The subject of the mosque has currently taken the U.S. by storm with the central focal point on the Cordoba House at Ground Zero. We tend to equate mosques with churches and synagogues. This is not unusual especially since we find consolation in similarity, a collective group fantasy that three alleged Abrahamic faiths are alike claiming we are cousins, brothers or siblings. Yet the differences are vast.
A mosque is not at all like a church or a synagogue. If we look at the origins or etymology, “mosque” comes from the Arabic root meaning to prostrate, literally prostration, which is a submissively prone position. The mosque as a sacred place in time and space which is inextricably linked to and reinforces the image of Muslims, mainly male Muslims, bowing down during their prayers underscoring Islam’s core meaning of – not peace but submission. Unlike churches and synagogues, mosques function not only as a sacred place for worship but also as a beachhead as a source to claim territory and to do dawa, that is, to convert the non-Muslims in the new place where they are building the mosque to Islam.
Little attention has been given to the function of the mosque in terms of networking and spreading extremism only more apparent after 9/11. Ian Johnson has written the first critical text on the relation of a mosque to the political endgame of establishing Sharia law in Europe vis a vis the Muslim Brotherhood. His book is called A Mosque in Munich. The credo of the Muslim Brotherhood is important to keep in mind:
“Allah is our goal; the Prophet is our guide; the Quran is our constitution; Jihad is our way; and death for the glory of Allah is our greatest ambition.”
The mosque in Munich of which he writes is the Islamic Center of Munich, Germany. The book’s subtitle encapsulates the nuanced treacherous terrain of The Nazis, the CIA and the Muslim Brotherhood. But the book is much more than those three groupings because we encounter the entire issue of the complexity of competing Muslim groups and its subsequent generations from those that served with the Nazis from Central Asia, a part of the ummah that the American reader would not have been necessarily interested in prior to the war in Afghanistan. Here the Central Asians Muslims are of Turkic origins along with the better known diversity of the Egyptians, Palestinians and miscellaneous émigrés to Europe.
There is no other book that has broken this kind of ground. Johnson achieves this through the griping genre of a detective story pealing back the layers of history, cast of characters on the order of a Dostoyevsky novel, competing political agendas, religions and even intra-communal conflicts of the world-wide ummah, the international Muslim community.
Full disclosure. I met Ian Johnson right after 9/11 when he was Berlin Bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. I traveled through Berlin en route to Israel as he had taken an interest in my writing. He was generous in giving to me part of a police deposition concerning the early childhood of Christian Ganczarski, the German Al Qaeda convert. I am deeply indebted to him for these precious pages, which I have written about in my book, The Banality of Suicide Terrorism: The Naked Truth about the Psychology of Islamic Suicide Bombing.
Counter terrorist experts give short shrift to the impact of early childhood development on the personality leading to extremism. Indeed, I was humbled to discover at the end of his book that Johnson acknowledged my work in terrorism and psychology. I had read his first book Wild Grass in which he presented three fascinating pictures of change with regard to modern China. He is a writer’s writer, a Pulitzer Prize winner and can tell a story like nobody’s business but A Mosque in Munich is ground breaking because he unwittingly points to, but does not explicitly say, what needs to be systematically done across the United States, Latin American, Europe, Australia and elsewhere – a city by city exposé of how radical Islam, specifically the Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood, not only infiltrated these countries through the umma’s mosques.
Johnson thrives on details that show how a seemingly obscure quiet mosque after WWII in Germany led to devastating consequences for democracy and freedom, a pre-warning sign for creeping Sharia which is now galloping. Another reviewer of this book used the word “weaponized” to describe how Islam has been manipulated into Islamism. Weaponizing is different from instrumentalizing which is what Johnson lays bear in the Muslim Brotherhood project. We see the Nazis trying to use Islam to their benefit and then the CIA after the war trying to use Islam as a new tool in its cold war efforts. Engineering desired outcomes with any ideological system is always risky business as it is sure to backfire because such manipulation is dependent on the human personality, which remains unpredictable.
