A Comparison of The Al Qaeda Reader and Mein Kampf
by Raymond Ibrahim
National Review Online
A number of book reviewers have recently pointed to the similarities between The Al Qaeda Reader and Mein Kampf. For instance, writing in the New York Observer, James Buchan notes that, “In their [al Qaeda’s] brutality and candor, their fulminations against democracy and loose morals, their obsession with territory, their finicky racism and absolute disdain for the material needs of the public, these documents are a strange echo of Hitler’s writings from prison.”
Writing for Slate, however, Reza Aslan disagrees:
The comparison between the scattered declarations of a cult leader [bin Laden] literally dwelling in a cave and the political treatise of the commander in chief of one of the 20th century’s most powerful nations [Hitler] may be imprecise, to say the least…. [W]hether a hodgepodge of interviews, declarations, and exegetical arguments can be read as a sort of jihadist manifesto is debatable. While these writings provide readers with page after page of, for example, arcane legal debates over the moral permissibility of suicide bombing, they do not really get to the heart of what it is that al Qaeda wants, if it wants anything at all.”
While the suggestion that al Qaeda might not “want anything at all” may incline one to dismiss Aslan’s entire critique as puerile, he does raise an important question: in what respect is The Al Qaeda Reader truly similar to Mein Kampf? Conversely, how do the two volumes differ?
Before analyzing these questions, however, it is imperative to point out that, contrary to Aslan’s historical conflations, Hitler did not write Mein Kampf while he was “commander in chief of one of the 20th century’s most powerful nations.” In reality, when Hitler wrote his manifesto, he was a political prisoner, the failed leader of the infamous “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923. It would be nearly another decade before he would come into power. In fact, the circumstantial similarities surrounding the writings of Hitler and al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri are more akin than not. Hitler was a prisoner; al Qaeda’s leaders are fugitives. While in prison, Hitler was a popular figure — a “cult leader” — inundated by nationalistic fan mail. Bin Laden is an icon in many parts of the Islamic world, a world which, though impoverished, refuses to relinquish this “hijacker” of their religion for 50 million dollars, and which has made “Osama,” once an arcane Arabic name, second only to Muhammad in popularity for newborn Muslim boys in countries like Pakistan. Consequently, if history is any instructor, should an Islamist state with a new caliphate ever come into being in the near future, it should come as no great surprise if bin Laden or Zawahiri — or, more likely, one of their countless associates — were to emerge from their caves and assume command.
But to the pressing question: how is The Al Qaeda Reader similar to Mein Kampf? A single sentence from the introduction of the 1999 edition of Mein Kampf, published by Mariner Books, goes a long way in answering this question: “He [Hitler] had made his ultimate goals clear in Mein Kampf as early as 1926: rearmament, the abolition of democracy, territorial expansion, eugenics, the ‘elimination’ of the ‘Jewish threat’” (Mein Kampf, xv).
The Al Qaeda Reader dwells on, if not obsesses over, four of these same five “ultimate goals” of Hitler — everything but eugenics, which is a temporal byproduct of 19th-century, pseudo-scientific racial theories. But al Qaeda’s writings certainly dwell on dealing with the “Jewish threat,” overthrowing the “pagan religion” of democracy, both territorial re-conquests (from Palestine to Andalusia) and territorial expansion (to the whole world), as well as rearmament. Even more telling, the “fascistic” tone of Mein Kampf — ridicule and contempt for modernity and peace, praise for heroism and martyrdom, condemnation of promiscuity and lax mores — saturates The Al Qaeda Reader. Indeed, that there are many similarities is best represented by the fact that the German words “mein kampf” translate to “jihad-i” — or, “my jihad” — in Arabic.
