Middle East Resources

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Infiltration of the West

A Review Article by Bassam Michael Madany

Introduction

Arab Nationalism suffered a severe blow following the Hazima (Defeat) of the Six Day War in June, 1967. President Gamal Abdu-Nasser who had promised to utterly defeat Israel, found its armies occupying the Sinai Peninsula, and stationed at the east bank of the Suez Canal. That Hazima had far-reaching consequences, and became a major factor in the rebirth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and in other parts of the Arab world.

The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon) was Hassan al-Banna            (1906 – 1949.) His father Ahmad al-Banna was an Imam at a mosque in a small town north of Cairo. The family moved to Cairo, where Hassan studied at Dar al-Uloom school. At the young age of 22, he founded the Brotherhood to combat the impact of Western secularism on Egyptian life, as it was very evident in the capital.  By 1930, there were branches of the Ikhwan in every province, and eight years later, it counted 500,000 active members drawn from several strands of the Egyptian society.

Hassan al-Banna did more than writing and speaking; he manifested his activism by sending a contingent of Ikhwan to fight in southern Palestine, alongside the Egyptian Army in May, 1948. King Faruq’s Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nukrashi Pasha claimed that the Brotherhood was plotting a coup, and disbanded the organization in December, 1948. Soon after that, he was assassinated.  Al-Banna condemned the assassination; however that did not convince the authorities. On 12 February, 1949, he and his brother-in-law Abdul Karim were shot dead on a Cairo street, as they stood waiting for a taxi.

The Brotherhood was severely impacted by the death of its founder. He became a Shaheed, a martyr for the cause of re-vitalizing Islamic society in Egypt. Not long after the assassination, another leader of the Ikhwan appeared, Sayyid Qutb. Interestingly, he was born in a town in Upper Egypt, on 9 October, 1906, five days prior to Al-Banna’s birth!

Qutb is considered the ideologue of the Brotherhood, and may be counted as one of the fathers of Islamism.  In the late 1940s, he spent two years studying in America.  At Colorado State University in Greely, he became extremely critical of the students’ life, especially the mingling between young students of the two sexes. Returning home, he wrote two major books: “Milestones on the Way” and a commentary on the Qur’an: “In the Shade of the Qur’an.” On 26 October, 1954, when President Nasser was delivering a speech at Alexandria,[i] there was an attempt to assassinate him; but the plot failed. Members of the Brotherhood were arrested, a mob in Cairo burnt their offices; Sayyid Qutb was tried and executed on 29 August, 1966.

As a result of the crackdown on the members of “Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon,” several of its members left Egypt and went to Europe and the United States. At a speaking engagement in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in March 1959, I remember meeting four Egyptian students who were attending the University of Michigan. I learnt that they were “refugees” from their homeland because they were members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

One prominent member of the Brotherhood was Said Ramadan, the son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna. He had settled in Switzerland, and played a major role in the infiltration of the organization in Germany. This has been well documented by Ian Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize winning American author. He relates that story, and reveals some little known events in a book entitled: A MOSQUE IN MUNICH: NAZIS, THE CIA, AND THE RISE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN THE WEST.”[ii]

The following is my review of the book; it’s an intriguing story with many international actors. It explains how “The Muslim Brotherhood Infiltrated Western Europe and the United States of America.” I must add that I know Mr. Johnson personally; as I met him in Seattle, Washington, during one of his book tours.

In the winter of 2003, Mr. Johnson, as he often did, was browsing the latest offerings of a Muslim bookstore in London.  Prominently displayed amidst the highly radical literature was a colorful map.  It highlighted important centers of Islamic influence around the world.  His curiosity was piqued in particular by a reference to “The Islamic Center of Munich.”  Mr. Johnson at first assumed its prominence on the map had something to do with meeting the needs of the vast number of Muslim immigrants who, since the 1960’s, were living in Germany and in Munich specifically.  But why, he wondered, was it up there along with only three other world-famous mosques including the one in Mecca?  What was so special about it that it could garner such attention?  Mr. Johnson spent the next several years researching the answer, combing through countless archives and interviewing people connected to the Mosque project.  The result is this excellent book chronicling events surrounding the Mosque’s creation decades ago and what it has become at this moment in time – a vehicle for spreading the principles of the Muslim Brotherhood into the West.  The story is a sharp reminder of the risk of unintended consequences that often result from even well-intentioned aims. 

In the first chapters, the reader is introduced to the post-World War II setting in West Germany and a particularly important character named Gerhard von Mende.  Among the many displaced persons inhabiting Germany after the war were Muslim minorities who had lived under Soviet domination in the Caucasus, as well as the Muslims of the Central Asian republics of the USSR.  Former Nazi von Mende believed there was a special place for them, many of whom had fought for the Nazis, in post-war Germany. Von Mende had been a brilliant scholar with expertise on the Turkic peoples living in the Caucasus and Central Asia when Hitler found a task for him in his Third Reich.  He was put in charge of “the ‘Ostministerium’ where he developed plans for harnessing Islam, a strategy that would last long after the Nazi defeat.” (p. 21) Von Mende was a very willing and effective tool in Hitler’s Third Reich goals.  He had no qualms about the pogroms being conducted against the Jews, yet he was very proactive in the ‘Ostministerium’ on behalf of the Muslim minorities of the USSR. Throughout the war, he dealt with captured Muslim soldiers from the Caucasus regions who had been conscripted to fight on behalf of the Soviets against the Germans.  Like von Mende, they hated the Soviets and became willing collaborators with the Germans.  An important ally of von Mende during the War was a Palestinian cleric named Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.  As early as 1933, al-Husseini evidenced his hatred of Jews by advising the Nazis to “get rid of Jewish influence in economics and politics.”  (p. 112) Al-Husseini cooperated with the Nazis in their propaganda efforts to woo the Muslim World into fighting for the Third Reich.  Hatred of the Jews is not only a major theme running through Islamic thought, but has also proved to be a deadly principle of action for its Jihadists.  Whether Western leaders have learned from this dynamic is still an open question.

