You think Hitler is great? Think again!

Why is Hitler held to such a high esteem in the Middle East? (Florian Neuhof/Al Arabiya English)

It’s fair to say that the Hitler cult is a bit passé in Germany these days. We are well versed in the atrocities committed in his name, and only the racist fringe still endorses his ideology.

It was thus a surprise to find out that much of the world thinks differently, and that the murderous dictator is held in high esteem in the Middle East in particular.

I first cottoned on to that fact when I stumbled upon an edition of Adolf Hitler’s infamous autobiography Mein Kampf in a bookshop in Dubai. At that stage, it was impossible to buy newly printed editions of the book in Germany, since the state held the publishing rights and simply refused to print it. (With the expiration of these rights, things have since changed, and a heavily edited version can now be purchased.)

But it was not until after I had left the expat-heavy, apolitical bubble of the UAE that I truly realized how pronounced the reverence for the erstwhile German leader in the region is. I have yet to speak to anyone in the Middle East who thinks badly of the genocidal Führer, who is responsible for the extermination of six million Jews and a World War that caused the death of twenty million Russians alone.

Saddam’s iron fist

Instead, he is commonly praised as a strong leader, something that seems to resonate strongly with the political outlook in the region. That German democracy was amongst his first victims seems of little concern, strongmen are more in demand than ever since the chaos and bloodshed that followed the Arab Spring. In Iraq, many yearn for the stability brought about by Saddam’s iron fist.

Antisemitism also plays a part, Israel has not been popular with its neighbors since its founding. Yet even the pro-Israel Kurds are prone to Hitlerism, and copies of Mein Kampf are not difficult to get hold of in Erbil and Sulimaniyah.

It seems that much is down to a knowledge deficit. Hitler is perceived as a strong and resolute leader in the Middle East, but are people aware of human and material costs of the Second World War? Germany alone suffered over seven million war dead, its cities were obliterated and the country lost a third of its territory after the unconditional surrender of its armed forced. Hardly a sign of success. To reject the State of Israel is one thing, but would anyone who has studied the gruesome, industrialized killing of millions of human beings during the Holocaust still look at Hitler in admiration?

Reading up on history

For the refugees streaming into Germany from war-torn Syria and Iraq, reading up on the history of their host country is advisable. Any show of admiration for the man who reduced much of Europe to rubble will likely be met with furrowed eyebrows; the only natives sharing such sentiments are the ones who beat up refugees and torch asylum centers.

A discerning look at the problems facing the Middle East today throws up a troubling parallel to Germany’s Nazi past. As during the Third Reich, intolerance has made peaceful coexistence nearly impossible. At present, Muslims are murdering each other over minor divergences in their beliefs, while Christians and Muslims may never see eye to eye again in the region. ISIS’s twisted hatred of anyone who isn’t tailor made for its world view closely resembles the Nazis’ extremist totalitarianism.

For Middle East to prosper, it needs to be at peace. For that to be possible, people need to overcome their prejudices and accept their differences. And that, to put it mildly, is not what Herr Hitler was known for.

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