: Mosque in munich, a: nazis, the cia, and the rise of the muslim brotherhood in the west (9780151014187) : Ian Johnson : Books
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Mosque In Munich, A: Nazis, The Cia, And The Rise Of The Muslim Brotherhood In The West

by Ian Johnson
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade
  • Publishing date: 04/05/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780151014187
  • ISBN: 0151014183


Product Description
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)

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  • patience is required
    From Amazon

    My goal in reading this book was to get a sense of history and what created the Islam belief or personalities that grew into terrorism. The historical flow was there but well hidden in the many minute details of the years covered. The pertinent info for Americans is the role played by USA/CIA creating the monster we live with now.

  • Dense, detailed, & well-written
    From Amazon

    It's taken me a long time to make it through this book. Not because it's boring, but because it's "dense" and detailed (which is a strength, in my opinion). Mr. Johnson takes us on a journey beginning with the development of the Muslim influence in Europe around the time of WWII, and continues on with the establishment and growth of the Muslim Brotherhood. I am not a history buff, yet I found this book highly educational and interesting. Those who are history buffs would likely absolutely love this book.

  • The roots of Europe's cultural divide
    From Amazon

    Turning to this book to understand what is happening in Europe today -- say, the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by Islamic fundamentalists -- would be a mistake. But it will be a big help in understanding WHY the outwardly cohesive European societies feel so threatened by streams of immigrants from former colonies in North Africa and from other parts of the Muslim world. To tackle this extremely complex subject, Ian Johnson goes back to a little-known series of historical events -- the efforts by the Nazi regime to co-opt Soviet-ruled Muslim peoples to battle the Soviet Union during World War II. The efforts obviously failed, but left an unexpected legacy: a sizable community of Muslims living in postwar Germany, where they would soon be joined by another group of Muslims, migrant workers from Turkey who helped the German economy rebound. This community was seized on by cold warriors as a way to try to destabilize the Soviet Union politically, and became tools of Western agencies eager to exploit the "nationalities issue" within the tremendously disparate Soviet empire. The mosque in Munich whose construction is at the heart of Johnson's narrative is, implicitly at least, a precursor of the mosques and other informal groups that sprang up with greater frequency in other German cities late in the 20th century, including the one in Hamburg attended by some of the 9/11 terrorists, and it's that implicit connection that gives Johnson's book a tremendous relevance to readers outside of Germany today. This is a real feat of investigative reporting. True, there are few dramatic revelations or deeds of derring do, but there are fascinating characters with ambitious agendas, eager to transform the world according to their own image of what it should be and ready to use others as tools to accomplish that. Johnson has a knack for the telling detail and an adept turn of phrase (this is a brilliantly written book, especially given the complexity of the tale he is telling and the fact that so few of the incidents and characters he describes will be known to the average reader.) I sometimes got bogged down in the details of the book, finding that my brain either shut down completely after reading too long or that the power struggles over control of the mosque became too arcane for me to follow readily. But I persisted, and found the tale a rewarding one. (I'm extremely grateful to Johnson for including a list of characters for reference, however; I made heavy use of it!) The occasional struggles, particularly in the final part of the book, and the fact that this story isn't going to appeal to every reader, is why I've rounded down my 4.5 rating to 4 stars. Nonetheless, this is a book that anyone interested in contemporary Europe, issues of cultural identity and culture clash, and the way in which policies can have dramatic unintended consequences, should read. Recommended, but not to those with only a casual interest.

