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Islamist Terrorism and Antisemitism: The Mission against Modernity

  • Matthias Kuentzel

Matthias Küntzel, born in 1955, is a political scientist in Hamburg, Germany. He has served as senior advisor for the German Green Party caucus in the the Bundestag and is currently a Research Associate at the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as well as a member of the Board of Directors of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. Küntzel's essays have been published in The New Republic, Policy Review, The Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal and Telos. His most recent book, Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, published by Telos Press,won the 2007 London Book Festival Grand Prize.

In this lecture, Dr. Kuentzel examines an understudied legacy of the Nazi past, the transfer of the ideology of European antisemitism into the Arab world and its role in the formation of contemporary terrorism.


Event Synopsis:

Dr. Kuentzel begins his talk by recounting widespread celebrations within some Palestinian communities after the March 2008 killing of 15 young Jewish students by a Palestinian. He shows a video of a sermon from a mosque in Gaza in 2005 which praises the murders. Kuentzel rejects common arguments that the celebrations represent a desire for revenge on Israel for Palestinian deaths since 1948. Instead, he asserts that the incident shows that Islamists are obsessed by genocidal anti-Semitism, which has been influenced by and can be compared to European and Nazi anti-Semitism, both of which he sees as attempts to answer the success of liberal capitalism.

His talk follows the outline of his recent book, and covers four topics:

  1. The birth of Islamism

When the Muslim Brotherhood was established as a mass movement in 1928, it aimed to replace a parliamentary system with a caliphate, emphasizing a return to the roots of Islam. By 1948, the group had 1 million members in Egypt alone. A form of populist Islam, it invoked jihad as a means of establishing Sharia law, and focused its efforts almost entirely against Jews, drawing on both early Islamic thought and Nazism.

  1. Jew hatred as related to the hatred of modernity

Kuentzel sees Islamist anti-Semitism as closely tied to a fear of modernity. In this sense Jews are seen as representing the most threatening aspects of modernity including gender equality, freedom of thought, and individualism.

  1. Islamism and national socialism

Kuentzel draws ties between Islamism and the ideology of national socialism embodied by the Nazi party. He describes a Nazi radio station which broadcast Arabic language programming between 1945 and 1949. The programs emphasized religious identity of Muslims, utilized popular broadcasters, and were professionally produced with strong transmission signals, making them popular and widely accessible.

  1. Present day Islamism and anti-Semitism

Dr. Kuentzel asserts that Nazi ideology persisted in parts of Europe after 1945, and that when the Cold War emerged as the prominent political and economic feature of the era, it obscured/overshadowed the continuation of national socialist thought.

Finally, Dr. Kuentzel offers his views of both Islamism and anti-Semitism today, and concludes that the incidents like the one described at the beginning of his talk represent a revival of Nazi ideology "in new garb." He credits Muslims such as scholar Bassam Tibi who urge tolerance and speak out against anti-Semitism.