A MOSQUE IN MUNICH is not an easy book to finish, but it is an important one.
While author Ian Johnson never reveals the basis of his interest in this subject, nor the foundation of his obvious expertise, he shares a significant cautionary tale. Any person who finds the text too disturbing to consider is tantamount to that famous ostrich burying its head in the sand.
Carefully, patiently, Johnson leads his readers through the history of Muslim activism in the 20th Century.
The post-Revolutionary Soviets abused their sizeable Muslim minority, setting the way for Soviet Muslims to be lured into the anti-Soviet movement that existed in Nazi Germany.
After World War II ended, it was this same group of Muslims who did not want to be returned by the Allies to their counterparts in the Soviet Union where, almost certainly, they would have been executed as traitors.
By this point, the unofficial "cold war" between the Americans and Soviets had begun. The Americans, in the form of the precursor organization of the CIA, decided to use these former Nazi soldiers -- Nazi soldiers who had begun as Muslim residents of the Soviet Union -- in the same way that the Nazis had attempted to use them, to infiltrate the Communist state.
Of course, no foreign power used these Muslims. They always had their own agenda to further the cause of Islam in ways that now have become well-known in the contemporary world. They willingly accepted funding from Western powers but they had no interest in, or loyalty to, the goals of the country or countries funding them. This probably is equally true of the countries which provided the funding: Reciprocally, these were self-serving relationships.
All of this intrigue culminates in post-War (World War II) Munich. A former German Nazi formulates a plan to build a Mosque in order to organize and control his former Muslim colleagues in the attempt to challenge the Soviets, as well as to ingratiate himself with the American victors.
It was during the early years of the Cold War when the Americans took over this operation, at first working with that former Nazi. Two adages present themselves here: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" and "Politics makes strange bedfellows."
Today, much of Muslim activism comes out of this Mosque in Munich, which took decades to be built.
The CIA also discovered -- too late! -- that its Muslim taskforce did not share its own goals. It was funding by the Western powers which enpowered the large-scale and organized movement of what would become the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which is a mainstay of this "Mosque in Munich."
The Brotherhood is widely accepted to be antagonistic toward the West in the most deadly manner; it is a catalyzing force in encouraging Islamic terrorists. (Apparently, they prefer the term "Islamist" rather than "Islamic," distinguishing between the two.)
The Soviets, the Nazis, and the non-Soviet Allied powers, in turn, may have thought that they were controlling these people, but the Muslims never were their puppets. It is impossible to read Johnson's book without wondering how events would have transpired without the backing and manipulation of the groups which deluded themselves into thinking that they were in charge.
A MOSQUE IN MUNICH is an important work and Ian Johnson is to be complimented.
For me, this book was a very slow read; it's not that the book is boring because it most assuredly is not boring. The book is, however, very detailed in its descriptions of people, places and events. It describes in great detail the development of Islam in Europe and the important place the Mosque in Munich had as a center of this development.
After the "Contents" page, one encounters a two page "Cast of Characters" section that identifies the persons to be encountered in the book divided into four groups, "The Main Actors, The Americans, The Germans, and The Muslim Brotherhood." At first I wondered why the author placed that information right at the beginning of the book; after reading the first few chapters I found myself grateful to the author for his thoughtfulness.
The level of detail I found in this book was intimidating and very humbling; most of the information presented was entirely new to me, but concerned things that have profoundly affected the United States since the late 1930's and continue to influence world events even now.
This book traces the development of the Muslim influence in Europe from the Second World War, and the establishment, growth and eventual dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in what is now called the European Union.
The creation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt by Sheikh al-Banna is described along with the world view espoused by the group. The author writes on pages 109-110: "Banna subscribed to the Koran's message that there is no division between state and religion, which was expressed in the group's most famous slogan: THE KORAN IS OUR CONSTITUTION. JIHAD IS OUR WAY. MARTYDOM IS OUR DESIRE. In one tract, he wrote, "If someone should say to you `This is politics!' say: `This is Islam and we do not recognize such divisions.'" In another he said, "O ye Brethren! Tell me, if Islam is something else than politics, society, economy, law, and culture, what is it then? Is it only empty acts of prostration, devoid of a pulsating heart?"
