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A chilling, fascinating, and nearly forgotten historical figure is resurrected in a riveting work that links the fascism of the last century with the terrorism of our own. Written with verve and extraordinary access to primary sources in several languages, Icon of Evil is the definitive account of the man who during World War II was called “the führer of the Arab world” and whose ugly legacy lives on today.
In 1921, the beneficiary of an appointment the British would live to regret, Haj Amin al-Husseini became the mufti of Jerusalem, the most eminent and influential Islamic leader in the Middle East. For years, al-Husseini fomented violence in the region against the Jews he loathed and wished to destroy. Forced out in 1937, he eventually found his way to the country whose legions he desperately wished to join: Nazi Germany.
Here, with new and disturbing details, David G. Dalin and John F. Rothmann show how al-Husseini ingratiated himself with his hero, Adolf Hitler, becoming, with his blonde hair and blue eyes, an “honorary Aryan,” while dreaming of being installed Nazi leader of the Middle East. Al-Husseini would later recruit more than 100,000 Muslims in Europe to fight in divisions of the Waffen-SS, and obstruct negotiations with the Allies that might have allowed four thousand Jewish children to escape to Palestine. Some believe that al-Husseini even inspired Hitler to implement the Final Solution. At war’s end, al-Husseini escaped indictment at Nuremberg and was harbored in France before being given a hero’s welcome in Egypt.
Icon of Evil chronicles al-Husseini’s postwar relationships with such influential Islamic figures as the radical theoretician Sayyid Qutb and Saddam Hussein’s powerful uncle, General Khairallah Talfah, and his crucial mentoring of the young Yasser Arafat. Finally, it provides compelling evidence that al-Husseini’s actions and writings serve as inspirations today to the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations pledged to destroy Israel and the United States.
Revelatory and unsettling, Icon of Evil reveals an essential character in the worst crimes of the modern era. It is an important addition to our understanding of the past, present, and future of radical Islam.
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David G. Dalin is the Taube Research Fellow in American History at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author, co-author, or editor of nine books, including Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience (with Jonathan D. Sarna), The Presidents of the United States and the Jews, and The Myth of Hitler’s Pope. His numerous articles and book reviews have appeared in American Jewish History, Commentary, First Things, The Weekly Standard, and the American Jewish Year Book.
John F. Rothmann serves on the faculty of the Fromm Institute at the University of San Francisco. He is an author, teacher, archivist, political consultant, and talk show host on the ABC-affiliated KGO 810-AM Newstalk Radio in San Francisco. He has lectured on American politics and the presidency and the Middle East throughout the United States, Canada, and Israel.
In the last century, Arab peoples have frequently fared poorly under leaders chosen by or foisted upon them, including Egypt’s Nasser, Syria’s Assad, and Iraq’s Hussein. Among the most destructive of these was Haj Amin al-Husseini, who dominated Palestinian politics for several critical decades of the twentieth century. This account of the life and career of al-Husseini is interesting and disturbing but hardly balanced. If the authors’ goal is to show the venality of their subject and the tragic consequences for Palestinians, they succeed admirably. As Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, al-Husseini maintained his personal and family powers like a gangster. His nationalist aspirations manifested themselves in the form of rabid Jew baiting that went far beyond opposition to Zionism, and the authors conclusively show how he promoted the extermination of Jews while he resided in Hitler’s Germany. However, their effort to link al-Husseini to the rise of contemporary radical Islam is unconvincing. Still, this is a useful work that helps explain the sad legacy of Palestinian political life. --Jay Freeman
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