President Eisenhower meeting Muslim leaders, including Said Ramadan (second from right) of the Muslim Brotherhood. Backed by the U.S., Ramadan helped wrest control of the Munich mosque away from local Muslims, creating what became a global base for the Brotherhood.


Q: We’re inundated with books on Islam and Europe and so on. Why another?  A: Two reasons. The simplest is because this story is important and hasn’t been told before. It starts in World War II with the Nazis deciding they could use Muslims to fight the Soviet Union. Then, after the war, the very same group of Muslims are recruited by the CIA to do the same thing–fight the Soviets by using Islam. This group is then taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, which uses Munich as a beachhead to spread into the West. This is twenty years before Afghanistan and the muhajadeen; it’s the prequel to a lot of what’s gone on since. Plus this continues right up to the present. The Muslim Brotherhood still plays a key role in setting a radicalized agenda for Islam in Europe. It’s no coincidence that the mosque in Munich is associated with many major terrorist attacks in the West, including the two attacks on the World Trade Center. As our governments try to figure out how to deal with Islam, we need to know our own history first. Q: So it’s important.  A: To be honest, my roots are in journalism and I like colorful stories. This is a really strange one with memorable characters. The people involved are so bizarre that they sound like the start of a joke: you have a brilliant Nazi linguist, a CIA man who’s a nudist and a radical Muslim on the lam… Q: I’m afraid to hear the punch line. You combed many archives to write this book. Was there an “a-ha” moment that made the drudgery worthwhile?  A: I especially remember the archives in Eisenhower presidential library in Abilene, Kansas. I got Eisenhower’s appointment book for 1953. It was this big, thick, leather-bound book–like a presidential appointment book should look. And in it, on September 23, was the name Said Ramadan, “Delegate of the Muslim Brothers.” It wasn’t a big, important meeting, but it was the culmination of early efforts by the Eisenhower administration to use Islam to fight communism. The more time I spent in those archives, the more fascinated I was. The president was a practicing Christian and saw Muslims as fellow believers. He thought faith could help immunize them against communism if they could be made aware of communism’s aetheist message. So he endorsed all sorts of schemes to use religion–his advisors called it the “Religious Factor.” Embracing the Muslim Brotherhood was part of this effort. Q: What about the CIA man’s party when he leaves Germany after having set up the relationship with the Brotherhood. You have a scene where people are singing a farewell song. How can you describe this event in such detail?  A: Thanks to the other main source for this book: interviews and the personal archives of people from that era. One of the CIA man’s friends is still alive in Munich and she had a tape recording of the farewell party. We spent an afternoon listening to it and chatting. She also showed me sketches that he made of her at nudist colonies and talked about that era in such detail it sprang alive. As much as I liked the archives, it was these people who volunteered their personal papers and stories that made it worthwhile. People knew they were involved in history and were waiting to give it to someone. Q: What about the Nazi angle? Are you saying radical Islam has Nazi roots?  A: No, I’m not equating Islamists with Nazis. Some people do but I’m trying to stay away from polemics. I’m also not dissecting problems in Islam or immigration in Europe. Instead, the big-picture idea I’m trying to convey is to show an early–and decisive–effort by the West to use Islam. These Muslims were instrumentalized by three groups: the Nazis, the Cold Warriors and the Islamists. So the story carries us from the past to the present, a microcosm of all our mistakes with Islam since the 1940s. Q: What’s wrong with engaging with religion? You think it should be kept separate from politics?  A: No. Religion is a big part of every society and politicians should engage with it, for example by talking to religious leaders and listening to believers’ concerns. But it should be done with respect. It shouldn’t be used as a tool for short-term gains–like let’s get the Muslims to declare jihad on our enemies, or let’s create Muslim champions who will speak for us around the world. Religion isn’t a puppet that you can control like that. It isn’t a cudgel These things are a bad idea and always backfire. But we’re still doing it. Q: You say in the endnotes that there’s still a lot left unexplored.  A: Right now, the CIA roadblocks anyone trying to get information on our dealings with radical Islam, claiming that releasing documents, even half a century old, would harm the national interest. It was like this too with the Nazis. The CIA only released information when Congress passed a law mandating it. I think something similar will have to happen here, too. For now, however, this book is a first step toward understanding this past.


“A stunning piece of investigative historical research…Ian Johnson’s new study is classic 1950s intrigue, complete with rehabilitated Nazis, CIA-front organizations and dueling Soviet-American ambitions.” 
The Jerusalem Post

“A probing saga of militant Islamism rooted in a Munich mosque in a cold war strategy gone wrong…. Johnson pens a lucid, closely observed account of the fraught intersection of intelligence bureaucracies with émigré political factions.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“Mosque in Munich’ is an important book about an important subject. But Ian Johnson is more than a brilliant journalist and tireless researcher; he is a writer of the first rank. His story of an extraordinary Muslim community in Germany is instructive, enlightening, and beautifully done.”
Ian Buruma, author of Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents and “Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh”. 

