Motadel, David, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, Londres, Harvard University Press, 2014, 512p.

motadelThe Second World War involved significant parts of the Islamic world. Around 150 million Muslims between North Africa and Southeast Asia lived under British and French imperial rule, and more than 20 million were governed by Moscow. Many people today are unaware, however, of the extent of Nazi efforts to secure Muslim support, or that Muslims fought in the Nazi army. From 1941 onward, the Wehrmacht and the SS recruited thousands of Muslim soldiers, organized in formations such as the Wehrmacht’s Muslim Eastern Legions and Islamic SS divisions in the Balkans.

At the height of the war, all major Axis and Allied powers began to view Islam as politically and strategically important. In Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, David Motadel reveals that it was at this time, in 1941-1942, that Nazi officials began to enthusiastically promote an alliance with the Muslim world against their presumed common enemies—the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Jews. Drawing on archival sources from across three continents, Motadel presents the first comprehensive account of Germany’s remarkable attempts to build an alliance with the Islamic world during World War II.

Motadel explores Germany’s policies and propaganda in the Muslim war zones and the recruitment, spiritual care, and ideological indoctrination of tens of thousands of Muslim volunteers who fought in the Wehrmacht and SS, showing how German authorities employed religion for political, military, and strategic ends. Naturally, these efforts were met with a mixed reception from Muslims, whom the Nazis often treated as a monolithic group. Some, like Lithuanian mufti Jakub Szynkiewicz, propagated Hitler’s New Order as the foundation of an Islamic consolidation and revival in the Muslim territories of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Others, like many Muslims in North Africa, were unmoved by Germany’s call for a jihad. Overall, Germany’s policies in the Muslim world were less successful than Nazi officials had hoped. They had been launched far too late in the war and often clashed with the violent realities of the war.

Interweaving religious, political, and military history, Motadel provides a new understanding of the politics of religion in the bloodiest conflict of the twentieth century.

David Motadel is Research Fellow in History at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge.

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