Most people have some knowledge of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey beginning in 1915 during World War I. Westerners believe the mass killings was an ethnic conflict between "Turks" and "Armenians." However, the Muslim Turkish officials who declared a jihad to exterminate their entire population of Christians were motived by religion, not ethnicity. Nearly two million Christians were murdered by way of deportation in railway cattle wagons, mobile killing squads, mass shootings, and starvation in concentration camps. Why did Muslim Turks call a jihad for the mass murder of their Christian countrymen?
Islam's Relationship with Judaism and Christianity
From the inception of Islam in the 6th century, the relationship between Islam and the Jewish and Christian communities under its control was codified in Islamic law and practice. As Islam burst forth from Arabia in 600 CE, millions were conquered throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe. The indigenous populations were given a choice of conversion to Islam or death, with one exception: the "Dhimmi." Dhimmi were Jews and Christians, also dubbed "People of the Book," who were allowed to keep their original faith and live under Islamic society (the Ummah) in a tolerated, inferior status. The status of Jews and Christians under Islam was one of natural inequality, based on Divine beliefs, because Jews and Christians failed to recognize Muhammad as the final messenger of God. To reinforce their inferiority, Jews and Christians were made to pay special taxes (jizyah), endure numerous restrictions, and required to remain loyal to the Islamic authorities. The "Dhimmi system" would be practiced over an expanse of continents for over a thousand years. The implementation and harshness, or the level of tolerance for Dhimmi under Islam, varied greatly depending on the time, place, and ruler.
Islamic rule recognizing a place for other religions, albeit an inferior one, represented a considerable advance in the Medieval era. The very idea of coexistence, even in a state of inequality, though oppressive by modern standards, was tolerant by Medieval standards. However, in Islamic history, the genocide of Dhimmi groups was justified the circumstance of treason, as described in the Koran. During the life of the Prophet Muhammad, Jewish tribes of Medina communicated with the pagan Meccans as they tried to remove Muhammad from Medina. Though they did not help the Meccans, communication itself was deemed to be treason against the Ummah. The punishment was mass execution of the Jewish tribes. Six hundred Jewish men were put to death, their women and children taken into slavery.
The Armenian Genocide and The Holocaust
During WWI, after suffering generations of persecution under Islamic rule, Armenian Christians formed militia groups to defend their communities. Some militia groups collaborated with Turkey's enemies, the British and the Russians, in hopes of achieving autonomy if Turkey were defeated in the war. The treasonous behavior by the Armenian Christians was cited as justification by the Muslim Turkish government in the declaration of the jihad that later became known as the Armenian Genocide.
Serving in the Turkish army in World War I was a young Muslim officer from Jerusalem, Amin Al-Husseini. He was stationed in Smyrna and participated first-hand in the massacres of Armenian Christians. Amin Al-Husseini was the scion of a family of Jerusalem notables tracing their family lineage to the Prophet Muhammad. A few years later, the British High Commissioner for Palestine appointed Husseini the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and he became the unquestioned leader of Palestinian Arabs. In December 1931, Husseini convened the first World Islamic Congress in Jerusalem. It was attended by 130 Muslim leaders from 22 Muslim countries. Husseini's purpose was to create an Islamic policy toward proposed Jewish statehood by examining the extensive Jewish elements in the Koran and Islamic history. The conference concluded that the Islamic position toward a Jewish state should be one of total rejection. A Jewish state was incompatible with Islam -- Jews were inferior to Muslims and could not possibly have a state. Husseini also established an Islamic theological justification for mass executions, The Ummah was ordained by God, so anyone opposing the Ummah was opposing God, and thus was the ultimate evil, the devil. Physical elimination was justified against Satan. With these extreme interpretations of the Koran and Islamic history, Husseini set the Islamic world on a path of radicalism and genocidal attitudes toward Jews and Christians that continues to this day. Husseini could have drawn from centuries of experiences across continents reflecting more tolerant practices and good relations between Islam and minority Dhimmi communities. He also ignored sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad demanding protection of minorities. According to a Hadith, the Prophet once said:
Allah would torment those who torment people in the world; Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between him and Allah; Whoever will kill a Dhimmi will not smell the fragrance of paradise;
Husseini began close contact with the Nazis after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.