“I thought I knew something about blowback: the way U.S. support for anti-Soviet Muslim militants in Afghanistan two decades earlier came back to haunt us on September 11, 2001. But Ian Johnson has unearthed an extraordinary episode of similarly disastrous American judgement that begins well over half a century ago, whose full consequences we’ve not yet seen. It’s a chilling piece of history few people know, and he tells the story with a novelist’s skill.”
Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghosts and Bury the Chains. 

“Ian Johnson is one of the best foreign correspondents working today. His language skills and patient research have uncovered important stories in Asia and Europe, and in A Mosque in Munich he explores a previously unknown chapter in Cold War history…”
Peter Hessler, National Book Award finalist for Oracle Bones, correspondent for The New Yorker. 

“Ian Johnson is a natural storyteller. He leads the reader on a fascinating ride from Turkestan to Egypt, Washington, Munich and Geneva following the stories of CIA agents, former Nazis, Muslims who fled the Soviet Union, and modern day Islamists…”
Hope M. Harrison, Director, Institute for European, Russian & Eurasian Studies, George Washington University.

“The story is a complicated one — involving Cold War politics, Nazi holdovers, religious fanaticism, personal and institutional rivalries, and widespread naïveté in the West — but Ian Johnson tells it superbly. Readers are likely to feel a mix of shock, anger, and bafflement as they watch events unfold and the same mistakes being made over and over. Johnson’s vivid, absorbing narrative underscores how decisions made decades ago can still haunt us today.” 
Mark Kramer, Director, Cold War Studies Program, Harvard University. 

“It is especially timely in light of recent calls to recalibrate American and Western approaches to Islam and to radical Islam. It should be read in the corridors of power and by citizens who take a serious interest in the continuing issue of how best to address the challenge posed by political Islamism both in Europe and the Middle East.”
Jeffrey Herf, Professor of History, University of Maryland and author of The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II. 

Excerpt from the initial 
Wall Street Journal article:
Staff Reporter of
July 12, 2005

MUNICH, Germany — North of this prosperous city of engineers and auto makers is an elegant mosque with a slender minaret and a turquoise dome. A stand of pines shields it from a busy street. In a country of more than three million Muslims, it looks unremarkable, another place of prayer for Europe’s fastest-growing religion.

The Mosque’s history, however, tells a more-tumultuous story. Buried in government and private archives are hundreds of documents that trace the battle to control the Islamic Center of Munich. Never before made public, the material shows how radical Islam established one of its first and most important beachheads in the West when a group of ex-Nazi soldiers decided to build a mosque.

The soldiers’ presence in Munich was part of a nearly forgotten subplot to World War II: the decision by tens of thousands of Muslims in the Soviet Red Army to switch sides and fight for Hitler. After the war, thousands sought refuge in West Germany, building one of the largest Muslim communities in 1950s Europe. When the Cold War heated up, they were a coveted prize for their language skills and contacts back in the Soviet Union. For more than a decade, U.S., West German, Soviet and British intelligence agencies vied for control of them in the new battle of democracy versus communism.

Yet the victor wasn’t any of these Cold War combatants. Instead, it was a movement with an equally powerful ideology: the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1920s Egypt as a social-reform movement, the Brotherhood became the fountainhead of political Islam, which calls for the Muslim religion to dominate all aspects of life. A powerful force for political change throughout the Muslim world, the Brotherhood also inspired some of the deadliest terrorist movements of the past quarter century, including Hamas and al Qaeda.

The story of how the Brotherhood exported its creed to the heart of Europe highlights a recurring error by Western democracies. For decades, countries have tried to cut deals with political Islam — backing it in order to defeat another enemy, especially communism. Most famously, the U.S. and its allies built up mujahadeen holy warriors in 1980s Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union — paving the way for the rise of Osama bin Laden, who quickly turned on his U.S. allies in the 1990s.

Munich was a momentous early example of this dubious strategy. Documents and interviews show how the Muslim Brotherhood formed a working arrangement with U.S. intelligence organizations, outmaneuvering German agencies for control of the former Nazi soldiers and their mosque. But the U.S. lost its hold on the movement, and in short order conservative, arch-Catholic Bavaria had become host to a center of radical Islam.

Read More on the Wall Street Journal website

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis das ist wirklich iste natus.

    Send me a copy