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A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Hardcover)

By: Ian Johnson (Author)


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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)


Short Desription

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 naïve 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



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