  • Wonderfully Insightful
    From Amazon

    For at least the past 30 years, people in the West have been asking urgent questions about Islam. What are the intentions of Muslim nations toward us? Do they really want to wipe us out? Where do their ideas come from, and why are they held with such unbending fanaticism? Ian Johnson, a prize-winning reporter at the Wall Street Journal, does not pretend to have all the answers to these questions, but in this book he puts them in a rather surprising historical context. It all began when Johnson stumbled upon a Muslim map that prominently featured a picture of a mosque in Munich, Germany along with pictures of more well-known Muslim holy sites. Digging deep into the history of this mosque, he ended up charting the origins, rise and ultimate transformation of the Muslim attitude toward the "infidel" west. It is a long and extremely complex story that Johnson feels has real relevance for the west even today. There have been at least four key players in this drama: the community of émigré Muslim refugees who either voluntarily or forcefully resettled in the west during World War II, the American CIA, and the governments of France and Germany. Many of the Muslim émigrés who played desperate games to save their own skins were former Nazis whose pasts were overlooked by the west because they were fervent anti-communists. Indeed, the Nazis had courted Moslems to help them fight against the Russians. Others were natives of the Muslim areas of the Soviet Union who naively sought shelter with the Nazis from persecution by their own government. A further complicating factor was the endless ethnic, racial and doctrinal squabbles among the Muslims themselves. Trying to get them all to work together was a task that baffled the smartest minds in Washington, Bonn and Paris, among other places. It also flummoxed those Muslims who tried to bring it about. Munich became a center for all this intrigue because it was a convenient place for Cold War propagandizing aimed at Russia as well as a gathering place for displaced Muslim refugees. The planning and execution of the mosque project actually takes up about three quarters of Johnson's text. The facility finally opened in 1973 and soon became much more than simply a place of Moslem worship. It became a battlefield in the struggle for dominance between old and new generations of Muslims. Eventually the older generation was sidelined. Its members either quit in disgust or were formally voted out as a newer generation steered the Muslim world toward more aggressive confrontation with the west and a more intolerant religious stance toward the outside world. The main agent of this change was the militant Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 and still active today. Johnson summarizes its main creed as anti-Semitism, anti-Christian, anti-communist and anti-secularist. He writes that the Brotherhood has never really renounced violence, still finding it justified when used against Israel. The Brotherhood makes no distinction between church and state and hews to a strictly literal interpretation of the Koran. One example, based on a dictum in the Koran: Some activists argued that high school girls not be allowed to take a class trip because the distance involved was longer than a camel could travel in a day. Johnson himself offers no hard-and-fast assessment of the brotherhood. He comes closest in his back-of-the-book acknowledgements: "The problem has never been Islam; it is the religion's misuse by opportunists, politicians and misguided idealists." Of course this has also been a problem for both Christians and Jews, who certainly have their own sharp factional divisions. This is a densely written book, bristling with unfamiliar names, all of them swirling in a complicated stew of suspicion, intrigue and political maneuvering. It is not easy reading. There are, however, several lessons to be drawn from the confusion. The American assumption that anyone who was certifiably anti-communist should be taken on as a tool of American policy no matter how sinister his past led our country seriously astray in the postwar years and could do so again if we substitute "anti-Islamist" for "anti-communist." Also, the ultimate objective of the Islamist movement may actually be to dominate the western world, but that is a pie-in-the-Muslim-sky vision that is nowhere near fulfillment today. Finally, Johnson's book demonstrates yet again the dangers of intolerant fanaticism in any cause, be it western Christianity, Islam, democracy, dictatorship, or anything else. In this sense, his book is a worthy successor to the classic statement of that idea in Eric Hoffer's THE TRUE BELIEVER of 1951.

  • A Welcome Meditation on Ineptness, and a Good Read
    From Amazon

    Given how much Islamism has disrupted life in the West, it's surprising how little most of us know about its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood or about its central figures, like Said Ramadan. One virtue of Ian Johnson's book is that it fills this gap in our knowledge, and does so by presenting us with a fascinating cast of characters. There are many reasons to read A MOSQUE IN MUNICH. Reassurance that our fate is in competent hands isn't one of them. What emerges is a picture of Western powers (first the Nazis, then the U.S.) discovering Islamism and taking it, rather hastily, as a sword to be used against the enemy. Handled clumsily, of course, a sword can do as much damage to the swordsman as to anyone else. Johnson--engagingly and quite precisely--shows the way miscalculations by intelligence agents and politicians have done us harm. His book reminds us that ignorance about a force as potent as Islamism is dangerous. It also goes a way toward curing that ignorance.

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