Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ian Johnson's "A Mosque in Munich"

Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson spent five years researching and writing A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, interviewing survivors, scouring archives, and pressuring governments to release sensitive intelligence documents. He is also the author of Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China.

Johnson applied the “Page 99 Test” to A Mosque in Munich and reported the following:
This is a part of the book that I had a lot of fun researching. It's the late 1950s and one of the coldest points in the Cold War. Espionage is rife and each side is angling for "assets" to use against the others. Thanks to newly declassified information that I used on this page, I could piece together a turning point in the book.

The West Germans have identified a group of Muslims living in Munich who had fought for the Nazis in World War II. The government in Bonn hopes to use them to curry favor in the Muslim world against the East Germans. But the CIA has started to make overtures to these Muslims and is hoping to usurp the Germans and use these Muslims in covert propaganda operations against the Soviet Union.

At this point in the story, one of our protagonists, Gerhard von Mende, has just brought back to Germany an Uzbek who had been the imam of a SS division in the war and declared him head of Munich's Muslims. He hopes that this person will unite the Munich Muslims and keep out the United States. Von Mende's letters are rife with criticism of the Americans and grand plans to win over the Muslims. At this point in the book, his man has just arrived in Munich.

When you think of it, the move was audacious--and kind of galling. Who the heck was von Mende, himself a Nazi agent and post-war spook, to anoint someone as head of a group of Muslims? It was also a tactical disaster. The man he picked had worked in a division famous for its cruel suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Today we
might call him a war criminal. Back then he lacked credibility. The upshot: the West Germans lost control of the Muslims and the door was opened for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain its first toehold in the West.
Learn more about the book and author at Ian Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue