A Mosque in Munich
By Ian Johnson
Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
336 pp., $15.95
The presence of Muslims in the West is not a recent phenomenon; on the contrary, it reaches back many decades, to Nazi Germany. Then, a group of former Soviet Muslims, seeking better treatment in Germany, defected and aided the Nazi effort. Muslim Brotherhood (MB) cohorts in the Middle East conducted a parallel effort. Later, under the control of U.S. intelligence, many of these same Muslims were harnessed as a bulwark against worldwide Communist domination during the Cold War. Eventually completely taken over by the MB, these German Muslim cohorts were courted by the West as a most curious partner to counter Islamic extremism. The locus for much of their activity, which they later used to spread Islam throughout Europe and plan major terrorist attacks in the West, including 9/11, was to become a beachhead in Europe — the Munich mosque.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ian Johnson details this history in his book, A Mosque in Munich. Johnson examines nearly 80 years of the Muslim presence in Europe and how America helped strengthen the very community dedicated to the destruction of the West. Most of it is on target, except for Johnson’s crucial underplaying of the Muslim Brotherhood’s key role in the mission to destroy America.
Muslims Fighting for Nazism
During World War II, the Nazis saw an opportunity to use disenfranchised non-Russian Muslim minorities to fight the Soviet Union. As victims of Soviet repression, Muslims were treated as an underclass. Their farms were collectivized, their assets were confiscated, they were persecuted for practicing their religion, and their mosques were shuttered. Thus, they became ripe for Nazi exploitation, and, as devalued soldiers, non-Russian Muslim minorities were eager to be captured by the Germans and fight against Stalin. In addition, since anti-Semitism was an intrinsic part of their religious doctrine, these Muslims naturally allied with Nazis efforts to exterminate Jews.
Johnson recounts that by the 1930s, another force in the Islamic world, the MB, founded in 1928, was accepting money from the Nazis and using it to establish a military wing. The nascent organization run by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, focused on anti-British colonialism and opposition to Jewish immigration. In 1933, al-Husseini contacted the Nazis about supplying recruits for the Waffen-SS, the military wing of the Nazi party, and joining a collaborative effort to eliminate Jewish influence in economics and politics.
Seduced by the oil-rich Caucasus inhabited by the Muslim minorities, Hitler realized the potential of being viewed as a liberator of this oppressed region. When the Wehrmacht seized the North Caucasus in 1942, the Germans announced to cheers that the mosques would be reopened and the SS began actively courting émigré leaders in the region in an effort to employ Islam as a motivating force to assist their fighting units.
Using Islam to Fight Communism
Just as the Nazis had used Muslims for their own ends, the U.S. government acted similarly, as Johnson recounts in A Mosque in Munich, which traces the United States’ burgeoning interest in using Islam as an anti-communist tool. As early as 1951, at the end of Harry Truman’s second term in office, U.S. intelligence agencies considered using Islam to shore up the free world in the fight against Soviet Cold War influence and essentially split the Soviet Union by pitting non-Russians against Russians. At first, the United States concentrated on working with ex-Nazi, non-Russian Muslim émigrés as part of a CIA-funded broadcast organization, Radio Liberty, headquartered in Germany and dedicated to overthrowing the Soviet Union. At the time, U.S. Cold War policy focused on “containment,” or preventing the spread of Communism. Eventually, U.S. Cold War efforts became more aggressive, and the goal shifted to overturning communism altogether by various covert operations, economic warfare, sabotage, and propaganda.
Johnson writes that in 1953, when prominent Muslims scheduled a conference — an “Islamic Colloquium” — at Princeton University, they received support from the U.S. Department of State and the Library of Congress. Prior to the conference, Muslim leaders requested a meeting with President Eisenhower who was keen to influence the Muslim world. The overt goal of the conference was to promote Islamic “Renaissance,” but it also served to cement U.S. relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In order to facilitate the inclusion of MB leader Said Ramadan at the Princeton colloquium, the U.S. embassy in Cairo sanitized Ramadan’s career history to eliminate his close association with the Grand Mufti and his fight against Jews in Israel. Ramadan was also treated to an Oval Office visit with President Eisenhower. Of course, Ramadan was not interested in cultural exchanges and fiercely adhered to his political goals of expelling Jews from Palestine and the British from Egypt. He admired the Grand Mufti, as well as one of the most influential Muslim theorists of all time, Sayyid Qutb, who plainly stated that anyone who failed to follow the Muslim Brotherhood’s views was an apostate who could be killed. A few years earlier, Ramadan and Al-Banna founded the World Muslim Congress to increase Muslim influence worldwide. The MB leadership fought communism for the simple opportunistic reason that communist states banned or controlled religion.
By his second term, Eisenhower, a religious man who saw the utility of devout Muslims to fight the atheistic nature of Communism, was more serious about Islam and worried about the growing Soviet influences in Egypt. By the 1950s, the Soviets recognized the political expediency of reversing their discriminatory policies against Muslims and reopened mosques, allowed for the training of imams and even sending Muslims on the Hajj. Meanwhile, the U.S. state department, the CIA and the U.S. Information Agency decided to align closely with “reform” groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as an ally against Communism. The United States shunned alliances with traditional Muslim groups, who were easily discredited by their Nazi pasts and weak religious credentials. The CIA acknowledged the utility of MB leader Said Ramadan in this effort.
