Review: Jihad and Genocide by Richard L. Rubenstein

Jihad and Genocide

by Richard L. Rubenstein
Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009. 288 pp. $30

Originally published with Middle East Quarterly (MEQ), Spring 2010

Jihad and Genocide offers a timely and important contribution to the study of Islamism, one of the most dangerous phenomena of our times. Rubenstein argues that while the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States was based on calculation, rationality, and power, Islamist terrorism and jihad are based on irrationality: The goal is not just to win a war, but to kill all enemies and infidels, especially Jews.

Rubenstein, 85 and a noted Holocaust specialist, draws parallels between current Islamic terrorism and the Nazi programs of extermination. „Having spent most of my career writing and teaching about the Holocaust,“ Rubenstein writes, „I now find myself once again confronted by sworn enemies of the United States and Israel who have promised to exterminate my people. With knowledge gained over many decades, I feel I have no option but to take these people at their word.“

He warns that just as Hitler and the Germans told the world that they would kill the Jews, and then did, so jihadists today say and do likewise. In a lengthy discussion of the Nazis and Islam, Rubenstein persuasively shows that Hitler was an admirer of Islam. Contemporary comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany particularly concern Rubenstein. In ways, he finds that Islamist propaganda is worse than that of Nazi Germany because it is more overt about the goal of killing Jews. However, one should be careful in comparing Islamism to National Socialism in this manner.

Also unconvincing are his concepts of defeat and rage and his comparison of Hitler and the Germans to the Muslim world. Rubenstein ignores the Weimar political culture’s widespread anti-Semitism, including anti-Semitic scandals and discussion groups and the role of the Communist Party. For instance, he cites Ruth Fischer as an important leader of the German Communist Party but does not mention that she was an anti-Semitic Jew during the early Weimar period. Anti-Semitism in Weimar Germany was not just right-wing and Nazi-style, as Rubenstein says, rather it was a „cultural code,“ to quote German historian Susanne Wein.[1] Also not persuasive are Rubenstein’s explanations of Jews as objects of hatred because of their roles as capitalists, traders, financiers, and professionals prior to World War II, similar in his view to hatred toward the Chinese in South Asia, the Lebanese and Chinese in West Africa, or the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. In fact, such resentment against trade, finance, and capitalism have been made most particularly against Jews since the early Christian times. Rubenstein also obfuscates on the subject of genocide, the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism when he refers to a „Museum of the Bosnian Holocaust“ or a „Museum of the Chechen Holocaust.“

The author begins with important aspects of Muslim history, looking specifically at Muslim involvement in mass murder from the Armenian massacres to the attacks of 9/11 and today’s Iranian threat against Israel. Rubenstein also decodes some leading jihadist theorists, including Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Yusuf ‚Azzam, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and Osama bin Laden. Urging the world to listen carefully to them, he is shocked and astonished that days after 9/11, George W. Bush declared that „Islam is peace.“

Jihad and Genocide stresses the importance of Islamic doctrines such as Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. Refuting apologist claims about jihad, Rubenstein argues that it is not the internal struggle of a Muslim, but an expression of war, violence, and hatred of non- Muslims and insufficiently Islamic fellow Muslims. He sees jihad as one of the greatest threats to world peace in general and to Jews and the state of Israel in particular.

Rubenstein urges the Western world to listen to Islamist declarations of war and considers the widespread Western silence about the genocidal consequences of jihad as dangerous. One book will not change the world, but books like this give one hope.

[1] Susanne Wein, „Antisémitisme dans les mouvements ouvriers des années 1920? Enquête sur la presse ouvrière de Brême de 1924 à 1928,“ in Philippe Mesnard, et al, eds., Témoigner entre histoire et mémoire (Paris: Editions Kime, 2008), pp. 125-55.


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