The introduction continues: “Mein Kampf may have been dismissed by the West when it was first published — it is largely a theoretical text, lacking an identifiable program for accomplishing the goals it describes — but here Hitler was taking concrete steps to realize his vision. Yet nothing was done” (Mein Kampf, xv). This is ominously reminiscent of Aslan’s dismissive critique of the statements and writings of al Qaeda, where he questions “whether a hodgepodge of interviews, declarations, and exegetical arguments can be read as a sort of jihadist manifesto,” and that “there is in these writings an almost total lack of interest in providing any specific solution or policy.” So too was the weltanschauung of Mein Kampf dismissed as absurd and impractical (or, more euphemistically, as a “theoretical text, lacking an identifiable program for accomplishing the goals it describes”). Yet who can doubt its subsequent, and most horrific, influence? In like manner, jihadists the world over are taking steps to realize their vision — murky as it may be, bloody as it certainly will be, should it ever come to fruition.
* * *
What follows are similar quotes and excerpts from Mein Kampf (MK) andThe Al Qaeda Reader (AQR), arranged thematically in order to illustrate the many parallels between both books. I have taken the liberty of italicizing key words and adding clarifications in brackets to better highlight the similarities.
It is almost pointless quoting hostile excerpts from either book directed against the Jews, since practically every other — or, in some sections, every — page of both books makes some sort of anti-Semitic remark, ranging from the hackneyed to the genocidal. The word “Jew” (and other variants) occurs separately in both The Al Qaeda Reader and Mein Kampf some 250 times. Witness, however, the similar treatment of the Jewish people in the following small sampling from both books.
MK: “Hence today I believe I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord,” (p. 65).
AQR: “You should know that seeking to kill Americans and Jews everywhere in the world is one of the greatest duties [for Muslims], and the good deed most preferred by Allah, the Exalted,” (p. 270).
MK: “People who can sneak their way into the rest of mankind like drones, to make other men work for them under all sorts of pretexts, can form states even without any definitely delimited living space of their own. This applies first and foremost to a people under whose parasitism the whole of honest humanity is suffering, today more than ever: the Jews,” (p. 150). “He [“the Jew”] begins to lend money and as always at usurious interest…. He regards commerce as well as all financial transactions as his own special privilege which he ruthlessly exploits,”(p. 309) “From the publisher down [i.e., the media world], they were all Jews,” (p. 61).
AQR: “You [America] are a nation that permits usury, though it has been forbidden by all the religions. Yet you build your economy and investments on usury. As a result of this, in all its different forms and guises, the Jews have taken control of your economy, thereby taking control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life, making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense — precisely what Benjamin Franklin warned you against,” (p. 203).
MK: “When over long periods of human history I scrutinized the activity of the Jewish people, suddenly there rose up in me the fearful question whether inscrutable Destiny, perhaps for reasons unknown to us poor mortals, did not with eternal and immutable resolve, desire the final victory of this little nation [“Jewry”]. Was it possible that the earth had been promised as a reward to this people which lives only for this earth?” (p. 64).
AQR: “Come let me [bin Laden] tell you who the Jews are. The Jews have lied about the Creator, and even more so about His creations. The Jews are the murderers of the prophets, the violators of agreements…. These are the Jews: usurers and whoremongers. They will leave you nothing, neither this world nor religion…. Such are the Jews who, in accordance with their religion, believe that human beings are their slaves and that those who refuse [to recognize this] should be put to death,” (p. 277).
Hitler constantly criticized (and, when he came into power, finally abolished) democracy as totally contrary to nature. So too with al Qaeda leaders. In fact, while democracy is berated in a sporadic fashion throughout The Al Qaeda Reader, a more formal treatise, written by Ayman Zawahiri and devoted to showing how democracy is antithetical to Islam, is also included. Another interesting parallel is how both Hitler and al-Qaeda leaders portray democracy as a tool of Zionists, or, “international Jewry.”
MK: “A wild gesticulating mass [parliament] screaming all at once in every different key…. I couldn’t help laughing,” (p. 77).
AQR: “Is there any greater mockery than withholding sharia, or superimposing another [law] over it, or putting together a piece of paper and presenting it to the so-called ‘people’s council’ — whoever agrees agrees, whoever disagrees disagrees — deeming this the only way to govern?” (p. 123).
MK: “And that is why this type of democracy has become the instrument of that race which in its inner goals must shun the light of day, now and in all ages of the future. Only the Jew can praise an institution [democracy] which is as dirty and false as he himself,” (p. 91).
