The text printed here is the editor’s preface in Arabic in an issue of the Beirut-based leftist journal Tali‘a that was dedicated to the Conference for Combatting Fascism held in May 1939 in Beirut.
Led by leftists, including communists, the conference was a well-publicized and well-attended call for action against Nazism and Fascism. It affirmed an alliance, against Nazi Germany (and Fascist Italy) with France, the Mandate occupier of Lebanon and Syria. At the same time, it insisted on the pressing need for political progress. Most important was the ratification by the French parliament, of the 1936 Franco-Syrian and Franco-Lebanese agreements that, like the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi Agreement, would have ended the Mandate and granted Lebanon and Syria far-reaching sovereignty while preserving key French strategic interests. (Ratification never occurred.) In August 1939, the Soviet-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact forced communists to adjust their language also in the French Mandates. Here and in other Arab countries like Palestine and Egypt, a majority of people whose written records we possess and perhaps also many other inhabitants, felt caution if not aversion towards Nazi Germany and Fascism Italy. They disliked how those two states organized their societies; were concerned about those states’ territorial ends in the Middle East (which, however, were in the late 1930s actual only in Italy’s case); and feared especially Nazi racism for potentially targeting them, like the Jews, as “Semites,” as Israel Gershoni’s edited volume Arab Responses to Fascism and Nazism: Attraction and Repulsion (2014) and Götz Nordbruch’s Nazism in Syria and Lebanon (2009) show.
At the same time, a considerable minority drew open inspiration from Nazi (and other European extreme rightwing) authoritarianism: its cult of a strong leaders, its emphasis on youth as national(ist) revivers, and its style and organizational forms, including salutes, uniforms, marches, and street brawls. Moreover, a small minority from the later 1930s sought to create a political-military alliance with Germany. Until 1939, Germany prevaricated, loath to provoke Britain, the principal power in the interwar Middle East. Thereafter, it did work with colonized nationalists who, as David Motadel’s “The Global Authoritarian Moment” (2019) has shown, were willing to work with Berlin to become independent. Among them were some Arabs like Hajj Amin al-Husseini (1895-1974), an exiled Palestinian leader whose wartime deeds and open anti-Semitism soon was, in the eyes of many, proof that Arabs in general had supported the Nazis.