“Weaponize,” to my ear, does not seem to accurately portray Islam because it has always already been a political tool using the sword of Jihad, and again is completely distinct from Christianity and Judaism in this regard. While there are millions of moderate Muslims, Islam itself is not moderate. Furthermore, and perhaps most crucially, Johnson strengthens the insidious relationship between Nazism and Islam. This is not new news about Haj Amin Al-Husseini or those Muslims who fought with the Nazis during the war, the Bosnian Muslim Hanzar brigades fighting for the Nazi Werhmacht. Indeed even the Nazis were a bit taken a back to the degree to which these Muslims embraced the annihilation of the Jews during the Holocaust. Morse in his The Nazi Connection to Islamic Terrorism notes the popular Arab song in the late 30s: “No more monsieur, no more Mister. In Heaven Allah, on Earth Hitler.”
But what is of interest, is the degree to which the shared hatred and wish to annihilate the Jew resonated with both enterprises and continues to do so. In simplistic apocalyptic thinking the quest for purity is always dependent upon a scapegoat and the scapegoat, which comes fully loaded in Western thought and Islamic theology is the Jew. I could not help thinking of the brutal tragic slaughter of Danny Pearl z”l, Johnson’s colleague. In a way I felt that this book was also a sefer zikronot a memorial book to Pearl.
I had many questions while reading this book. Having traveled to Central Asia in 1977 on account of trying to help the Refuseniks, those Jews who wanted to get out of Russia, I was familiar with Soviet style Islam, very different than today. I also knew Turkey and its Islam through my studies of Ladino – again also very different than what we encounter today. Both are now radicalized. I also felt the repressiveness and anti-Semitism of the former Soviet Union and its daily effects of such communism. I saw vandalized homes of refuseniks and met with families and friends who had love ones in jail, in the Gulag.
I found myself associating back to my own childhood, recalling grown up during the cold war, seeing missile silos along Lake Michigan and dodging under a school desk during nuclear bomb drills as well as seeing those fall out shelters being stocked with supplies, as if any of this could really provide protection. Though now as a psychoanalyst, I understand how terror is engrained early on in children.
There were other questions too that came to my mind which were again quite personal. Johnson has an uncanny ability to write a narrative which taps into you, personally. I wondered what had been going on when I was studying for my doctorate in comparative literature in the late 70s at the University of Minnesota when professors were going to Saudi Arabia to earn extra money. One professor even moved to Geneva, Switzerland, which became the European chosen “hometown” of Tariq Ramadan (Johson writes about his father and grandfather, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al-Banna). And oh by the way, this professor just happened to develop an interest in Arabic.
Now I would love to connect those dots. Some of these were the deconstructionists whom I struggled to comprehend their gobbledygook just like I did, when I heard Tariq Ramadan speak at a closed conference by invitation only in Cambridge England where he managed to talk out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. I understood nothing but felt in my gut a nauseating unspoken anti-Semitism. His is a not so hidden agenda that reeks of rage and passive aggressive behavior. If I had to place my money on it, these academic armchair Volvo Marxists could have easily been bedfellows with the Muslim Brotherhood, if not even converts to the cause.
This too made me think of Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, which was published in 1951. I wonder what Hoffer would say now. He saw Islam as an authoritarian totalitarian entity, not a religion of peace. I wondered too in what year did the Muslim Brotherhood arrive on the Minneapolis scene. You knew they were there because of the posters hanging in the mosques. All of this took place in an eerie silence.
Let me end with the quote from the Quran with which Johnson begins his masterpiece:
There are those who build a mosque from mischievous motives, to spread unbelief and disunite the faithful. Koran 9:107
Johnson comes to disclose those “mischievous motives” as well as dubious practices of the CIA the aftermath with which we are now living, as in Afghanistan and the global spread of jihad. The quibble I have with the chosen quote, is an inherent problem of the black and white binary oppositions which gird the entire ideological system of Islam. To foreground only one face or one side of the binary opposition of the Quran such as” the mischievous”, falls short, because it is as if to say, mosque building is devoid of an aggressive political agenda, i.e. dawa, jihad, submitting all non-Muslims to Islam ultimately and above all the annihilation of the Jews.
Nevertheless, A Mosque in Munich must be entered into the top ten essential books for understanding what we facing or to put it another way around: Has the mosque in your “hood” been brought to you by the Muslim Brotherhood? If so, remember – they love death.
Ian Johnson. A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, The CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, New York, 2010. Buy at: Amazon.