When Hitler sent Rommel to north Africa in January 1941, Nazi interest in the Arab world burgeoned. From then until the end of the war the Third Reich invested heavily in trying to win over Muslim opinion. Jeffrey Herf believes that this propaganda offensive touched key sectors of Arab society, with profound consequences.
It would have been hard to predict this. Following the passage of the Nuremberg Laws, German diplomats had to field protests by Turks and Egyptians. Were they to be stigmatised by official anti-Semitism? It took prolonged ideological contortions before German officials found a way to define Arabs as being of ‘racially kindred blood’. Then there was Mein Kampf, in which Hitler placed the Arabs well down the racial hierarchy. The book was never translated into Arabic in full, although a shortened version appeared in which ‘semites’ became exclusively Jews.
Once these hurdles had been surmounted, pro-German propaganda for the Arab world was conducted by a small but competent group of orientalists. These men had served with the Turks in the Great War, held diplomatic posts in the Middle East, or studied Islamic civilisation. As Herf shows in