How Islamists Came to Dominate European Islam
Western governments have a history of ignoring the Islamists’
repulsive ideology and working with them; the results have never been
The 7/7 bombings in London, in which Islamists killed 52 and injured
700, prompted British authorities to work with Muslims to avoid future
However, rather than turn to anti-Islamist Muslims who reject the
triumphalist goal of applying Islamic law in Europe, they promoted
non-violent Islamists, hoping these would persuade coreligionists to
express their hatred of the West in lawful ways. This effort featured
Tariq Ramadan (b. 1962), a prominent Islamist intellectual. For example,
London’s Metropolitan Police partially funded a conference that Ramadan
addressed, and Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed him to an official
"working group on tackling extremism.”
Deploying an Islamist may have seemed like an original and clever
idea, but it was neither. Western governments have been allying without
success with Islamists for decades. Indeed, they have been allying with
Ramadan’s own family.
In 1953, Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower hosted a group of foreign Muslims
that included Said Ramadan (1926–95), a leader of arguably the most
influential Islamist organization of the twentieth century, the rabidly
anti-West Muslim Brotherhood — and also Tariq’s father. The
Eisenhower-Ramadan meeting took place in the context of sustained U.S.
government efforts to rally Muslims against Soviet Communism, in part by
putting Said Ramadan on the CIA payroll. Talcott Seelye, an American
diplomat who met with him about that time, explains: "We thought of
Islam as a counterweight to communism.”
Then there was Hasan al-Banna (1906–49), Tariq’s grandfather, founder
of the Muslim Brotherhood, and recipient of Nazi funding. American
diplomats in Cairo in the late 1940s had "regular meetings” with
al-Banna, found him "perfectly empathetic,” and perceived his
organization to be a "moderate” and even a "positive” force. The British
apparently offered al-Banna money.
In other words, Western governments have a history of ignoring the
Islamists’ repulsive ideology and working with them, even strengthening
In a stunning piece of investigative historical research, Ian
Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist formerly with the Wall
Street Journal, reveals new twists and turns of this drama in his
just-released book, A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of
the Muslim Brotherhood in the West.
Johnson opens with a review of the systematic Nazi efforts to recruit
Soviet Muslims from among their prisoners of war. Many Muslims loathed
Stalin, and between 150,000 and 300,000 of them fought for the Axis in
World War II. In other words, over and above their unfulfilled
propaganda effort directed at Arabs, the Nazis actually fielded a
substantial force of mainly Turkic Muslims under the leadership of a
scholarly Nazi enthusiast named Gerhard von Mende.
After the German defeat in 1945, Johnson follows von Mende as he
continued his anti-Communist work with ex-Soviet Muslims, now in a Cold
War context. But his network of former soldiers proved not very
competent at the task of arousing Muslim hostility against the Soviet
Union. Their leading intellectual, for example, had served as the imam
of an SS division that helped suppress the Warsaw uprising of 1944.
Islamists quickly proved themselves far more competent at this political
and religious challenge. Johnson explains that they "wear suits, have
university degrees, and can formulate their demands in ways that a
politician can understand.”
The heart of his fascinating study lies in tracing the evolution,
much of it in Munich, from old soldiers to new Islamists. It’s a classic
tale of 1950s intrigue, complete with rehabilitated Nazis, CIA front
organizations, and dueling Soviet and American ambitions.
Johnson shows how, without anyone quite planning it, the Americans
usurped von Mende’s network and handed it over to Said Ramadan. This
early U.S. boost to the Muslim Brotherhood, Johnson argues, gave it the
means to establish an Islamist framework just in time to welcome the
surge of Muslim immigration to Europe in the 1970s.
Thus did the Islamist domination of European Muslims have two hidden
facilitators, Nazi and American. Its origins in Operation Barbarossa
reveal the ugly pedigree of today’s Islamist strength. Hitler and his
thugs could not have foreseen it, but they helped set the stage for
American backing for Islamists prompts Johnson to warn against the
futility of allying with the Muslim Brotherhood and its ilk — as Tony
Blair once again recently attempted. However tempting, it invariably
harms the West. The lesson is simple: Be cognizant of history and do not
assist the Islamists.
— Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube
Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.