- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0151014183
- ISBN-13: 978-0151014187
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 45 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,316,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West 1st Edition
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In the wake of the news that the 9/11 hijackers had lived in Europe, journalist Ian Johnson wondered how such a radical group could sink roots into Western soil. Most accounts reached back twenty years, to U.S. support of Islamist fighters in Afghanistan. But Johnson dug deeper, to the start of the Cold War, uncovering the untold story of a group of ex-Soviet Muslims who had defected to Germany during World War II. There, they had been fashioned into a well-oiled anti-Soviet propaganda machine. As that war ended and the Cold War began, West German and U.S. intelligence agents vied for control of this influential group, and at the center of the covert tug of war was a quiet mosque in Munich radical Islam's first beachhead in the West.
Photographs from Ian Johnson, Author of A Mosque in Munich
(Click on images to enlarge)
A Q&A with Ian Johnson:
(Photo © Otto Pohl)
From Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer-winning journalist Johnson (Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China) tells a probing saga of militant Islamism rooted in a Munich mosque in a cold war strategy gone wrong. The mosque eventually became the epicenter of Islamist organizing in Europe and America. Johnson's story goes back to Nazi Germany's recruitment of Soviet Muslim POWs into anti-Soviet propaganda organizations; during the cold war, the CIA vied with West Germany to control these Munich-based exiles for anti-Soviet propaganda. The CIA brought in Said Ramadan, an Egyptian anticommunist—and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who stealthily wrested control of a mosque-building project from the CIA- and German-controlled Muslim factions, redirecting it to Islamism. Johnson pens a lucid, closely observed account of the fraught intersection of intelligence bureaucracies with émigré political factions. It's not quite a tale of blowback: the mosque was funded largely by Saudi and Libyan money, and the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have been only marginally abetted by the CIA. But it is a troubling example of America's perennial cluelessness about the Muslim world and its religious politics. (May 4)
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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.
Personally, I found out about the book from the review I'm posting below.
The New Republic "The Book" Review by Eliza Griswold
Ian Johnson abhors pack journalism. Instead, he prefers to investigate the margins of major news stories. In A Mosque in Munich, this predilection serves him well. Based in Berlin and Beijing, he speaks fluent German and Mandarin, and holds an advanced degree in Chinese Studies. With equal tenacity and lack of bluster, however, he also pursues the development of radical Islam in Europe. Mostly by accident, the veteran journalist stumbled upon one of the largest untold stories of the last fifty years: how, with help from Nazis and the CIA, radical Islam first established its foothold in the West, and planted its roots firmly in Germany.
Johnson begins decades before the now-familiar Cold War narrative of the 1980s. In that decade the United States began to back the Muslim holy warriors, mujahideen, in their fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. But as Johnson's investigative work definitively shows, America's efforts to use the religious and political fervor of Islam to its own ends followed a Nazi program intended to do much the same thing during World War II. This was a program, Johnson writes, which Hitler "explicitly blessed," saying, "I consider only the Mohammedans to be safe. All the others, I consider unsafe."
In the eastern regions of the Soviet empire, where the Nazis were more interested in oil than ethnic cleansing, the Third Reich mobilized Muslims and other ethnic minorities to fight for the liberation of their homelands. The Nazis plucked Muslims from German prisoner-of-warcamps: some Muslims became German soldiers; some, members of the SS; some, professional propagandists. Although rumors and half-truths about this historic collusion have long existed, Johnson does the painstaking archival work of retracing the lives of these largely unknown Muslim Nazis, and pieces together their lives compellingly.
Once World War II ended, many of these men, stuck in Germany and having lost their homelands, found a new employer: the United States. Radio Liberty, the lesser-known stepsister to Radio Free Europe, was the CIA's effort to broadcast anti-Soviet propaganda into Eastern Europe. In order to reach the thirty million Muslims living within the Soviet Union, the Americans turned to many of these former Nazi sympathizers. The idea, from the 1940s onwards, was to use Islam to undermine the Soviet system. Islam, American officials mistakenly believed, was the ideal antidote to godless communism. Although many of Johnson's readers will know this story in broad strokes, no book before this one so deftly traces the history of this ideological misstep. And no one, until Johnson, has traced how far back this error in judgment went.