AQR: “You [Americans] elect the wicked from among you, the greatest liars and most depraved, and you are enslaved to the wealthiest and most influential [among you], especially the Jews — who direct you through the lie of ‘democracy,’” (p. 210).
MK: “By rejecting the authority of the individual and replacing it by the numbers of some momentary mob, the parliamentary principle of majority rule sins against the basic aristocratic principle of nature…” (p. 81).
AQR: “Know that democracy, that is, ‘rule of the people,’ is a new religion that deifies the masses by giving them the right to legislate without being shackled down to any other authority…. [D]emocracy is a man-made infidel religion, devised to give the right to legislate to the masses — as opposed to Islam, where all legislative rights belong to Allah Most High: He has no partners,” (p. 130).
While Hitler complained about trying to reunite former German lands to reclaim the (nebulous) borders of ancient Germania, in Mein Kampf, he occasionally let slip his true desire for world conquest. The same is true with al Qaeda: while constantly bemoaning the lot of Palestine — as well as Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia et. al. — in their writings that were never meant to be read by non-Muslims, they make clear that, with time and strength, they mean to conquer the world in the name of Islam. In fact, the fundamental difference between both sets of writings is that al Qaeda’s worldview is much more assertive and wholly void of subtleties.
MK: “For as matters stand there are at the present time on this earth immense areas of unused soil, only waiting for the men to till them. But it is equally true that Nature as such has not reserved this soil for the future possession of any particular nation or race; on the contrary, this soil exists for the people which possesses the force to take it and industry to cultivate it,” (p. 134)
AQR: “In fact, Muslims are obligated to raid the lands of the infidels, occupy them, and exchange their systems of governance for an Islamic system, barring any practice that contradicts the sharia from being publicly voiced among the people, as was the case at the dawn of Islam,” (p. 51).
MK: “What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherlands, so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe [i.e., lordship of the world]” (p. 214).
AQR: “Warfare against infidels, loyalty to the believers, and jihad in the path of Allah: Such is a course of action that all who are vigilant for the triumph of Islam should vie in, giving and sacrificing in the cause of liberating the lands of the Muslims, making Islam supreme in its own land, and then spreading it around the world” (p. 113).
MK: “If land was desired in Europe, it could be obtained by and large only at the expense of Russia, and this meant that the new Reich must again set itself on the march along the road of the Teutonic Knights of old, to obtain by the German sword sod for the German plow and daily bread for the nation” (p. 140).
AQR: “Does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually? Yes. There are only three choices in Islam: either willing submission; or payment of the jizya [tribute], through physical though not spiritual submission to the authority of Islam; or the sword—for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live” (p. 42).
MK: “If our forefathers had let their decisions depend on the same pacifistic nonsense as our contemporaries, we should possess only a third of our present territory” (p. 139).
AQR: “What did the Prophet, the Companions after him, and the righteous forefathers do? Did they wage jihad against the infidels, attacking them all over the earth, in order to place them under the suzerainty of Islam in great humility and submission? Or did they send messages to discover ‘shared understandings’ between themselves and the infidels in order that they may reach an understanding whereby universal peace, security, and natural relations would spread [i.e., Hitler’s “pacifistic nonsense”] — in such a satanic manner as this?” (p. 31).
Heroism, Self-Sacrifice, and Warrior-Pride
Talk of the heroic, martyr-seeking warrior, as well as the real or mythical Teutonic and Islamic “golden eras,” meant to inspire, pervade the writings of Hitler and al Qaeda.
MK: “If the struggle for a philosophy [or religion] is not led by heroes prepared to make sacrifices, there will, in a short time, cease to be any warriors willing to die” (p. 105).
