s the author writes these words, the Muslim call to prayer is reverberating out of a half-dozen loudspeakers on as many mosques. Preparations are being made to travel to Surabaya, the site of the last remaining synagogue in Indonesia as well as the Islamic cemetery where Pöch is buried. The call to prayer tells us that God

A

is great, that there is no God but God, and that Mohammed is his prophet. This happens five times a day, beginning in the early morning hours when the sky is still dark and the air is still cool. Islam is the faith of more than one billion of the world’s population, and Indonesia has the largest population of any Muslim nation with roughly two hundred million of the faithful on more than 17,000 islands, with the majority on Sumatra and Java.

One of the dirty secrets concerning the flight of Nazi war criminals out of Europe is the welcome they received by some of the governments of the Middle East who valued their expertise in military and intelligence matters, as well as their ideological “purity” when it came to anti-Semitism142 and especially anti-Zionism, for the State of Israel was created in 1948: only three years after the end of the war, and with a population that was expanded considerably by Holocaust survivors. Thus, the “human terrain” of Nazis and Jews had shifted from the cities and ghettos of Europe to the cities and villages of the Middle East. The Warsaw Ghetto was, in a sense, being recreated and re-erected in Palestine, only this time with walls made of tanks and cannons and with defenders who had already experienced the worst that humanity could throw at them and who were prepared to resist with brute force.

In the west, and particularly in post-9/11 America, this conflict is seen

through a monochromatic lens. There is only black and white, us and them. This is further compounded by a general lack of knowledge concerning Middle Eastern history and the critical role that the western powers played

in the creation of the Arab states as we know them today. It was this involvement by the west that led to the current political and military situation and contributed to the rise and growth of movements commonly referred to as Islamic fundamentalist. If they are understood instead as anti- colonial movements they may be better understood. Perhaps. Although, now the time is long past when anyone can afford to make these distinctions as life swiftly imitates artifice and all the players succumb to their own stereotypes and begin believing their own propaganda.

The author has often declared that we are still fighting World War One. This is nowhere as obvious and as heart-breaking as in the Middle East. From the Balfour Declaration to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, from the drawing of the boundaries of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria to the British Mandate in Palestine…the major conflicts began with the first World War and the addled decisions made by the victors in that conflict, already stunned by the hideous excesses of the war and drunk on the fumes of blood and blinded by the glitter of treasure. It was World War One that gave Europe Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. World War Two would bequeath that legacy to the Middle East.

Arab nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists—including the groups associated with Al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyyah and others— often point to the Crusades as an example of western, Christian hostility against the Arab Middle East and against Islam in particular. Normally, the historical precedent of Arab aggression towards Europe beginning in the eighth century CE (and thus three hundred years before the first Crusade) is often overlooked or ignored. The establishment of the Caliphate in what is now Spain and Portugal in the eighth century would last for more than seven hundred years until the last Islamic administration was expelled by King Ferdinand of Spain in 1492. Thus, the history of the Arab, Islamic Middle East and the history of Europe—western and eastern—is far more complex than jingoistic, shake-and-bake commentators and instant experts from either side would have us believe. It is a history of mutual hostility but also of cultural cross-fertilization. Islam gave the west much of ancient Greek science and philosophy, for instance. It gave the west algebra and alchemy: both words themselves borrowed from the original Arabic.

It is too easy to characterize Islam in terms of the Middle East alone. What is not normally considered is the fact that North Africa and the Levant are so close to Europe as to be neighbors, and that there is a long history of

interactions between the two regions going back to before Solomon’s Temple was built. There was Greek trade and cultural contacts in the Middle East long before Moses was born. Caesar’s legions had traveled to Gaul and to Briton at the time of Jesus, and there is an old tradition of Joseph of Arimathea taking the child Jesus with him on a sales trip to what is now Cornwall in the British Isles. Whether true or not, the fact that such a tale could be believed is an indication of how deeply Europe and the Middle East were—and continue to be—involved with each other.

When it comes to Southeast Asia, however, the relationship changes considerably. The region was much too far away to be vulnerable to the type of military assault that typified the “missionary” activities of the Prophet and his descendants. Instead, the first contact many Asians had with Islam was in the form of trade.

While Muslim armies conquered much of India, having spread east from Babylon and Persia, by the time they reached China and Indochina their resources were spread very thin. It was far preferable to conquer by persuasion than force. And thus, gradually, areas like Sumatra and Java began to consider Islam as another belief system among the ones already in place, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as their indigenous religions. Islam became dominant in what is now Indonesia about the fifteenth century CE, at the time that the last Caliph on the throne of Grenada in Spain was being ousted by Ferdinand. Today, native Indonesian Islamic groups such as Jemaah Islamiyyah talk of establishing a Caliphate in the region that would extend from southern Thailand through all of Malaysia and Indonesia and including the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. For the most part, however, this is a pipe dream of the fanatics for most of the Islamic world in Southeast Asia has no interest in religious violence, in establishing shariyah, or in creating a Muslim state. Indonesia, for instance, is an example of a moderate, secular democracy that just happens to be predominantly Muslim.

In 1945, however, the situation—both in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia—was in danger of going another way altogether.

The development and growth of what is usually called Islamic fundamentalism143 in the west is believed to have begun with the writings of two important ideologues, the first being Muhamad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (1703-1792) and the second Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966). Abd-al-Wahhab is usually identified with the movement that bears his name, Wahhabism,

which became the official sect of the rulers of Saudi Arabia beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing to the present day. Most Islamic scholars see Wahhabism as heretical for it insists on a strict interpretation of the Qur’an and the Hadith that is inconsistent with generations of Islamic thought and practice. However, due to the pre-eminence of the Saudi kingdom in the Islamic world as the land of the two shrines of Mecca and Medina and to the enormous financial contributions made by the Saudis to Islamic communities all over the world, Wahhabism (sometimes characterized as “petro-Islam”) and its intolerant ideology have become familiar to Muslims everywhere, if not actually embraced.