Again on page 201 the author writes: "Europe, once outside the Muslim world, became central to its future. And the Brotherhood, after years of laborious organizational work, was suddenly poised to lead it."
The conquest of Europe this time was to be demographic and ideological, the Europe of old which had been "Dar al-Harb, or House of Infidels" (elsewhere translated as "the abode of war") was becoming "Dar al-Islam, or House of Islam." On page 206 the author writes: "Whether through luck or brilliant foresight, the Brotherhood was already firmly planted in the West just as this historical transformation was taking place."
This book is a serious effort to explain the origins, development, methodology, strategies, and tactics of the coming Muslim domination of Europe. It is reasonable to assume that the United States is being subjected to that same process, although we are not so far along in our transition from Dar al-Harb to Dar al-Islam.
For those who wonder why the European Union seems to be in the process of becoming Eurostan, or what is going on today between the Western Nations and Islam; this book provides many answers. It is at the same time challenging yet very rewarding to read; I am very glad I read it!
This book presents a most interesting view into the beginnings of the Islamist movement in West Germany after WWII. It describes the beginning of the Islamist movement as it relates to the Muslim soldiers placed into special NAZI units during the war, with an emphasis upon the flowering and blooming of coordinated Musilm groups in Germany (particularly Munich) after hostilities ceased.
There is a very good description of the the beginning of an Islamic movement in Munich, related to the massive influx of all types of refugees and Displaced Persons after wars end. Explored are the NAZI connections to the stoking of the Muslim flame and how the Germans used entire Muslim units during the war to fight the Russians,and later, to fight the propaganda war against the Communists. After the war, several high-ranking NAZI's were in positions of power in the government of West Germany, now fighting a different ideological war - the Cold War. The author emphasizes the conflicting enterprises supported by the US (CIA) and West Germany after the war to further expand their ranks to be used in the propaganda battles of which the Cold War was comprised.
An unmentioned or briefly dwelt-upon subject in past books, the author summons a prodigious complexity of facts (some only recently made available by the Freedom of Information Act) in the most compelling possible manner. This allows for the understanding of just how certain Islamic groups began their rise to power, with Germany and the US unwittingly birthing a new brand of fundamentalism. Most of the story hinges upon the building of the first mosque in Munich and the international cast contributing both financially and ideologically to the rise of this one building,which represents the Muslim countries as a whole. A superb cast of characters is summoned to aid in the understanding of the complexities arising from Muslim-CIA and W. German manipulations of Muslim leaders of the time, all to battle Communism. Looking back, it makes one shudder to realize that these various machinations inevitably led to some of the most monstrous occurrences of modern times (911, Iraqi War, Afghan War, etc.)
This book is highly recommended as a near textbook revelation of the origins of fanatical, Islamic fundamentalism. It is written in a rather stark and factual manner, which renders forth information in a most stark and ominous manner. Highly Recommended!
Johnson begins his story by describing the impetus for his research and writing: the discovery that one of the world's largest mosques was located in Munich. How? And...why?
He did a lot of research with recently declassified material to get at the first question: how did this happen? In that sense, the book is a great up-close look at the Cold War from a new and relatively unexplored angle. Johnson spends much of the first half of the book laying out the players on both the US and Soviet intelligence teams who worked - largely through an evolving strategy of creating NGOs - to recruit and retain Muslim "free agents" who hailed from former Soviet republics and had been turned against the USSR during the war by the Nazis.
He spends a lot of time on the propaganda efforts and the men who were crafting them. The critical insight comes about 60 pages in when Johnson notes that US success with this progam inside the USSR was limited by the Nazi taint that so many of these Caucasian and Central Asian former Soviets were under. The result: the US went looking for "more credible Muslims among radical groups."
