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.