Often confused with Wahhabism is the movement most identified with the Egyptian thinker Sayyid Qutb. Although not the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb was this radical group’s most prominent and outspoken member, a writer with a keen sense of the differences between western and Islamic thought and practice. A visitor to the United States in the 1940s, he was appalled by what he considered the crass materialism and loose morals of the American population. He criticized jazz as so much “noise”, looked in dismay upon the “indecent” awareness of the American woman of her physical beauty and natural powers of seduction, and the “bestiality” of the “Negro.”

One may say that both Abd-al-Wahhab and Qutb perceived that the Islamic world had lost its dominance in the world and even within its own territories. The Ottoman Empire had conquered much of the Middle East and North Africa and the caliphates had all but disappeared from the face of the earth. In Wahhab’s time, the enemy was the Turkish state; in Qutb’s time, it was the secular Egyptian state and its collusion with western countries and its relationship with western ideas. If Islam was not the dominant ideology in the Arab world, then it was the fault of Muslims who had become degenerate, complacent, and spiritually polluted by foreign ideas and customs. In a sense, both Wahhab and Qutb were Islamic Jeremiahs, pointing to the decay of their civilization and assigning the blame to the lack of piety and faith among their own people. This is not a new phenomenon, and it has been repeated in many countries over many centuries, with Christian fundamentalist preacher Pat Robertson blaming Hurricane Katrina on God’s wrath against homosexuals in New Orleans, and the earthquake in Haiti on voodoo practitioners and their “satanic pacts,” as only two of many recent examples.

But before there was a Sayyid Qutb—executed by the Egyptian government in 1966 for treason—there was a Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini (1897?-1974).

Having begun his career working for the British during the first World War, al-Husseini became embroiled in the Arab nationalist cause during a riot in 1920 in Jerusalem against the Balfour Declaration: the statement by a British statesman guaranteeing a Jewish homeland in what was then known as Palestine. Once the Turks had been driven out of Arabia by the combined British and Arab armies, the Arab leaders found themselves at the mercy of agreements and treaties that had been negotiated between the European allies with virtually no Arab representation or input and certainly no agreement by the Arabs themselves. The Balfour Declaration was one; the Sykes-Picot agreement was another.

Signed in secret in 1916, this agreement between the British and the French governments—with Tsarist Russia as a minor partner— carved up the Ottoman Empire between the two European powers. This was in addition to promises made by the British government to the Arab leaders that they would have independence once the Ottoman Turks were defeated. There were, in fact, so many conflicting promises made that it is impossible to separate them and qualify their respective legal standings. In one case, the Arabs were promised the land of Palestine and what is now Syria and Jordan144; in another, the Balfour Declaration, the Zionists were assured of their right to a homeland in Palestine so long as the rights of the non-Jewish population were protected. These two, both issued by the British government, are obviously mutually-exclusive. With the addition of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, the chaotic status of present-day Palestine and Israel was assured.

It was within this heavily-charged atmosphere that Arab nationalism

was born. It had begun with the revolt of the Arab tribes against the Turks during the First World War and extended to their rejection of the European treaties and agreements that decided their boundaries, their independence (or lack of it), and their political futures. It was the last gasp of European colonialism in the Middle East: an attempt to create “independent” colonies that were nonetheless subservient to European influence. The British and the French were in the position of king-makers, with the rulers of the newly-created nations of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc. as mere puppets of foreign powers, ruling at the pleasure of European politicians.

This was nowhere more obvious than in the “British Mandate” of Palestine: the land promised by the British to European Jews as their homeland.

That there was anger directed towards the Europeans—and by extension, to the west in general—due to this perceived betrayal of the Arab revolt is beyond doubt. That this anger turned violent almost immediately was predictable. And the most tangible target of this violence was the proposed Jewish state in Palestine. In this way, Arab nationalism and anti- Zionism became closely identified in the minds of many people including the Arabs themselves. As the notorious forgery known as the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion came to be published in many languages at the end of World War One, this “proof” of an international conspiracy of Jews, bankers and Freemasons to control the world ironically found its best evidence in the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate in Palestine. It was the same Protocols that would convince Hitler and other Nazis of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. As Hitler came out of the trenches of World War One to find Germany decimated, “betrayed” by the bankers and the oligarchs, Haj Amin al-Husseini came out of the same war to find the Arab revolt similarly betrayed, and the lands of the Arabs similarly decimated, and by the same Allied governments of England and France.

It was probably inevitable then that these two men would meet. It would be 1941, and by that time Hitler had become the leader of the Greater German Reich, and al-Husseini would be the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. They would join common cause against the Allies and most particularly against the Jews. This would eventually result in the establishment of another link in the Ratline, the Middle Eastern segment that saw the flight of SS and other Nazi specialists to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq where they would help prop up dictatorial regimes in the region by training the secret police in torture and interrogation techniques and in developing weapons of mass destruction such as ballistic missles and chemical and biological agents.

The relationship was curious, since the Nazis were true “anti-Semites”: that is, to the Nazi purists, both Arabs and Jews were members of an inferior race, the Semites, and were slated for destruction. Iranians might possibly be spared, since they were not Semitic peoples and were, by definition, “Aryan”. But, as in the case of the Croats who were most assuredly Slavs and not much higher than Semites in the opinion of the Nazi leadership, there was a pragmatic argument to be made in their favor. By enlisting the Arab world in the struggle against the British and the other

Allies, Germany could be assured of a warm welcome in the region once they had been successful in crossing the Suez Canal and would not have to worry about subduing the local populations who would, presumably, welcome them with open arms.