It is not just Johnson's investigative reporting that makes this book important. He also has a gift for historical narrative. He structures his cloak-and-dagger tale around a series of absurdly colorful characters, from the famous Said Ramadan to the little-known figure of Ahmad Kamal, whom Johnson calls an "one of the most charismatic figures in America's effort to harness Islam." Between writing thrillers and working as a spy, Kamal moved from California to Indonesia organizing disaffected Muslims. His eyebrow-raising antics make more familiar Cold War cowboys, such as Charlie Wilson, look like all hat and no cattle. (To give these antics away here would be unfair to Johnson's meticulous biographical research; read the book.)
A vein of dark humor runs throughout the book, as Johnson points out America's early and later missteps vis-à-vis Islam with a kind of fatalistic legerdemain. Since this story unfolds so much at the margins of American foreign policy, it might seem rather mundane. (My biggest criticism of the book is its rather flat-footed title.) But just when this reader's eyes would start to glaze over at all the exotica, Johnson usefully steps back to locate his particular story within the context of today's unavoidable confrontation between the West and certain strains of Islamic thinking.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Johnson takes the time to define the terms that he uses. Most notable is his discussion of Islamism, a word we often encounter but rarely hear properly explained. Who are all these "Islamists," really? This is one of the helpful moments at which Johnson breaks his narrative to tell us clearly: "Islamists differ from traditional Muslims because they use their religion in pursuit of a political agenda, via either democracy, or violence." In his strong but unassuming way, Johnson tells us something that is true and significant: "Implicit in Islamism is a rejection of Westernsociety and its values." This is one of the most essential--and uncomfortable--truths in the book. Yes, the West has unwittingly fed the rise of political Islam. And still worse, America continues to misunderstand something even more fundamental about the politics of Islamism: much of its ideology is born out of opposing the West.
The question follows, Can the West coexist with Islamists? Johnson reveals that the current ideological fault lines are more insurmountable than we know. Appeasing Islamists is ill-advised policy. But America continues to support groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood anyway. There are two Muslim Brotherhoods, he argues, one in the West and another in the rest of the world. The former is much more perilous to American interests. Still, out of ignorance and laziness in part, many American bureaucrats and foreign policy-makers turn to the best-looking business-suited Islamist leaders as allies. Many are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, which, in the West, is a deliberate proponent of radical Islam. The United States does this, in part, because it's easier to turn to self-appointed spokesmen for the world's Muslims than to reach out to far less media-savvy members of civil society--Muslim groups that aren't so slick and organized by ordinary people. "Ordinary people are messy," Johnson puts it.
The book is funny and tragic and peaks toward the end when Johnson takes us along on his interviews with contemporary members of the European branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. One day in Cologne, Johnson rides along in the BMW's passenger seat of Ibrahim El Zayat, a young Islamist who leads many of Germany's Muslims. Zayat is hugely controversial, and it is hard to know whether or not he condones the use of violence based on some of his murky associations. When Johnson points this out, Zayat points right back at Johnson. "A lot of people say that Ian Johnson is a CIA agent because you write so little." "My boss says that too," I say. "You should write more. Sloth is a sin."
At the end of the ride, Zayat answers one of the most important riddles as to why the West gets it wrong when choosing Islamic allies. We ask the wrong questions about who they are and where their ideas come from. It is really a matter of research: of taking the time to get our facts right, as Johnson clearly has. When he asks Zayat about his alphabet soup of radical affiliations, Zayat replies: "I don't deny that I'm in these groups.... When I'm asked clearly, then I answer." The challenge for us, then, is to get our questions right--and this Ian Johnson has done masterfully.
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