- Nazi Germany and the Arab World by Francis R. Nicosia
Some of the most innovative recent research on the Second World War has dealt with the conflict’s impact on its global periphery. The war shook large parts of the non-European world, shaping societies and political orders in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and beyond. Recent studies have addressed a wide range of questions, from non-European experiences and perceptions of the war, to the political, military, and social history of colonial soldiers, to the wartime history of anticolonial movements, to the impact of the war on decolonization and the twentieth-century world order. Francis R. Nicosia’s Nazi Germany and the Arab World makes an important contribution to this research, examining Berlin’s engagement with North Africa and the Middle East and the region’s nationalist and anti-colonial movements.
Nazi Germany’s involvement in the lands of the Arab world has attracted the attention of historians for decades. Early works on the subject appeared in the immediate aftermath of the war: in 1947 both Simon Wiesenthal and Moshe Pearlman published studies on the wartime collaboration of the Mufti of Jerusalem. The first monographs to address more general questions of the Third Reich’s relations with Arab countries came out in the 1960s and 1970s, with Heinz Tillmann’s Deutschlands Araberpolitik im Zweiten Weltkrieg (1965), Łukasz Hirszowicz’ The Third Reich and the Arab East (1966), and, a few years later, Bernd Schröder’s Deutschland und der Mittlere Osten im Zweiten Weltkrieg (1975)—all of which not only charted Berlin’s attempts to win over Arabs, but also pointed to the limits of these efforts. The question of obstacles to German policies in the region was taken up by Francis Nicosia in a seminal 1980 article in the International Journal of Middle East Studies in which he insisted that there was an “ideological and strategic incompatibility” between Nazi Germany and the Arab national movements. More recently, though, a number of studies—most notably those of Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, Jeffrey Herf, and Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz—have suggested that the Nazi regime saw Arabs as its natural allies, and that its attempts to forge a close alliance with Arab nationalists were based on both common strategic aims and certain ideological affinities.
Nicosia’s book can be read as a response to these recent publications—as a re-examination of Nazi Germany’s foreign policy toward Arab lands from Marrakesh to Muscat. Reviving (and extending) his 1980 thesis, he argues that the strategic interests [End Page 131] and ideological outlooks of the two sides differed significantly. Yet the book is more than just a response to the recent works in the field; it provides a thorough chronological account of the Third Reich’s involvement in the Arab world.
The first chapters deal with the decades before the war, convincingly demonstrating that the ideological visions and strategic interests of the German regime and Arab nationalist movements were incompatible. In the 1930s, Hitler was preoccupied with Central Europe and showed no serious interest in the colonial world. In fact, Berlin fully recognized the British, French, Italian, and Spanish imperial hegemony in Arab lands. Strategically, Nazi Germany tried to court Great Britain as an ally, acknowledged Mussolini’s ambitions for an Italian empire in the Mediterranean, and even respected the French imperial presence in the region. Ideologically, Hitler believed that the Arabs of North Africa and the Middle East, like other “colonial peoples,” rightfully belonged under European colonial domination. Thus, when in 1933 various Arab anticolonial nationalist leaders, among them prominent figures such as Amin al-Husayni and Shakib Arslan, reached out to the new rulers in Germany, Berlin was reserved. Moreover, the Nazi regime systematically encouraged Jewish migration from Germany to Palestine in the 1930s; this policy conflicted directly with the interests of Arab nationalists, who saw Zionist settlers as an obstacle to Arab self-determination. Nicosia points to the continuity of German policies: Imperial Germany likewise had shown...