“A MICROCOSM OF ALL OUR MISTAKES WITH ISLAM”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&A WITH IAN JOHNSON
PRAISE FOR A MOSQUE IN MUNICH
“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.”
“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.
HOW A MOSQUE FOR EX-NAZIS BECAME CENTER OF RADICAL ISLAM DOCUMENTS REVEAL TRIUMPH BY MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN POSTWAR MUNICH
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.