This gave rise to American involvement with groups throughout Europe in the 60s and 70s, and was - in many ways - the beginning of US movement toward surreptitious support of radical groups, from the ouster of the Shah to support of the mujahideen in the Soviet-Afghan War. The putative payoff is the link to the 9/11 hijackers and Al Qaeda, but Johnson never really makes a strong connection to complete that arc.
The book is a very good, nitty-gritty, post-WWII Cold War examination that lives in the same milieu as The Good German and the Good Shepherd in film. I just don't think it ever delivers on making the connection to today's wars. Further, it is a chronicle and not a policy commentary. Aside from that observation about American intelligence strategy earlier, there are few moments where the reader is treated to the realization turnign point moments in American foreign policy.
I have to echo the many other reviewers that found this book a bit slow to read and cumbersome with details, but it is necessary to weave the historical premise together in order for the reader to understand what the author is revealing.
This book is a fascinating look at history and highlights how very different the ideals of a free people are to that of the Muslim Brotherhood where the belief that the Koran is the Constitution serves as a motto. This book will absolutely blow your mind and you will wonder how this information was never compiled in the past.
This was very tough investigative work for the author and I think he did an amazing job of putting it all together, helping the reader to understand who the "players" in the book are as well as the long term ramifications of the turn of historical events.
This is the type of book that you will need to set aside time when you are able to focus, maybe even highlight or take notes in the margin, and read through without putting down for more than a day or two, otherwise you'll have to go back to refresh your memory of who the characters are and how they are related.
on March 13, 2016
I forced myself to read 3/4 of the book. It started with a good story but the author repeated himself over and over. The story really didn't go anywhere and flipped back and forth in time. It was hard to keep up only to realized you had read about the same event in the previous chapter. Too much work, not enjoyable.
on November 23, 2010
Accidently, Ian Johnson, a journalist of the Wall Street Journal, stumbled across an odd building in Munich, a rather unimpressive mosque that was referred to him by Muslim Brothers as one of the most important mosques in the world. Johnson was curious, he wanted to know why. So he started his research, luckily being able to look through archives not accessible to the public before.
First he describes the Western inner-imperialistic usage of Islam by the German Empire's alliance with Turkey during WWI: A German diplomat convinced the Ottoman caliph to declare holy war against the allied powers, the first modern use of jihad. One of the main architects of this strategy was Professor Oskar Niedermayer, who later, in Nazi times, headed the Berlin Humboldt-University's Institute of Military Geography and Politics. Surprisingly, not Niedermayer, but his political rival in the field of Orientalism/Turkology, Gerhard von Mende, picked up this strategy against the Soviet Union in the time of the Weimar Republic and continued it during WWII on behalf of the Nazis, when he joined the Ostministerium's Department for the East (Orient). He assembled Soviet exiles around him who had formerly formed an Anti-Soviet group called Prometheus. These men included Mikhail Kedia of Georgia, Ali Kantemir of Turkestan, and Veli Kayum also from Central Asia. Von Mende's group directed Islamic anti-Soviet propaganda towards the Muslim areas of the Soviet Union and towards the captured Soviet soldiers from the predominantly muslim Soviet republics. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Hussaini, endorsed Gerd von Mende's work...
After WWII, von Mende dropped his virulent anti-Semitic rhetoric, but kept up his Anti-Soviet stance. He formed a private organization that closely worked together with German intelligence, trying to save and control the Muslim exiles from the Soviet Union. The CIA, the newly formed spy agency, founded Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe. The former institution was directed directly towards the Soviet Union, the latter towards the East European countries. The von Mende group and the CIA tried to achieve the same objectives: The use of Moslems against the communist enemy. Though allies against the common foe, both groups struggled to dominate the Muslim exile community coming mostly from the Soviet Union now residing in Western Germany.
