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on 12 August 2010
In "Arabs and the Holocaust" Gilbert Achcar (co-debator with Noam Chomsky in Perilous Power) has cut through many of the myths, exaggerations, and down right nonsense that surrounds the debate about Arab attitudes towards Nazi Germany and the persecution and eventual genocide of European Jews between 1933 and 1945.

Much of the writing on this subject by supporters of Israel focuses on those Arabs who dallied at one or another rhetorical level with Facism, or on those such as the pernicious buffoon Amin al-Husseini, the British declared Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who spent the War in Rome and Berlin, and whose importance as a historical figure is entirely disproportionate to the enormous literature on him, including one encyclopaedia of the Holocaust where his entry is second to, and only marginally shorter than, that of Hitler. Achcar doesn't avoid these issues and writes critically on them, but keeps his sense of proportion and puts them into their historical context.

He also covers the bigger picture on Arab attitudes to the Nazis in general, and the persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime in particular. Within a number of broad categories (Marxist, Liberal, Nationalist and Religious) he identifies a substantial amount of writing that is highly critical of the Nazi Regime. For Marxists this was complete, with the exception of the political gymnastics required for the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of August 1939 to June 1941, and even then there were a number of Arab Marxists who were deeply critical of that development. Again, for Liberals who were sympathetic to Western secular values, though critical of their imperialist practices, the hostility and critical attitude to the Nazi Regime was almost total. The attitudes of the religious and nationalistic Arabs covered a broader spectrum, from hostility to sympathy. For the Palestinians who were on the sharp end of the Zionists quest for land to build the Jewish State, the reaction was not surprisingly - but again far from uniform - more sympathetic to the Nazis anti-Semitism.

The thorny issue of Zionist-Nazi contacts is dealt with, Achcar deeming them to be tactical arrangements by the Zionists to further their cause. The issue of how Zionists dealt with the threat to Jews in Europe during the 1930's is also given some coverage, and it becomes clear that the attitudes and actions of Zionism, and it's international supporters in Europe and the US, were tilted towards their own goals rather than the saving of as many Jews as possible from the increasing horrors of the Nazi regime.

"The Arabs and the Holocaust" is a mine of information that covers much more than the issues mentioned above including the growth of Arab anti-Semitism, the actual role of Arabs in the fighting during WW2 (a tiny proportion of Arabs who fought in WW2 fought on the Axis side; 1500 Arabs ended up in concentration camps), the Zionist discourse on the Nakba, as well as pro-Zionist writings on the Arabs and Nazism. As a work of scholarship it is exceptionally clearly written despite being dense with detail. Achcars principled and impartial examination of a wide range of issues is a breath of fresh air in a field where much pernicious and partisan nonsense has all too often prevailed. A book I'd whole-heartedly recommend.
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on 17 June 2016
A fascinating insight into Arab politics in the lead up to WW2. The book sheds light on and explodes the myth of, a monolithic aggressive Islamo-fascist world, revealing several trends in Islamic political thought that mirrors those in the west. From western style reformers through to fervent nationalists and finally an exploration of fascism and communism's relationship with Islam. Achcar also debunks much of the "scholarship" found in popular biographies of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Well worth a read.
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on 4 November 2010
It has been a standard trope of Zionist propaganda that Arab opposition to Zionism is motivated by or influenced by antisemitism. The rise of Islamophobic racism over recent years has seen a growth in such ideas. Until recently, such ideas were confined to the lunatic fringe, internet based conspiracy theorists and Zionist propagandists and could safely be ignored. Recently, however, they have begun to enter the mainstream and so this effective counter by Gilbert Achcar is welcome. For example, Achcar effectively demolishes works with pretensions to scholarly rigour such as those by Mattias Kuntzel, Klaus-Michael Mallman and shows that these writers don't understand the Arabic language, have little grasp of the history or politics of the region and rely for much of their source material on other works of propaganda which have little or no scholarly value.

Not that antisemitism or Holocaust Denial don't exist in the Arab world, they do. Achcar is effective in explaining the roots of these in the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinian people and is a response, albeit unacceptable, to oppression rather than a tool of oppression as it is in Europe and N.America. Achcar is good at exposing the poison of Al Hajj Amin al Husseini but also good at exposing how his legacy has been grossly exaggerated.

Achcar takes on a historical tour of the development of politics in the Arab Middle East in the Twentieth century. His purpose is to excavate movements as diverse as Westernising liberal, communist parties, Syrian nationalists, Islamists and Ba'thists to determine the influence of fascism, Nazism and antisemitism in their founding or in their ideology. In all but a very small number of cases, Achcar's excavations draw a blank.

Interestingly, Achcar uncovers things like quotes from early Ba'thists that appear to show sympathy for fascism that actually show the opposite when the original text is examined and he finds that the English language version of Anwar Sadat's memoirs has pro-Nazi remarks in them that are absent in the Arabic original. There has been deliberate misrepresentation, in other words.

This book, together with Gershoni and Jankowski's `Confronting Fascism in Egypt', represent the defeat of the notion that modern Arab politics owes a significant debt to European fascism or antisemitism and so is exceedingly welcome.
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on 15 September 2014
A good book, I found it very informative it contains a very wide view of the Arab Israeli relationship its history, not a book to be taken lightly as it requires some concentration to get the best from it, as it is a very full description of the subject matter.
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on 24 April 2011
The description of the book above is lacking a candour. Ashcar isn't a dispassionate historian. He's an Arab, a socialist, an 'anti-war activist', a co-author with the extreme anti-Israel writer Noam Chomsky, a supporter of the hijab, and more. This means a reader should take care with this volume and the biases it contains. There is, apart from anything, a huge difference between the Holocaust and the Palestinian nakba: the nakba was self-created.
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