Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Mosque in Munich by Ian Johnson

Through-out World War II nearly one million Soviet citizens of several faiths and ethnicities- deserters from the Red Army or enlisted from conquered territories- served the Germans, most in non-military roles. The best estimate for Muslim participation is 250,000, with most in military roles; Dagestanis, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ossetians, men from the North Caucasus who felt loyal to their homeland and religion rather than to the Soviet Empire. Nazi ambitions in this region were simple. The cities of Baku and Grozny were then key centers of oil production and Germany had plans to take them over but not in the form of a colony. That let the Nazis play the role of liberators and many locals, glad to see someone stand up to their communist oppressors, treated them as such.

The preference for enlisting Muslims- styled "Turkic peoples"- in the Wehrmacht was clear from the start. Hitler himself backed the policy. He warned the military leadership to be careful in setting up military units of subjected peoples but allowed for an exception: "I don't see any risk if one actually sets up pure Mohammedan units." Soon the SS wanted these non-German troops and established the East Turkestani Armed Formation which fought partisan groups in Ukraine, Greece, Italy as well as putting down the Warsaw city uprising in 1994.

A Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, or Ostministerium, was established in Berlin, headed by Gerhard von Mende, a remarkable linguist from Latvia, one of the world's authorities on Soviet and Central Asian politics. He wrote The National Struggle of the Turkic Peoples of Russia: A Contribution to the Nationalities Question in Soviet Russia. After some opposition to his appointment as a adjunct professor at Berlin University in 1937, he had embraced Nazis ideology and became a leading light in the articulation of anticommunist propaganda for various Nazis organizations. The Ostministerium represented itself a kind of shadow government of the Central Republics, laid out frameworks for the future, recruited the 'brightest and the best', all of which helped to secure the loyalties of the Muslim soldiers serving in the German Army.

Gerhard von Mende survived the war and, in fact, managed to arrange for thousands of Muslim soldiers and employees of his Ministry to surrender to the European allied forces rather than to the Russians and subsequently helped get them out of post-war detention and to find them jobs, principally in the CIA front Radio Liberty where he continued his anticommunist propaganda (directed at the Central Asian Soviet Republics) though mostly in the interests of the new government of West Germany whose policy diverged on a few points from that of the Americans. Gerhard thought that truth was the best propaganda with respect to the peoples of Central Asia while many operatives from the CIA were more interested in confrontation and sabotage, aggressive rather than passive measures to overthrow the Soviet Empire.

Von Menke was the first to try to establish the Mosque in Munich as a cultural and religious center for the many "Turkic People" stranded in Germany after the war. However, once a clear and public understanding of the Holocaust, and the role of the Ostministerium in it was exposed in the United States by the work of the noted scholar Raul Hilberg, Gerhard's position at Radio Liberty and his control of the Mosque project was seriously undermined. Radio Liberty was merged with Radio Free Europe, the control of the Mosque in Munich and various over-arching institutes, conferences, councils and publishing houses representing Muslim religion and culture in Germany, and through-out Europe for that matter, fell into the hands of various ambitious and largely independent elite groups loosely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and funded by the government of Saudi Arabia.

Today, roughly 2 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany, most of them Muslim. Another 1.5 million Muslims from other parts of the world, especially Bosnia and North Africa, also make their home there. 10% of all the people in France are Muslim. Between fifteen to twenty million Muslims live in Western Europe as a whole, about four times the number living in the United States, which has roughly the same size population.


In a small hotel on the edge of London in 2004, Mohammad Hawari was addressing a panel of men practicing the ancient art of Islamic jurisprudence. The men were helping European Muslims integrate into the West by reconciling the demands of Islam with the secular laws of their host countries. Because Islam regulates many temporal matters - such as finances, times for prayer, and food - the need for concrete advice is arguably greater than it is in most other religions. Questions range from the complex to the practical and the mundane. Hawari and the scholars were ready to provide the answers.

At this session, the panel had decided to tackle family life. Hawari, a prosperous scientist from the German city of Aachen, was addressing a key problem familiar to any modern parent or grandparent: sex. Muslim children, the sixty-three-year-old said, were being waylaid by the West's sexual revolution. They had to stay pure and chaste, saving sexual relations for marriage. It was a normal plea for traditional values, one that can be heard countless times a week in mosques, churches, and temples around the world.

Then came a disturbing turn in the discussion. The cause of the sexual revolution, Hawari informed the group, was Jews. They had a secret plan to takeover the world by weakening families of other faiths. This was no idle speculation on his part, Hawari told the scholars, all of them taking notes and listening attentively. He had found the proof: minutes of a meeting, which he now read aloud to the group.

"We should seek to collapse morals everywhere to facilitate our control. Freud is one of us. He will continue to high-light sexual relations in order for them to cease to be sacred in the eyes of youth, until their major concern becomes satisfying their sexual desire and then their morals collapse."

The citation came from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, one of the most notorious works of anti-Semitism in Western History. The protocols are purported to be an account of Jewish conspirators plotting to take over the world by undermining Western civilization. The book was the creation of czarist agents in the nineteenth century, who were at the forefront of a new, more dangerous form of anti-Semitism. Maybe more stunning than Hawari's use of the book was the response it elicited: nothing.