AQR: “[Muhammad said:] In order that the people [Muslims] have a livelihood, it is best that they have a man who holds on to the reigns of his horse [i.e., a “hero” or “warrior”], battling in the way of Allah. He flies upon [his horse’s] back every time he hears the call or alarm, wishing for death or expecting to be slain.” (p. 146)
MK: “As soon as the Pan-German movement [compare to “Islamist movements”] sold its soul to parliament, it attracted “parliamentarians” instead of leaders and fighters. Thus it sank to the level of the ordinary political parties of the day and lost the strength to oppose catastrophic destiny with the defiance of martyrdom. Instead of fighting, it now learned to make speeches and ‘negotiate.” (p. 105)
AQR: “Not only have the [Muslim] Brothers [the “godfather” of all Islamist movements] been idle from fulfilling their duty of [waging] jihad, but they have gone as far as to describe the infidel governments as legitimate, and have joined ranks with them in the[ir] jahilliya [pagan style of] governing, that is, democracies, elections, and parliaments. Moreover, they take advantage of the Muslim youths’ fervor by bringing them into their fold only to store them in a refrigerator. Then, they steer their onetime passionate Islamic zeal for jihad against tyranny toward conferences and elections.” (p. 116)
MK: No one can doubt that this world will some day be exposed to the severest struggles [literally, a “jihad”] for the existence of mankind. In the end, only the urge for self-preservation can conquer. Beneath it, so-called humanity, the expression of a mixture of stupidity, cowardice, and know-it-all conceit, will melt like snow in the March sun. Mankind has grown great in struggle [jihad], and only in eternal peace does it perish.” (p. 135)
AQR: “[Muhammad said:] because you have forsaken jihad, taking hold of cows’ tails and dealing in merchandise, Allah has adorned you with shame and you will never be able to shake it off yourselves until you repent to Allah and return to your original positions [as jihadists]” (p. 162).
The Perils of Debauchery, Decadence, and Passivism
Both Hitler and al Qaeda leaders constantly denounce(d) the decadence of modernity, which, as usual, is always attributed to exploitative Jews, while simultaneously warning against the volk’s or umma’s passivity.
MK: “The relation of the Jews to prostitution and, even more, to the white-slave traffic, could be studied in Vienna…. When thus for the first time I recognized the Jew as the cold-hearted, shameless, and calculating director of this revolting vice traffic in the scum of the big city, a cold shudder ran down my back” (p. 59). “Only now did I become thoroughly acquainted with the seducer of our people” (p. 61).
AQR: “[T]he Jews have taken control of your [Americans] economy, thereby taking control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life… You are a nation that permits acts of immorality…. You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools… You are a nation that practices the trade of sex in all its forms, directly and indirectly. Giant corporations and establishments are built on this [commodity], under the name of ‘art, entertainment, tourism, and freedom.’” (p. 203-204)
MK: “It seemed as though a continuous stream of poison was being driven into the outermost blood-vessels of this once heroic body [the German nation] by a mysterious power [Jews], and was inducing progressively greater paralysis of sound reason and the simple instinct of self-preservation” (p. 154).
AQR: “And the most dangerous of these groups are those that cloak themselves in the garb of Islam and its summons [i.e., “moderates” and “hypocrites”], worming their way into the umma’s beliefs, mind, and heart. They are like a lethal bacteria trying to overcome the human immune system, trying to destroy it to sow corruption in the cells of the human body.” (p. 104)
MK: “In exactly the same way, our German pacifist will accept in silence the bloodiest rape of our nation at the hands of the most vicious military powers if a change in this state of affairs can be achieved only by resistance — that is, force — for this would be contrary to the spirit of his peace society” (p. 112).
AQR: “But what does amaze us from some who claim to adhere to Islam is that when the infidels attack and ridicule their religion, openly advertising it as a “Crusade” against Islam, we suddenly find them responding by saying that they do not crave war but instead they desire coexistence, universal peace, and justice… Does this not count as a defeat? Is it not a perversion of the Islam of Muhammad?” (p. 23-24)
No to International Unity, Yes to (Re-)Armament
The predecessor of the U.N., the League of Nations, was constantly criticized by Hitler as a silly and impotent concept. In similar fashion, al Qaeda condemns the U.N. as a nefarious organization bent on subjugating Islam. Hitler and al Qaeda instead opt to re-arm the fatherland and umma, respectively.
