A Mosque in Munich – Book review

The following review appeared recently in the English language daily ‘Hürriyet Daily News’ – an interesting chapter in an on-going tale of woe: US encouragement of extremist groups for its own dubious purposes.

A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood’ by Ian Johnson (Mariner Books, 336 pages, $16)

2012005947William ARMSTRONG

Everyone knows by now about U.S. backing for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s – Exhibit A for those shaking their heads at Washington’s foreign policy blunders in the Muslim world. Rather less widely known, at least until this book was written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson, was how that support had precedents at the start of the Cold War in post-World War II Europe, when U.S. and German intelligence jostled for influence over various Muslim groups as anti-communist instruments to undermine the USSR. With a cast including Nazis, the CIA, the German intelligence agency, the Muslim Brotherhood, and a host of flamboyant individual characters, the subject matter certainly makes for a spectacular title.

Johnson begins the tale back in the war, when the Nazis recruited proxy forces from the Muslims of Central Asia and the Caucasus to fight the Soviets on the Eastern Front. After hostilities ended, many ex-soldiers of these units found themselves living in West Germany, as did other Nazi collaborators from the Soviet Union’s Muslim regions and those who were able to flee Stalin’s Russia. Before long, the attention of post-war German and U.S. intelligence agencies would turn to these groups as intelligence sources and voices in the West’s propaganda war against the godless communist bloc behind the Iron Curtain.

The mosque in the book’s title is the Islamic Center of Munich, which started out as a humble community center for Central Asian Muslim refugees in Germany after the war. In subsequent years, however, it would develop to become a hub for U.S. and German governments and several prominent Muslims to jostle for influence at the center of Europe. The U.S. placed its bets with Said Ramadan, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood exiled by the Nasser regime in Egypt, who is today better known as the father of prominent Swiss Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan. The elder Ramadan eventually emerged as the authority at the top of the mosque, which although very humble (it was originally located next to a rubbish tip) ended up becoming the controversial center of a wide range of Islamist activity across Europe, “a center of international Islamism” in Johnson’s words. Read the full article.

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