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A Mosque in Munich
Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West
By Ian Johnson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 320 pages, $27
MONTREAL-BORN Pulitzer Prize-winner Ian Johnson's new book is the stuff of high drama. It is also a meticulously researched work that demonstrates first-rate investigative journalism and historical inquiry.
Here is the story of how an obscure mosque and Islamic teaching centre in Germany came under the control of "the Muslim Brotherhood," an organization that promotes a modern political, and radical interpretation of Islam.
The Brotherhood is explicitly anti-secular, anti-Semitic and hostile to western involvement in the Muslim world. It looks with favour on such militant organizations as Hamas and Hezbollah, and, as Johnson shows, the mosque in Munich was an important source of inspiration for some of the most desperate of the Islamic jihadist militants.
Among several terrorists and would-be terrorists with direct contact to Munich was Mohammed Atta, the leader of the cells responsible for the 9/11 attacks. In short, from its base in Munich the Moslem Brotherhood found a gateway to Europe for radical Islamists and became an important influence on Europe's growing Muslim population.
Johnson is a naturalized American citizen and a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. In 2001, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, a cause taken up by Winnipeg human rights activist David Matas.
In Johnson's latest book, he shows how the West's attempt to exploit Islam has deep and disturbing roots. During the Second World War, German intelligence and the SS developed the idea of using Soviet citizens of Islamic background in their war effort.
The Nazi authorities took advantage of the religious and national resentments of the Soviet minorities to recruit for the Waffen SS.
Hitler himself recruited some 2,000 Muslims from among his Soviet prisoners. These served in special units of the Waffen SS with their own SS trained officers and with their own religious leadership.
These wartime efforts were co-ordinated by a shadowy and talented leader of the Ostministerium. He was an expert on Soviet nationalities and an enthusiastic Nazi by the name of Gerhard von Mende.
After the war, von Mende continued his anti-Soviet work in company with former Nazi colleagues and his Muslim protégés. These people formed a core of dedicated anti-Soviet propaganda and intelligence-gathering operatives.
Johnson traces the complicated story of von Mende's involvement with American and German intelligence services and with Radio Liberty. It was von Mende who played a central role in the decision to provide an organizational and spiritual centre for the West's Muslim allies in Germany. This took the form of an Islamic centre and mosque in Munich.
It took some time, but the growing attention on the full horror of the Holocaust increasingly undermined the positions of former Nazis and those like von Mende's Soviet Muslims who had sympathized or worked with the Nazis.
As the value of von Mende's Muslims for anti-Soviet propaganda and intelligence operations declined, so American intelligence turned to Islamic organizations with better credentials.
In American eyes, especially, such was the Muslim Brotherhood. American intelligence especially favoured the most modern politically and spiritually motivated Muslim allies.
Johnson even points to the strong possibility of direct U.S. financial support for the Brotherhood. All that is missing in the evidence, Johnson says, is the "pay stub."
This initial U.S. support of people drawn from radical Islam opened the door for the Brotherhood in Europe and made possible its control of the Munich mosque.
It was conceived as a home for the West's Muslim allies in the struggle against the Soviet Union. It ended as the central organizational and spiritual centre of Islamist radicalism in the new Europe.
Davis Daycock is a senior scholar in political studies at the University of Manitoba.