing a guide to the archives as crafting an overall narrative. The larger story is how the Third Reich redefined its definition of “anti-Semitic” to mean specifically “anti-Jewish,” in the hopes of rousing Muslim (“Semitic”) countries into revolt. If Egyptians were to rise up and rebel against presumed imperialistic ambition, British and American access to oil would be seriously endangered, and resources would have to be diverted. So the German government began broadcasting shortwave-radio propaganda across the Middle East with the help of nationalist exiles—most notably Haj Amin el-Husseini, whose meeting with Hitler, as Herf writes, “was not a clash of civilizations but a meeting of hearts and minds.” They were united by a shared hatred of Jews and unswerving dedication to the ideas that their cultures—German and Muslim alike—needed to unite into racially pure societies prizing collective strength over the individual.

The broad outlines are fascinating, but Herf also takes up the historical burden of tying together the main themes of the constant propaganda. Like all good talking-points propaganda, it was repetitive, hammering home the same points with infinitesimal variation; Herf plods through it all, with overly generous quotations about the same things. Over and over again, we read of conspiracies indicting Jews as the driving force behind the war, how FDR was accused of being either a tool of the Jews or a Jew himself, and so on. All of which will serve as a valuable English-language starting-point reference for future scholars, but reading it in a chunk is wearisome. And Herf rushes the ending, where he reaches but barely explores the intriguing, plausible conclusion that contemporary radical Islam gained many of its fundamental tenets from cross-pollination with Nazi ideas and propaganda methods. Still, as a starting point on an under-researched subject, Nazi Propaganda is well worth a read, or least a skim.

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