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A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West Paperback – Bargain Price, August 10, 2011

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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.

Culled from an array of sources, including newly declassified documents, A Mosque in Munich interweaves the stories of several key players: a Nazi scholar turned postwar spymaster; key Muslim leaders across the globe, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood; and naive CIA men eager to fight communism with a new weapon, Islam. A rare ground-level look at Cold War spying and a revelatory account of the West's first, disastrous encounter with radical Islam, A Mosque in Munich is as captivating as it is crucial to our understanding the mistakes we are still making in our relationship with Islamists today.

Photographs from Ian Johnson, Author of A Mosque in Munich
(Click on images to enlarge)

Gerhard von Mende was a Turkic studies expert who pioneered use of Muslims against Soviets in the Nazi era A dynamic leader and fervent cleric, Youssef Nada co-founded the Islamic Center of Munich in the 1970s Robert H. Dreher, CIA agent and Amcomlib officer, spearheaded American interactions with the Muslim Brotherhood
The usually charismatic Muslim cleric Ibrahim Gacaoglu faltered at an important Hajj press conference The Ostministerium, home to Hitler’s Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories An architectural sketch of the mosque in Munich

A Q&A with Ian Johnson:

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 during 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 mujahidin; 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 radical 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, once again, history serves as the backstory.

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 ah-ha moment that made the drudgery worthwhile?

A: I especially remember the archives in the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas. I got Eisenhower's appointment book for 1953. It was this big, thick, leather-bound book--what you'd expect a presidential appointment book to look like. 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 became. 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 atheistic message. So he endorsed all sorts of plans to use religion--his advisers called it the "religious factor." Embracing the Muslim Brotherhood was part of this strategy.

Q: You have a scene in which people are singing a farewell song at a party for a CIA man who is leaving Germany after having set up the connection with the Brotherhood. How can you describe this event in such detail?

A: Thanks to the other main sources 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 within Islam or immigration in Europe. Instead, the big-picture idea I'm trying to show is the early--and decisive--effort by the West to use Islam. Three groups made overtures to these Muslims: 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 with the Nazis. The CIA released information only 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.

(Photo © Otto Pohl)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First Paperback Edition edition (August 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547423179
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,181,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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By HeyJudy VINE VOICE on April 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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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!
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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.
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