What Oskar Niedermayer and Gerd von Mende designed for the Germans was done by President Eisenhower's chief psychological warfare strategist, Edward P. Lilly. Lilly drew up a memorandum called "The Religious Factor". President Eisenhower was in favour of doing just that, he wanted to stress the "holy war" aspect against communism. However, not Lilly put the "religious factor" into practice, this task remained to be done by a rather dubious organization called American Committee for Liberation (Amcomlib), which ran Radio Liberty in Munich and was secretly financed by the CIA. The CIA agent Robert H. Dreher was the main protagonist to add the religious factor, in this case Islam, into the daily broadcasting of Radio Liberty.
In order to keep the Muslim anticommunist community happy Gerd von Mende developed the idea of providing his Muslim friends with a place for worship, a mosque. Dreher and von Mende practically relied on the same people for their anti-Soviet and pro-Muslim activities. In order to outsmart von Mende Dreher aligned himself with Said Ramadan, son of Hassan al Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood), a leading ideologist of the Muslim Brotherhood, who then practically took over the mosque project, using the financing by the CIA.
The building of the mosque took years due to internal and external intrigues. Even the Soviets tried to influence the project. When it finally was completed neither the CIA nor the German intelligence community controlled it anymore, The Muslim Brotherhood did. This revolutionary Islamist group used this mosque as basis for the infiltration of Western Europe, a form of a quiet and smooth jihad. Out of Munich the Muslim Brothers, outlawed in their place of origin, Egypt, managed to establish dependencies in most western European states. Johnson states that Ramadan worked to achieve an Islamic world revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood, with new funding by Saudi money, is still busy promoting this revolution.
Today, the mosque in Munich lost its central role, the leadership for Europe has its headquarter now in Great Britain. The major participants in the struggle around the mosque in Munich, Gerd von Mende, Robert H. Dreher, and Said Ramadan are all dead by now, but their creation, the European section of the Muslim Brotherhood, thrives, and Ramadan's sons, Hani (Imam and director of the Islamic Centre of Geneva) and Tariq (President of the Euro-Muslim Network), are busy to continue their father's and their grandfather's work. Hani plays the radical part, he is for example in favour of stoning the unfortunate Iranian woman Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whereas Tariq plays the more intellectual part trying to convince the European and US audience that Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance.
Johnson believes that the Brotherhood only supports terrorism in certain cases, against Israel for example, but he is convinced that this group creates a mental precondition for terrorism. Paradoxically Western governments don't fight the Brothers, instead they believe they can use this anti-democratic, anti-Western faction of Islam now to fight terrorism and combat extremism. Obviously Johnson does not share this view. For more details how the quiet jihad works I definitely recommend reading this book. Furthermore it shows that the religious factor might work temporarily but it will backfire eventually, as the case of the mosque in Munich, and, better known to the world, the case of Afghanistan has shown without a doubt. Western democracies should be warned, but obviously they didn't learn: Obama appointed Mazen Asbahi as his Muslim outreach coordinator, although this man has had intensive contacts with the Brotherhood and he was even head of the Muslim Student Association, which was founded by people related to the Munich mosque. As an example for Germany Johnson refers to the prominent anthropologist Werner Schiffauer, who has close ties to the Brotherhood and its Turkish version, Mili Görüs. Schiffauer is a darling of German media and is frequently taken as a reference source for everything related to Islam.
The premise of this book seemed quite intriguing as it involves the oft-mentioned Muslim Brotherhood and the connections between this group (still a powerful and growing influence) and the Nazis and then later the US CIA. It is certainly an enlightening book about some rather unknown history.
