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
Pulitzer-winning journalist Johnson (Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China) tells a probing saga of militant Islamism rooted in a Munich mosque in a cold war strategy gone wrong. The mosque eventually became the epicenter of Islamist organizing in Europe and America. Johnson's story goes back to Nazi Germany's recruitment of Soviet Muslim POWs into anti-Soviet propaganda organizations; during the cold war, the CIA vied with West Germany to control these Munich-based exiles for anti-Soviet propaganda. The CIA brought in Said Ramadan, an Egyptian anticommunist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who stealthily wrested control of a mosque-building project from the CIA- and German-controlled Muslim factions, redirecting it to Islamism. Johnson pens a lucid, closely observed account of the fraught intersection of intelligence bureaucracies with migr political factions. It's not quite a tale of blowback : the mosque was funded largely by Saudi and Libyan money, and the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have been only marginally abetted by the CIA. But it is a troubling example of America's perennial cluelessness about the Muslim world and its religious politics.