MK: “[E]nsnared by all the enthusiastic tirades, they [Germans] thought they could entrust their future to a League of Nations? Did it not help to teach our people a miserable morality? Did it not ridicule morality and ethics as backward and petty-bourgeois, until our people finally became ‘modern’?” (p. 243).
AQR: [T]he United Nations and their humanistic articles…revolve around three principles: equality, freedom, and justice. Nor do they mean equality, freedom, and justice as was revealed by the Prophet Muhammad. No, they mean the West’s despicable notions, which we see today in America and Europe, and which have made the people like cattle. Verily, Allah described them well: “They are like cattle — indeed! They are more misguided, for they are heedless” [7:179], (p. 26). “In brief, the United Nations, through the eyes of Islam, is essentially a hegemonic organization of universal infidelity: [a true Muslim] is not permitted to join or have recourse to it. It exists in order to prevent rule by sharia and to guarantee submission to the rule of five of the greatest criminals on earth [U.S., Russia, China, France, and Britain].” (p. 102).
MK: “We must clearly realize the fact that the recovery of the lost territories is not won through solemn appeals to the Lord or through pious hopes in a League of Nations, but only by force of arms, [bold in the original]” (p. 627). “Today I am guided only by the sober realization that lost territories are not won back by sharp parliamentary big-mouths and their glibness of tongue, but by a sharp sword; in other words, by a bloody fight” (p. 629).
AQR: “[T]he U.N. is part of the Crusader kingdom, over which reigns the Caesar in Washington, who pays the salaries of Koffi Annan and his like” (p. 178). “Muslims in general and Iraqis in particular, must brace themselves for jihad against this unjust campaign, and be vigilant in acquiring ammunition and weapons. This is a prescribed duty upon them. Allah Most High said: ‘[L]et them take precautions and bear arms; for the infidels desire that you may be careless of your arms and your luggage, so that they may then turn upon you with a sudden united attack’ [4:102].” (p. 247)
* * *
There should be little doubt at this point of how similar the worldview delineated in The Al Qaeda Reader is to that of Mein Kampf’s: Jews, democracy, peace, modernity and decadence, and the notion of a peaceful “United Nations” are anathema to both. Conversely, authoritarianism, self-sacrificing heroism and martyrdom, military pride and prowess, and, above all, a zeal for world conquest — rationalized for both as a “divine mission” — are idealized.
That said, the two books still do differ, in certain respects. For starters, only one man — Hitler — authored Mein Kampf, whereas two authored The Al Qaeda Reader (bin Laden and Zawahiri). Furthermore, Mein Kampf is a complete text, whereas I played the role of editor for The Al Qaeda Reader, selecting which texts to include and how to organize them at my own discretion.
The most obvious difference, of course, is the ultimate goal of both books — Aryan supremacy for Mein Kampf, Islamic supremacy for The Al Qaeda Reader, the one a secular, the other a religious, enterprise. Still, all the key words and ideologies present in Mein Kampf have their natural counterparts inThe Al Qaeda Reader. In other words, both books present a similar paradigm. Hitler’s “Nature” and “Destiny” is appealed to in the same fashion that al Qaeda invokes “Allah.” Even Hitler’s social Darwinism, evinced by his tenacious acceptance of the “survival of the fittest” thesis finds its corollary in al Qaeda’s insistence that jihad is what “enlivens” Muslims: “The Koran declares: ‘O you who have believed! Respond to Allah and the Messenger when he calls you to that [jihad] which will give you life’ [8:24]. And a faction of the original forefathers asserted: ‘Jihad is what enlivens you.’ And the saying of the Prophet: ‘No nation ever forsook jihad without becoming degraded’” (AQR, p. 59).
Moreover, Hitler’s harangue about and to “the people” or “the race” — or simply, the volk — is conceptually no different than al Qaeda’s harangue about and to “the believers,” that is, Muslims: both are presented as the ideal of humanity, destined by Nature or Allah to rule the world. Hitler’s treatment of the “fatherland” is identical to al Qaeda’s treatment of the “umma”: both must become liberated and independent, and then expand.