When the MB was banned in Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, Ramadan fled to Jordan, where he was named the West German ambassador at large. He became head of the Munich mosque, which he envisioned as a beachhead to establish Islam in Europe. When Ramadan with American backing was able to wrest control of the mosque from the ex-Nazi Muslim émigrés from the Soviet Union, he began proselytizing widely about fighting communism in order to raise money for construction of the mosque. He secured funding for the building from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Jordan, and Turkey. The United States had wanted a credible voice in the Muslim world to fight communism and they found it with Ramadan.
Johnson explains how Ramadan created an extensive structure for the MB: an array of front groups that served various functions, including a magazine as a propaganda arm; a Muslim student organization; and an international organization, the Muslim World League, designed to unite Muslims, set policy, and serve as a unified voice. As he developed strong anti-Communist credentials, Ramadan was able to increase the influence of the MB and internationalize the German Muslims and the Munich mosque.
In the 1960s, the United States turned away from the Muslim Brotherhood, as its attention was focused on Vietnam. Meanwhile, Ramadan concentrated on building the MB’s global influence.
Fifteen years later, the U.S. interest in using Islam as a Cold War weapon was revived, and the government sought MB help to arm the Afghanis against the Soviets. In 1973, alleged al-Qaeda financier Youssef Nada took over management of the Munich mosque and led it into the Saudi network.
Partnering with the Muslim Brotherhood against Terrorism
Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government began investigating one of Nada’s investment vehicles, Bank al-Taqwa. Johnson contends that terrorism-financing charges against Nada were never proven. However, Nada had been active with the MB for more than 50 years, according to Patrick Poole, an anti-terrorism consultant to law enforcement and the military. By 2001, Nada was one of the organization’s international leaders. Poole contends that Nada had been involved in money laundering and the funding of several terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and Hamas.
From the beginning, the Saudis dominated the Muslim World League. They used Saudi money and the MB ideology, with Munich as its epicenter, to spread Islamic thinking throughout the West.
In 1977, MB leaders met at a lakeside villa in Lugano, Switzerland to set up lasting MB structures, including the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), to provide the theoretical foundation for the spread of Islam in the West. At the same time, the MB was establishing a foothold in America and decided to locate the IIIT in the United States. They had turned their student group, the Muslim Student Association (MSA), into a national movement after founding it in America in 1962 with Saudi money. By the 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood had an impressive headquarters in Indianapolis, its American beachhead, which housed several front groups: the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the MSA.
By 1982, the Islamic Center of Munich was headquarters to a chain of mosques and cultural centers. MB front groups had been established across the West, coinciding with the economic needs of Europe to import workers, most of them Muslims. The face of Europe changed as mosques proliferated along with the demand to accommodate sharia law.
By 1990, German intelligence monitored the Munich mosque as it became associated with Islamic terrorism, including the first World Trade Center bombing and Mohammed Atta, who flew the first plane into the WTC, and fundraising for jihad by al-Qaeda’s finance chief and Osama bin Laden’s mentor, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim.
Johnson explains that after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, it became fashionable in Europe and the United States to work with the Muslim Brotherhood to fight terrorism and extremism. At that point, the West, including the CIA, the state department, and the Department of Homeland Security, viewed partnering with an organization that could talk to the “Muslim street” as a viable counterterrorist measure.
Surprisingly, Johnson appears to lend validity to this tactic and states that the “Muslim Brotherhood does not embrace global jihad against the West.”
He even goes so far as to decry the initial rejection of Tariq Ramadan’s entry into the United States by writing that Ramadan is “hardly a terrorist,” despite Ramadan being the grandson of MB founder Hassan al-Banna, who advocates the eradication of the Jewish state and is suspected of ties to al-Qaeda. Johnson holds this view despite the stated Muslim Brotherhood’s mission to create “a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and G-d’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”
In a discussion of issues related to mosque-building in Europe, Johnson opines that “racism is still a big problem” for Muslims. The author fails to mention that there have been over 20,000 deadly worldwide Islamic terrorist attacks since 9/11 and that Muslims across the globe call for “death to Israel” and “death to America” on a routine basis. Johnson appears to take Muslim Brotherhood operatives at their word, discounting any subterfuge. He also fails to even mention the required Muslim doctrine of deception or taqiyya.
Although Johnson engages in a lengthy narrative on Nada and his Muslim Brotherhood involvement, he doesn’t mention the discovery of a key document, referred to in counterterrorism circles as “The Project,” at Nada’s Lugano villa in November 2001. “The Project” is a 12-point plan, dated December 1, 1982, to launch a “cultural invasion” and eventual conquest of the West to establish a worldwide Islamic state under sharia. “The Project” incites hatred against Jews, calls for the subversion of Western institutions, recommends escalating conflicts by Muslims living in the West against fellow citizens, and accepts terrorism as a legitimate option to force Islamic rule on the entire world.
In 2004, the FBI discovered a second Muslim Brotherhood document written in 1987, the “Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America,” which outlines the means to dismantle American institutions to turn the United States into a Muslim nation.
Johnson’s failure to mention either document and his benign assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood are major flaws in his book. A Mosque in Munich provides a useful account of the history that led to the establishment of the Munich mosque as a locus for Muslim Brotherhood activity in the West, and a fascinating exegesis of how Muslims were used, first by the Nazis, then by the anti-Communists, and finally today in counter-terrorism efforts. But the conclusions Johnson draws about the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and their ultimate intentions in the non-Muslim world fall woefully short, especially given significant documentary evidence to the contrary.