Germany: The Muslim-Brotherhood connection

Germany: The Muslim-Brotherhood connection

As we know too well by now, sometime in the past century the religion of Muhammad was weaponized—that is, there was a coupling of terrorism and Islam among its militant believers. This development didn't take place in isolation, however. Islamism, as we now call a radical version of the faith, emerged in close contact with the West. In the decades before 9/11 Western governments often turned a blind eye to Islamist agitation or, in a few cases, na├»vely nurtured the very people who today inspire or lead terrorist attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and other parts of the world—even, as we were reminded by last week's attempted bombing in Times Square, in the U.S.


Banna was assassinated in 1949; his group was banned in Egypt and hounded out of other Arab states. But the Brotherhood found safe haven in postwar Europe. This sanctuary was essential to the Brotherhood's future but attracted little attention until the attacks of 9/11, for which Europe was the staging ground. As a Journal reporter (who, incidentally, left the newspaper earlier this year), Ian Johnson spent a good part of the years following 9/11 untangling Europe's webs of radical Islam. The result is "A Mosque in Munich," an impeccably researched and eye-opening work of social and political history.

Mr. Johnson brings to life a previously overlooked episode in the Muslim Brotherhood's story and thus in the story of Islamism as a whole: How a radical European beachhead came to be established in Munich. It should be said that the story takes some confusing turns; even alert readers may find themselves flipping to the list of characters at the back of the book, or to the index, to help them follow the narrative. But many of the details are astonishing and the larger implications for our own time disturbing.

As religious fervor took on a political cast in the 20th century, intelligence agencies and policy wonks, at various times, sought to exploit Islamists for their own purposes. In the 1980s, for instance, America supported Osama bin Laden and the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviets, inadvertently giving force to the "blowback" that followed. But Mr. Johnson says that the roots of the "blowback" extend all the way to Nazi Germany. During the 1930s, the German government saw the Muslim Brotherhood, with its anti-Semitism and its anti-communist views, as a useful ally. The Germans bankrolled the group's quasi-military wing. At the same time, the Nazis recruited religious Muslims in Central Asia and the Caucasus to fight the Soviets. Some of these Nazi-allied Muslims later found refuge in postwar Germany, more than a few ending up in Munich.

By then the Cold War was starting up, and America was seeking ways to counter the Soviet Union. A CIA-backed outfit called the American Committee for Liberation recruited the expatriate Soviet Muslims for Radio Liberty, a broadcast arm of the U.S. government that, among other things, was trying to stir up Soviet minorities against Stalin's rule. The U.S. (and the British) also decided to back the Muslim Brotherhood; as the sworn enemy of Egyptian ruler Gamel Nasser, the group looked like a useful friend.

The principal contact between the Western agents and the Muslim Brotherhood was Said Ramadan
[ed: Tariq Ramadan's father], a prominent "brother" who had fled from Egypt to Europe in the 1950s and went on to write a classic work on Islamic law. In 1953 he even met with President Dwight Eisenhower at the White House. A CIA analyst wrote: "Ramadan seems to be a Fascist, interested in the grouping of individuals for power." It was an astute reading of the man and his organization. It was also ignored. Though the CIA files for this period are closed and Mr. Johnson can't say "definitively" whether Ramadan was on the agency's payroll, the U.S., he claims, used "financial and political leverage to give the Brotherhood's man in Europe a leg up."


"A Mosque in Munich" makes clear that the West for too long misjudged militant Islam's threat and may have unwittingly facilitated the rise of a movement that, Mr. Johnson says, "creates a mental preconditioning for terrorism." The challenge for the U.S. and for Europe—now home to 20 million Muslims, four times the number in America—will be how to uproot radical Islam while integrating recent Muslim arrivals and their children.


Source: WSJ (English)

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