Another difference between the two books is the fact that al Qaeda’s tone is actually much more brutal and direct than Hitler’s. One can almost sense the “Romantic” in Mein Kampf — a deluded Goethe lamenting the mediocrity of a world that shuns his greatness. Expansion is rationalized only in order to “till the earth” and earn the people’s “daily bread.” In contrast, al Qaeda unequivocally declares its intentions to kill infidels, kill Americans, and kill Jews anywhere and everywhere, until the earth and all its inhabitants submit to Islam. This contrast is underpinned by the fact that Mein Kampf was written in the first person and revolves around Hitler’s personal life. Not so with The Al Qaeda Reader; though delineated by two men, the worldview presented therein is hardly influenced by their personal experiences.
Which leads to the most fundamental, albeit subtle, difference between Mein Kampf and The Al Qaeda Reader: the words contained in Mein Kampf belong to one man, Hitler, who was a product of a particular age and temporal worldview. In contrast, perhaps as much as half of The Al Qaeda Reader’s words are quotations from 1) the Koran, 2) Muhammad (i.e., hadith), and 3) authoritative Islamic theologians — in other words, half of the statements of The Al Qaeda Reader do not originate with al Qaeda at all, but rather find their origin in Islam itself.
Fully aware of their lack of official religious credentials, bin Laden and Zawahiri have made it a point to ground their arguments in Islam’s most authoritative texts. Even the exegeses they rely upon are from some of the most renowned Islamic theologians. The result is that the worldview presented in The Al Qaeda Reader is not so much al Qaeda’s idiosyncratic view of things, but rather the traditional worldview of Islam. For example, al Qaeda’s insistence that Islam must one day rule the world is not of their own making: based on several Koranic verses (e.g., 2:193, 2:216, 8:39, 9:5, 9:29) and numeroushadith, which in no uncertain terms preach world conquest, the theologians and articulators of sharia law determined a long time ago that the “Abode of Islam” must always (except when militarily incapable) be at war with the “Abode of War” (e.g., the West) until the former subsumes the latter.
Similarly, al Qaeda’s condemnation of democracy is fully grounded in Islam’s unambiguous requirement that the faithful submit to sharia — that is, Allah’s — law (e.g. Koran: 3:64, 5:50, 17:9, 18:26, 33:36, 42:10), giving credence to Zawahiri’s proclamation that “whoever claims to be a ‘democratic Muslim’ or a Muslim who calls for democracy, is like one who says about himself ‘I am a Jewish Muslim,’ or ‘I am a Christian Muslim’ — the one worse than the other. He is an apostate infidel” (AQR, p. 136).
As for the Jews, much more unflattering and slanderous accusations are set against them in Islam’s most authoritative texts than in any of the above quotations from al Qaeda (e.g., Koran 2:61 and 3:112). While Hitler portrayed Jews as “no lovers of water” who could be detected “with your eyes closed” (MK, p. 57), the Koran gives an account of rebellious Jews being transformed into apes and swine (e.g., 2:65, 5:60, 7:166) — appellations still popular in parts of the Islamic world. Indeed, anyone who goes through Andrew Bostom’s upcoming tome, The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism, will confront nearly 1,000 pages of anti-Semitism straight from Islam’s most authoritative sources: the Koran, the hadith, and the fatwas and treatises of the theologians.
In the final analysis, the theological aspects of The Al Qaeda Reader make it a much more disturbing read than something like Mein Kampf. That the ideologies presented in Mein Kampf are ultimately traced back to a man, whereas many of the ideologies of The Al Qaeda Reader are traced back to Muhammad and Allah — becoming theology — is a great matter. Man-made ideologies can always be discredited and allotted to the dustbins of history. Ideologies grounded in theologies, however, are not so easily dismantled, for they are grounded in the Immutable and simply must apply — yesterday, today, and tomorrow — regardless of all outward evidence to the contrary. To reject them is to reject the commandments of God and fall into a state of infidelity.
Raymond Ibrahim is the editor of the Al-Qaeda Reader, translations of religious texts and propaganda.