First off, the book recounts the connections between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazi regime. Of course, both had mutual interests in assuming power of the Middle East and away from the Ottoman Turks and then the British overseers. I also learned of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and his broadcasts to Arab lands during WWII. Even more fascinating were the stories of Tatars and Turcomans from Central Asia who fought with the Nazis in an effort to rid these lands of Soviet domination. Who knew? Disturbingly, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was vehemently anti-Jewish and Hitler himself met with the Grand Mufti, who willingly supported the Nazi cause in Europe vis-a-vis the so-called "Final Solution."
As post-war Germany became the focal point for anti-Soviet activity and propaganda, the American CIA co-opted these expatriate individuals who resided in Munich and throughout Germany to aid in the Cold War effort against the Soviet Union. Thus, aanother0 fascinating aspect of how another part of the dismantled Nazi regime became useful in aiding the US Cold War effort (just as Werner Von Braun and other scientists aided in missile flights) effort is revealed. Except, these efforts were concentrated in Central Asia and the Middle East, typically beyond the periphery of Western press. And yet, here are accounts of President Eisenhower meeting with people mentioned in this book as the Middle East and Central Asia were of interest to the US government.
Naturally, the Americans (and West Germans) believed they were co-opting the Muslim population into aiding the efforts against the Soviet Union and bringing about the end of the Cold War. To many in this community, however, the West was being co-opted into spreading the influence of Islam into Europe and beyond. Coupled with the large influx of Anatolian Turks into Germany, these efforts may still be successful in influencing European society in unintended ways.
And good intentions and their unintended consequences is really the theme of this book, as the mosque built in Munich becomes a focal point of the Muslim community that, at first, is grateful for German hospitality and is part of simple recognition of Muslin interests, and then, later, as an unknowing host for more nefarious activities such as aiding in the formation of Al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.
Ian Johnson has done an invaluable service in telling this history, which is a foundation for a much larger and still unfolding narrative which we are living through today. Visit any large European city from Munich and Berlin to Rotterdam, Amsterdam or London and you can certainly see how perhaps figuring out who co-opted whom is still a vital question to ask.
I also appreciate how the author revives stories from generally unknown sources. Because of this book, I have also explored some narratives from some of the people mentioned in this book because I find the stories fascinating and because Central Asia has been an ignored part of 20th Century history for too long. Survivor from an Unknown War: The Life of Isakjan Narzikul
I recommend reading this book. I also found that early chapters of another book I just read also were helpful in understanding the ignored story of the connections between the Muslim Brotherhood, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis. Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978
This illuminates an important but previously unexplored corner of the Cold War: How efforts to use émigré Central Asian Muslims against the Soviet Union led to unwitting Western support for Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood. The book is a solid entry on bookshelves dedicated either to that, or to "blowback" - how CIA spy games came back to bite the Free World in the butt decades later.
Author Ian Johnson does a workmanlike job laying out the history and key figures in it. Gerhard von Mende, during the war charged with recruiting Soviet Muslim POWS to the Nazi side to fight against their Russian oppressors, kept doing the same thing after the war for the new West German government.
The CIA supported such efforts but the two putative allies worked at cross purposes for years, with the West Germans and Von Mende preferring Russian POW Muslims turned and recruited during the war, while the CIA starts sponsoring younger students from Muslim lands.
The U.S. efforts by the 1950s are less directed at agitating Muslim minorities in the USSR, and more about bolstering Western influence with Muslims in the developing world. The Germans focus more on the Soviet Communists, looking to reunite someday with East Germany. Their Muslims, though, are uninspirational, aging, uneducated former soldiers. This comes off as a turf struggle between two allies who should have known better, fought out largely over control of a mosque to be built as a propaganda effort in Munich.
The U.S. wins the initial battle. But its student faction, while anti-Communist, turns out not to be interested in helping the U.S. fight the Cold War. Led by Said Ramadan, the charismatic son-in-law of the Muslim Brotherhood's founder, they're interested in jihad - in struggling against unsympathetic Middle Eastern governments that have imprisoned or exiled people like Ramadan, and in spreading Islamism, a philosophy incompatible with pluralistic democracy, throughout the West. The U.S. and Germany both lose interest in this effort as the 1960s become the 1970s, but Saudi money helps build a lavish Islamic Center in Munich - one of the first mosques of any sort in Germany, one that later becomes a focal point for worldwide jihad. Johnson shows how its founders were less interested in actually serving the Muslims of the area - most of whom were formally blocked from center leadership - and more so in promoting Islamism.