Husseini meeting with Hitler
The Nazis quickly appointed Husseini as the head of their Arabic-language propaganda network. Husseini organized riots against Jews in Palestine, his violent actions becoming so extreme that he was forced to flee the country to Germany to avoid being arrested by the British. However, Husseini's riots secured a change in British policy to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine, condemning thousands of Jews to the burgeoning Nazi extermination program. In 1937, Husseini went to work for the Nazis as a propagandist and a recruiter of Muslim volunteers for the German armed forces, organizing and recruiting Bosnian and Albanian Muslims into several divisions of the Waffen SS. These divisions participated in the killing of Jews in Croatia and Hungary. While speaking on Radio Berlin, Husseini said, "Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion… God is with you."
On November 28, 1941, Husseini met with Hitler and asked him to declare that "Germany and Italy recognize the right of the Arab countries to solve the question of the Jewish elements… as the Jewish question was solved in Germany and Italy." In the aftermath of Husseini's meeting with Hitler, the very next day, Hitler ordered the Wannsee Conference to be held to prepare the 'final solution of the Jewish question.' At the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946, Adolf Eichmann's deputy Dieter Wisliceny testified as to the complicity of Husseini in the Holocaust:
The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan... He was one of Eichmann's best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures. I heard him say, accompanied by Eichmann, he had visited incognito the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Not only did Husseini contribute to the decision to carry out an 'Armenian Genocide' against the Jews of Europe, he planned to extend the Holocaust to the Jews of the Middle East after the Nazis won the war. In the Husseini's memoirs he wrote:
Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem in a manner befitting our national and racial aspirations and according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews. The answer I got was: 'The Jews are yours.'
Husseini's master plan was to establish in Palestine crematoriums like Auschwitz, into which would be brought the Jews of Palestine, and the Jews of Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and North Africa, in order to slaughter them with the methods of the SS who operated in the death camps in Europe.
Today's Radical Islamist movement
Following World War II, Al-Husseini received a hero's welcome in Egypt where, in 1946, Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, called Husseini a "hero who challenged an empire and fought Zionism with the help of Hitler and Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin Al-Husseini will continue the struggle." The Muslim Brotherhood, like Husseini, asserted Islam was an inherently anti-Jewish and anti-Christian religion, and that hatred of the "People of the Book" part of classic texts of the Koran and Islamic history. The Muslim Brotherhood would spawn radical Islamist groups worldwide, including Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and ISIS, as Husseini's genocidal agenda against Jews and Christians permeated the modern era.
From its inception, the political community of Islam, known as the Ummah, was a fusion of politics and religion. The Prophet Mohammed founded and presided over an Islamic government as Prophet and head of a state, and founded an empire whose followers understood dominance over non-believers was part of divine affirmation. However, genocide was not part of Islamic teachings or law, and was practiced only sparingly in history as an extreme reaction to perceived disloyalty by Dhimmi in times of war. Husseini and his early 20th-century Muslim scholars could just as easily have drawn from examples of tolerance in Islam, rather than the most extreme examples to map the future.
In contrast to Barack Obama, who stoked the flames of extremism in his 2008 Cairo speech, President Trump forcefully rejected it as he brought together the leaders of 55 Muslim countries in Saudi Arabia. For the first time, a group of Muslim leaders deemed the modern genocidal Islamist movement as illegitimate and having no place in Islam nor the modern world as Saudi Arabia's King Salman declared, "we have to stand united to fight the forces of evil and extremism… in compliance with the orders of our true Islamic religion. Islam was and will remain the religion of mercy, tolerance and coexistence. …our way to achieve purposes of our religion and win the paradise is to spread the tolerant values of Islam based on peace, moderation and prevention of destruction."