Under the Assads, Syria Developed a Soft-Spot for Nazism

March 23 2021

In almost every bookstore in Syria, writes Asser Khattab, one can find an abridged Arabic translation of Mein Kampf. And having spent much of his life in Aleppo and Damascus, Khattab has numerous anecdotes from both his own experiences and those of friends of coming across Nazi memorabilia in shops, or meeting people with the first name Hitler, or encountering expressions of sympathy for the Nazis. He observes:

The first time I remember seeing a swastika was at the all-boys Presbyterian school I attended for twelve years in Aleppo. Al-saleeb al-ma’qouf, the hooked cross, [a literal translation of the German term], was one of many symbols that boys would mindlessly carve into their desks, scribble on the walls of the bathroom, or sketch in textbooks. Most of them, I would learn, didn’t even know what the symbol meant. Those who did, didn’t know much.

In 1939, Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, launched the Radio Berlin Arabic-language program. The program broadcast across the Middle East and North Africa and told Arab listeners that everything they had heard about Hitler hating Arabs and assigning them a low “racial status” was wrong. It even broadcast Quran recitations, in what seemed to have been an attempt to steal listeners from the BBC’s Arabic-language radio service.

We were never taught this. And yet at some point, I began hearing a startling number of Syrians quoting Hitler and discussing his views and political career. Some would mutter the common, and not altogether accurate, claims that Germany “rose from the ashes” of World War I and from the confines of the Treaty of Versailles and that the lives of German citizens greatly improved under Hitler before World War II began in September 1939. . . . Those around me who sported some vague admiration for Hitler almost always supported the Assads, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Read more at Newlines

More about: Anti-Semitism, Bashar al-Assad, Hafez al-Assad, Nazism, Syria

 

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy