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A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West

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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 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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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 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

30 review for A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Ratzman

    During WWII the Germans took advantage of discontent among captured Soviet minorities by creating all-Muslim fighting units. Motivated by anti-Communism and the promise of national liberation, those Muslim were later recruited by the CIA and the W.Germans. Islam is then used as a tool against Communism in the Cold War. Munich became the center of plans to build a Mosque for Germanys small Muslim community, and here the plot thickens. The ex-Soviets arent very religious, so they lack standing During WWII the Germans took advantage of discontent among captured Soviet minorities by creating all-Muslim fighting units. Motivated by anti-Communism and the promise of national liberation, those Muslim were later recruited by the CIA and the W.Germans. “Islam” is then used as a tool against Communism in the Cold War. Munich became the center of plans to build a Mosque for Germany’s small Muslim community, and here the plot thickens. The ex-Soviets aren’t very religious, so they lack standing among the new, more religious immigrants. The Muslim Brotherhood emerges to fill the gap. Notably, Said Ramadan (father of the famous Tariq) was involved with building this Munich Mosque, while being on the CIA payroll and agitating for the Brotherhood’s politicized version of Islam. The original research about the Cold War use of Islam is most interesting. The book’s final third is less focused—troubled by illiberal Islam in Europe, vague about the various players, uncertain about the future.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Clark

    I picked this up at my local bookstore in Cambridge. The title caught my eye because I lived in Turkey and also in Germany. I assumed it was about the current population of Turks in Germany. That's where it ends up but the story starts during WW II when the Nazis recruited Muslims from the USSR, mostly Central Asians from the area of the stans - Kyrygzstan, Uzbekistan etc - to be a fifth column for them once they conquered Russia. In the post-war period it moves to occupied Germany and then West I picked this up at my local bookstore in Cambridge. The title caught my eye because I lived in Turkey and also in Germany. I assumed it was about the current population of Turks in Germany. That's where it ends up but the story starts during WW II when the Nazis recruited Muslims from the USSR, mostly Central Asians from the area of the stans - Kyrygzstan, Uzbekistan etc - to be a fifth column for them once they conquered Russia. In the post-war period it moves to occupied Germany and then West Germany and American machinations. It features, among other pieces, a group whose longest name was the American Committee for the Liberation from Bolshevism, aka The American Committee and later Amcomlib. It ran a radio station in Munich. It resonated with me because my father worked at the station in Munich for about 15 months - Nov. 1954 to Jan 1956. I was 12, my brother 9. So my own personal history crisscrosses this story from Munich to Turkey (1964-66), Cologne (1971-72), and later Central Asia, where my former husband has been working since 1994. Johnson himself lived in Berlin for many years, so was thoroughly linguistically competent to interview Germans. It's a fascinating story that goes up to the day before yesterday - most recent interview I saw in a quick look through the notes was in 2006.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Libyrinths

    It really helps to know who your friends and who your potential enemies are. Perhaps because of American ambivalence towards intelligence and covert operations, we don't seem to do that very well. A case in point is uncovered by Ian Johnson where we backed the wrong horse after WWII, and unknowingly aided in the infiltration of the Muslim Brotherhood into Europe, and thus helped its ascendancy as the voice of Islam over more moderate Muslims. Johnson has written a readable and well-researched It really helps to know who your friends and who your potential enemies are. Perhaps because of American ambivalence towards intelligence and covert operations, we don't seem to do that very well. A case in point is uncovered by Ian Johnson where we backed the wrong horse after WWII, and unknowingly aided in the infiltration of the Muslim Brotherhood into Europe, and thus helped its ascendancy as the voice of Islam over more moderate Muslims. Johnson has written a readable and well-researched book on this little-known aspect of WWII and post-WWII history, and it's well worth the read, not least of which is because we apparently still haven't learned anything about Islam or who is the right horse to back when it comes to our national interests nor even global security interests. Those who enjoy reading about intelligence operations, WWII or Cold War history will appreciate this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Great background information on the rise of Islamists and the issues that are seen to stem from this group, often lumped into one demographic. Of special interest is the fact that I often ride right by this mosque, being only 4 kilometers away. I had myself, wondered "why a mosque here in Munich"...now I know. I will make a point to go by and take some first-hand pictures.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This was a great read! Filled with facts, but that didn't overwhelm the story being told. I picked this up after seeing Mr. Johnson speak at a literary festival... and I was not disappointed. If you don't know much about the Muslim Brotherhood or how the Munich Mosque came to be so important, then this a great way to start learning.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    In another episode Of It Was The Cold War So It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time, The CIA aggressively co-opts Nazi Central Asian anti-Bolsheviks and nurtures them for the next forty years in Western Europe as an Islamic bulwark against Communism. What could possibly go wrong?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rachelle

    Fascinating premise, but there are too many characters and not enough narrative. Every five pages another tangent starts about another 'key' player in this plot.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    An interesting history of the Islamic Center Mosque in Munich. And the story of how religion (in this case, Islam) was subsumed into international politics using the Islamic Center of Munich as the core of the story. Well written and heavily researched, Ian Johnson traces the Islamic Center from it's state supported founding by former Nazi soldiers from the Soviet Union, through it's use by the CIA during the cold war, to it's current incarnation as a Moslem Brotherhood cell. He shows how each An interesting history of the Islamic Center Mosque in Munich. And the story of how religion (in this case, Islam) was subsumed into international politics using the Islamic Center of Munich as the core of the story. Well written and heavily researched, Ian Johnson traces the Islamic Center from it's state supported founding by former Nazi soldiers from the Soviet Union, through it's use by the CIA during the cold war, to it's current incarnation as a Moslem Brotherhood cell. He shows how each group captured control of it, why, and how the control shifted as new groups and needs emerged. And as noted, the biggest losers appeared to have been the local Moslems who were simply looking for a lace to pray. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in political use of religion, the recent history of Islam in Europe, the CIA and the Cold War, the Moslem Brotherhood in Europe, and the history of the Islamic Center of Munich.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Francis Telegadas

    Interesting book on intelligence services working with Muslim groups to fight communism in the 50s and 60s. Good background for issues happening today - where we were and how it affects where we are now.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    A friend, a Political Science prof raised in former East Germany, recommended this book; praised it highly, said it reads like a novel.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mohamed Shehab

    This book is a very intensive work-based research. The link between the MB and the foreign agencies was explained clearly and with rationality.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I read this in between the suicide bombing at Ariana Grande's Manchester concert (22nd May) and the attacks in London Bridge (3rd June), so it all felt very present and immediate. Johnson tells an extraordinary story, of political calculation, short-termist expediency and cynical opportunism. This is a story populated by some pretty unsavoury and ruthless individuals - nobody comes out looking especially noble. Johnson's investigation was sparked by a chance observation in a London Islamic I read this in between the suicide bombing at Ariana Grande's Manchester concert (22nd May) and the attacks in London Bridge (3rd June), so it all felt very present and immediate. Johnson tells an extraordinary story, of political calculation, short-termist expediency and cynical opportunism. This is a story populated by some pretty unsavoury and ruthless individuals - nobody comes out looking especially noble. Johnson's investigation was sparked by a chance observation in a London Islamic bookshop of a poster of the world's great mosques - one of which was in Munich. Which seemed peculiar - because it certainly didn't have anything like the reputation of Istanbul's Aya Sofya or Mecca. He followed the trail - which is dark and complex, riddled with unfamiliar names, rival factions and the rumour mill. But it is connected with the major strands of Islamism today - including the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda and those involved in 9/11, as well as the cells that have splintered across the world. But it all began at a time when Islamist threats to the West were remote in the extreme. The common bogeyman was communism - and the unwieldy expanse of the Soviet Union - first the Nazis (with their eastward designs) and then the CIA (during the Cold War), saw the opportunities raised by the vast swathes of Islamic peoples living under the yoke of the red flag. But of course, both groups were playing with fire, and as so often when people exploit others for their own gains, the law of unintended consequences comes to the fore. We really learn nothing. I did get confused at times with all names and factions - even with the reasonably extensive cast list in the opening pages. That is in part the result of my ignorance and unfamiliarity with Arabic names. But despite that, Johnson keeps one reading. What comes across is his commitment to getting to the roots of what has been cloaked in secrecy or its inherent alienness, seen not least in his conversations and interviews with as many of the key players as their mortality and openness permitted. Johnson writes with compelling urgency - and it seems to me (from my layman's perspective) that this is an important contribution to understanding the unpredictable and alarming age in which we find ourselves.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Silvia

    It is an eye-opening book, but unfortunately, it goes too much into detail for much of the book, only to rush things at the end, when it would have been necessary to write more about the topic. This makes the end feel rather rushed.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Hugo

    Erudite with on field research work and interviews, just a pitty that it sometimes didn't read to smooth. I however higly recommend it

  15. 4 out of 5

    Josiah Thomas Vaughan

    A great read about the beginning of current day political Islam and the major players that tried to use it for their advantage after the 2nd World War.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hadeer

    One of the most interesting books I read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    I up till now sort of believed the prevailing myth that during the Cold War tribe, religion, and region were all sublimated, but of course once examined that idea is silly, and Johnson does a really good job of showing how exactly that's the case in this book. His treatment, too, of the way that Nazis tried to mobilize Islamic peoples from the Soviet Union is also really interesting, something I hadn't previously considered. There is, in short, a lot of valuable and paradigm-shifting research in I up till now sort of believed the prevailing myth that during the Cold War tribe, religion, and region were all sublimated, but of course once examined that idea is silly, and Johnson does a really good job of showing how exactly that's the case in this book. His treatment, too, of the way that Nazis tried to mobilize Islamic peoples from the Soviet Union is also really interesting, something I hadn't previously considered. There is, in short, a lot of valuable and paradigm-shifting research in here. But I'm not sure it all comes together as a book-- Johnson makes his book from three sections (ww2, the cold war, and the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union), and wants to structure his story around the mosque in Munich. But the way the story is told, the mosque just isn't all that significant-- it's key, in some ways, in the Cold War period, and it has ripples in the 90s and onward, but by then, the action is mostly elsewhere. Likewise, Johnson keeps trying to find a key figure for his book but in each case, his choices get overshadowed-- so von Mende is a good focus of outreach efforts to Muslim peoples, until he isn't, and Said Ramadan is the key, until he isn't. The Ostministerium is the key to all mythologies, only it isn't. It's not like it really matters, except that at times it feels like following these figures, this building, means we're not getting the real story that is happening elsewhere. The other problem I have with this is somewhat more ideological-- the book's sympathies are sometimes a little hard to take, and I think that it overstates the risk of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, or at least misrepresents it as a kind of shadowy cabal. I mean, maybe it is some secret effort that we're never going to understand, but Johnson's book perpetuates rather than exploding a myth of this sort in a way that I found kind of pernicious. In each of the previous sections of the book, he showed how people who thought they were in charge actually weren't, really, and that things occurred that changed the stakes and the leaders of the movement. But instead of learning that lesson, Johnson seems to think that this time, he's really identified the key players and what they want. In a lot of ways, he does present interesting information-- for me, the idea of seeing the MB as two separate organizations, one for Dar al-Islam and another for Europe, was really helpful, and probably totally valid. He was also really good at telling me the role MB chapters play in places like the Paris suburbs, and how govts in the wake of 9.11 might be misunderstanding that is going on. All of that is really good service journalism. But I wish it didn't come wrapped up in this boogieman packaging that seems driven by some weird, rearguard ideology.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    The subject matter is intensely fascinating, but the details bog the narrative down about half way through. In the beginning, when Johnson is describing how the Nazis co-opted Muslim ethnic groups from the caucuses to fight for them, I was riveted by this fascinating and unknown piece of history. About halfway through, as Johnson then describes how these ex-Nazis-- all ethnic Muslims-- became targeted by the CIA for their opposition to Communist Russia, I was still fairly riveted... but by the The subject matter is intensely fascinating, but the details bog the narrative down about half way through. In the beginning, when Johnson is describing how the Nazis co-opted Muslim ethnic groups from the caucuses to fight for them, I was riveted by this fascinating and unknown piece of history. About halfway through, as Johnson then describes how these ex-Nazis-- all ethnic Muslims-- became targeted by the CIA for their opposition to Communist Russia, I was still fairly riveted... but by the time Johnson begins describing how these groups became the pawns of various Islamist movements looking to build a mosque in Germany, I began get to lost in the cast of characters. The second half of the book is not as strong, and Johnson cannot keep up the fast pace when bogged down in the minutiae of the mosque-building transactions. The ending, when he telescopes back out to the big picture, is somewhat better. Nonetheless, a recommended read for the history.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    It's an interesting piece of history: muslims in Soviet bloc countries were recruited and often manipulated in the fight against communism, first by the nazis and then later by the CIA. These muslims ultimately interacted and networked with Middle Eastern muslims and used their training and resources to evolve into modern Islamic political (and sometimes fanatical terrorist) groups that play important roles in geopolitics today. While the story itself is important and interesting, the story gets It's an interesting piece of history: muslims in Soviet bloc countries were recruited and often manipulated in the fight against communism, first by the nazis and then later by the CIA. These muslims ultimately interacted and networked with Middle Eastern muslims and used their training and resources to evolve into modern Islamic political (and sometimes fanatical terrorist) groups that play important roles in geopolitics today. While the story itself is important and interesting, the story gets bogged down with too many tedious asides and far too many indistinguishable characters. It's worth reading, but you'll spend far too much time trying to keep characters straight and realize ultimately that most of them aren't so important. For readers with more background knowledge or a stronger interest in the subject matter than I have, this could be an ideal book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    James Huston

    The title is better than the book. Ian Johnson clearly knows what he's doing from a journalistic point of view. He knows how to write, and knows how to make things compelling. But as happens on occasion when trying to write a gripping story about historical events, you're wedded to the facts. And here, the facts desert him. The story isn't that interesting, and the mosque isn't that important. It's an historical footnote. The extremely detailed, where we are given word for word conversations The title is better than the book. Ian Johnson clearly knows what he's doing from a journalistic point of view. He knows how to write, and knows how to make things compelling. But as happens on occasion when trying to write a gripping story about historical events, you're wedded to the facts. And here, the facts desert him. The story isn't that interesting, and the mosque isn't that important. It's an historical footnote. The extremely detailed, where we are given word for word conversations about things that sound very important at the time, but ultimately are not. At the end it felt like he just put all his notes into the form of a book and stopped.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Uneven coverage of a very interesting story about the connection between the Germans' anti-Soviet agitation during the war, similar (and competing) efforts by the USA and West Germany in the Cold War era, and Islamism in the 9/11 era. Of course source materials for the more contemporary period may not yet available from the various governmentsdoes whet the appetite for more attention to this topic. Crossing fingers that real historians will fill in the many blanks left by this author in future Uneven coverage of a very interesting story about the connection between the Germans' anti-Soviet agitation during the war, similar (and competing) efforts by the USA and West Germany in the Cold War era, and Islamism in the 9/11 era. Of course source materials for the more contemporary period may not yet available from the various governments…does whet the appetite for more attention to this topic. Crossing fingers that real historians will fill in the many blanks left by this author in future years.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sharina MS

    Learning the other side of Ramadhan Al-Buti and Muslim Brotherhood (MB) from an investigative writer who has made extensive effort of 5+ years facts finding through piles of documentation and interviews with ppl around Al-Buti and his fellow MB in Germany. Definitely not the information that you'll find in any MB's publication. Ian Johnson was right when he said "If MB formed a government back then, Al-Buti would be their Foreign Minister".

  23. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    Let me be clear - this is superbly written, SUPERBLY researched, and superbly constructed. But I can't help but feel that by page 100 I felt lost amid the density of this text. There is SO much going on here, which might be more a reflection of me than the book. But I should of taken the hint from the cast of characters in the Preface, which would seem ordinary in a 500+ page book, but not a 250 page one. Overall, a harrowing story.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shruti Choudhury

    Fantastic book! Its doesnt take sides and thats so rare in these bigotry times. Superb insight to the immigrants in europe, the people who look amiss but who play an important role in holding the society together. Also tells you about the ones who decide to radicalise and bring bad name. All in all its a great read for history buffs and those interested in fresh perspective !!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nader Ahmed

    An excellent read on the history of how the International Muslim Brotherhood came to be, and its highly complex network of affiliated Islamist groups in Europe. Falls a bit short though on their methods of reaching and influencing Policy making in Europe and the West. A well written and highly informative book nevertheless.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Caloway Gavin

    Well researched, well documented and well written. But read it for the history vs clear links to modern Islamic extremist elements. The most interesting aspects of this book are WWII until the 60s, height of the Cold War and tons of CIA and German intel links to pretty dodgy people and groups set the stage for later more violent Islamic based terrorist groups.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mohamed Abdel Raouf

    a great book to be read by opened minded people. it is a book that proofs that everything is about dirty politics and not about religion at all! importantly, this book proofs that this world is really controlled and ruled by some idiots and devils.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tommy G

    The author has done is research and I feel bad only giving this book three stars. Unfortunately there is just way too many names of people and organizations that don't amount to much (in the story). Interesting none the less and worth reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Shields

    Title is great, book is not. Too many names, boring story. Great research, but my attention was gone at page 150.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Boozy

    very dry reading, but informative. excellent source material for groups operating in Europe.

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