It was a meeting of the European Council for Fatwa and Research. The council is the most influential body involved in shaping Muslim religious opinion in Europe and, through a sister organization, in the United States. Its opinions are not binding, but they are available online and published in books, which are distributed to mosques throughout Europe. Imams take courses in the council's thinking and are advised to use its methods of argumentation when local worshipers raise questions. The council's role in Europe might seem like a bit of bad luck - perhaps a typical case of immigrants bringing with them the regressive social mores or traditions of their homeland. But that view would be mistaken. The council is a creation of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, a direct descendant of the Munich mosque.

Given the council's makeup, its members acceptance of such ideas is not surprising. Of its thirty-five members, two thirds are Muslim Brotherhood activists from the Middle East or Africa. Its head is Youssef Qaradawi, the man who helped rebuild the Brotherhood in the 1970s, considered the most influential and charismatic imam with a popular website and television show. His views are often considered mainstream or even progressive by Middle Eastern standards; he encourages women to work and permits music, which fundamentalist frown upon. But he also sanctions suicide bombings against Israeli civilians and the stoning of homosexuals.

For years, the Brotherhood pushed this kind of Islam in Europe, not only through the fatwa council but also at scores of conventions, seminars, and workshops. In most European countries Brotherhood groups are among the most influential - the Union of French Islamic Organizations, the Muslim Association of Britain, and the Islamic Community of Germany, with its ideological Turkish twin, Milli Gorus.

During his presidential campaign the Obama team appointed Mazen Asbahi as its Muslim outreach coordinator, although Asbahi had extensive contacts with Brotherhood organizations and was even the head of the Muslim Student Association, which was founded by people with ties to the Munich mosque. He resigned in 2008 only when the facts had been dug up by an online newsletter and published in a national newspaper. In power, the Obama administration has continued its predecessor's endorsement of Islamists. In January 2009, for example, the State Department sponsored a visit of German Muslim leaders to one of the bastions of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States, the International Institute of Islamic Thought.

Like many Brotherhood-related groups, IIIT faded from public view after the 9/11 attacks but has experienced a renaissance recently. IIIT had been closely associated with a raft of Islamist organizations in northern Virginia that were raided by federal agents because of their suspected ties to extremist Islam. The groups in question were primarily problematic for ideological reasons- for trying to push the Brotherhood's vision of an Islamicized society, which clearly cannot work in a pluralistic culture. But instead of being challenged on the field of ideas, where they could easily be shown to hold beliefs antithetical to democratic ideals, they were accused of supporting criminal activities and were raided.

This had a double effect: it created the strange spectacle of the legal arm of the government trying desperately to prosecute these groups while, at the same time, the diplomatic arm held them up as models of integration. In addition, the failure to convict the Muslims was seen as an exoneration, almost a seal of approval!


  1. A Mosque in Munich; Nazis, The CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West. by Ian Johnson; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, N.Y. 2010

  2. Two points:

    1.)While it is damaging that U.S. administrations rather haphazardly provide endorsement to elite groups associated with the pernicious Islamist ideologies of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is equally discouraging that they usually fail to recognize or provide any support to Islamic reform movements more congenial to the interests and worldviews of liberal , pluralistic democratic society, as perhaps represented by ex-president Khatami in Iran. This is not a matter Ian Johnson takes up in his narrative to any appreciable degree.

    2) What elite leadership groups say in do is one thing, what "the masses" of Muslims think and do is another. For example, the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church is against the use of condoms and other forms of "artificial" contraception, as well as divorce yet we know that many, possibly even the majority of Catholics use such means and often get divorced.

    Mr. Johnson does elude to a considerable lack of interest among Muslim laity in Europe in the "machinations" of their elites, the dwindling involvement of the old soldiers stranded in Germany after the war in the activities of the Mosque in Munich for example, this point is perhaps not sufficiently emphasized in his narrative.

  3. he original source of the "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" was an allegorical satire written by the Parisian Lawyer Maurice Joly: "Dialogues in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu" (c. 1864), the wickedest lines belonging to Emperor Louis Napoleon III in the shape of Machiavelli. The fact that it was allegorical did not prevent Joly from being tried for sedition, fined and imprisoned for fifteen months. His "Dialogues" made no mention of Jews.

    A copy of Joly's book was discovered by London Times correspondent in Constantinople Peter Graves in the summer of 1921.

    The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" itself was translated into Arabic in 1925 and was praised by the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem who called upon all Christians to read it. However, it was banned by the French high commissioner in Syria on the grounds that it would inflame local hatreds.

    The "Protocols" reached America in 1919 where it was published by the Philadelphia Public Ledger with Jewish references omitted. However, an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor remarked that " It would be a tremendous mistake to conclude that the Jewish peril does not exist." , The Chicago Tribune likewise. Henry Ford became the leading propagandist for the book, publishing a length series on it in his "Dearborn Independent" newspaper which was later collected into four volumes titled "The International Jew" which eventually sold ( below cost) one-half million copies in America alone. - "Voodoo Histories" by David Aronovitch