The struggle makes strange bedfellows. A half-century ago, the Muslim Brotherhood is seen by the U.S. as the horse to back in the Middle East. Its activists eschew traditional dress and present themselves as modern, can-do types open to Western education and seeking to modernize their societies. They work effectively among the people, addressing social concerns no one else attends to. And they hate the irreligious Communists. The CIA sees them as the type of "third force" it often tries to locate and back: Factions opposed to both Communism and colonialism, with a forward-looking cast to them. In other words, the players who seem to us most like us.
But they have their own issues. They weren't really interested in open, modern society. They want Western technology, but that's it. Their Western dress cloaks fanaticism, one seeking to reinstitute the Caliphate and sharia law, one open to no plurality, one brooking no accommodation with other groups. They are rabid nationalists, and Ramadan has ties way too close with the Nazi-ally Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
Johnson is candid in saying he can't tie the mosque directly to the rise of the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, or to 9/11 - but that evidence of that might very well reside in still-classified CIA files. And of Ramadan's successor Ghaleb Himmat he writes:
"Over the next twenty-five years, Himmat would make good use of this cohesion, leading the Islamic Center of Munich down an adventurous path. It would eventually grow into a national organization send shoots across the Atlantic, and lay the cornerstone for European organizations that endure today, ensuring that the Brotherhood's version of Islam would come to be the most influential one in the West. The mosque would be bombed and burned; it would become a focal point for jihad, recruiting young Muslims to fight in Bosnia. Men later convicted of terrorism would seek it out as their mosque of choice, and Himmat himself would one day be forced to resign from its leadership, when he was accused of financing Al Qaeda."
This is actually a worse instance of blowback than, say, the postwar use of former Nazis against the Communists, later a major embarrassment for the West. In that case, the ex-Nazis knew the turf in places where the U.S. had no assets and they were anti-Communist. They failed to produce big intelligence successes, but their failures - instant capture and killing of many agents parachuted into Eastern Europe early in the Cold War, for one - may be attributable as much to betrayal by Kim Philby as to any inherent flaw in the operation's conception.
But in the case of the Munich Mosque, as later in Afghanistan, we supported people we are now at war with. At the time, the Cold War was the priority, as it should have been. Eisenhower was optimistic in the 1950s that Christians in the West and Muslims in the East had a common enemy in atheistic Communism. But this bridge beween East and West was never more solid than one of the U.S. Army's pontoon bridges over the Rhine in 1945 - useful for the moment, but shaky and temporary at best.
Later, this bridge would collapse. And it is not just the spooks of Allen Dulles' time who stumble here. Johnson shows that even in the last decade, American and European politicians and diplomats are, on one hand, designating Muslim Brotherhood groups as preferred interlocutors for these nations' growing Muslim populations, while, on the other hand, police and security organizations are labelling them as destablizing pro-terrorist groups. Seems like leaders haven't learned that much. I'm with the cops on that one.
on September 17, 2014
This book is an eye opener. The Muslim Brotherhood is so tied in with the intelligence community one has to wonder what is going on today in Iraq and Syria. The MB was in bed with former Nazis as well as the CIA. Another important book to add to this is "The Devil's Game," by Dreyfuss. Armed with these two books and perhaps the "Meccan Rebellion," one is able to well understand how deep the rabbit's hole goes. We are in a riddle wrapped in an enigma sealed in a code and buried in a mystery. We may never get to the bottom of it, but this book goes a long way to understanding the players in the game and the madness of the modern version of what they called in the Nineteenth Century, "The Great Game."