At war’s end the United States, first under Trueman and then Eisenhower, began serious efforts to combat the influence and expansion of the Soviet Union around the world.  They also saw a use for the Muslim minorities in West Germany.  Johnson relates how the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Council were formed soon after the war. (p. 40) “Psychological warfare” was a highly popular tool with the new agencies and with Eisenhower, and it would be used in future CIA intelligence work.  In Europe the CIA created the American Committee for Liberation (Amcomlib) and Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe were two of its propaganda operations targeting the Soviets and their satellites.  Many of the Muslim minorities were employed in the daily operations of the stations, and rivalry began between those working for the Americans and those for the West Germans.

Von Mende’s plans for using the former Muslim soldiers to benefit West Germany were also taking shape.  His Nazi past was no detriment to him in the post-war years.  Both the new West German government and the United States were willing to work with him and benefit from his various areas of expertise.  He was given a nice office in Dusseldorf and put in charge of the “House of the Homeless Aliens.”  Cooperation between the two allies became more strained, however, as West German confidence increased over the years. Each feared losing the Muslim minorities to the other.  Johnson, in a particularly revealing chapter on how the Mosque was conceived, (pp. 91-103) relates growing tension in U.S.-German relations centering around West Germany’s desire for reunification with East Germany.  Things got complicated when another former Nazi named Theodore Oberländer came into the picture.  Chancellor Adenauer appointed him “cabinet minister in charge of refugees.”  (p. 93) As such, he pushed the particular idea that Germany should recover those “vast stretches of German land lost to Poland and the Soviet Union after the war.”  (p. 91) Oberländer was baulking at the fait accompli that had occurred when the Oder-Neisse border had been fixed at war’s end by the allies.  He wanted von Mende to help him get the border redrawn so as to redress the East Prussians’ grievances at being made homeless by the Allied post-war remapping.  He made common cause with the “expellees” now living in West Germany (p. 92) in an attempt to fulfill his pipedream and keep the issue before the public eye. 

Johnson details the intricate maneuvering that occurred as the Americans were becoming alarmed at this turn of events and their belief that the West German government might make a deal with the Soviets to get reunification with East Germany in return for remaining a neutral power.  They also needed the Muslim minorities for their propaganda work at the radio stations and other projects necessitating the wooing of Muslim “agents”.  The Germans needed the Muslims for their aims as well, but didn’t have quite the resources the U.S. did to sway the minorities.  However, they did conceive what proved to be a very clever chess move.  Why not, thought they, both control and unite their Muslim assets by building them a Mosque.

There were two important leaders of Munich’s Muslims at the time: an imam named Ibrahim Gacaoglu who worked for the Americans, and another imam, Nurredin Namangani, a personal friend of von Mende, who worked for the Germans.  The latter had been a “survivor of the Soviet gulag, imam of an SS division, holder of high military awards, he was an ideal choice to bring Munich’s Muslims into line.” (p. 96) He also was a man the likes of which future years would see a lot more of coming out of Islam: a dedicated Islamic true believer.

Ibrahim Gacaoglu was mellower and considered the elder statesman and popular leader of the rank and file Muslims still displaced in Germany, and was solidly with the Americans and their efforts against the Soviets.  Von Mende and the Bonn government, however, said Gacaoglu was an “American stooge” and “the only issue for them was how to knock out Gacaoglu and the Americans.” (p. 99) They wanted their man to be the Muslim unifier. They succeeded.  A small group of Caucasus Muslims met in a beer cellar in March of 1958, chose Namangani their imam, and created the “Ecclesiastical Administration of Moslem Refugees in the German Federal Republic” which was promptly recognized by the Bonn government and put on its payroll.  Bonn appropriated $30,000 in today’s money to help run the office. The Mosque project took off that same year, 1958, but was not completed until August 1973.  Over the years, money to fund the Mosque came from different sources, especially Saudi ones.  One Saudi businessman donated “one million marks.”  (p. 159)

Meanwhile, in 1956, a young man from Cairo named Said Ramadan also entered into the Mosque story.  With him came another element– the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Ramadan had already made a name for himself in the Brotherhood, traveling all over the Arab world lecturing and exerting his charismatic personality for the cause of Muslim unity.  He also founded The Muslim World League.  As a young man, he had been attracted to Hasan al-Banna, the founder, in 1928, of the Muslim Brotherhood. He became al-Banna’s secretary, and married one of his daughters.

Johnson details (p. 116-119) a most interesting incident in 1953 when Ramadan went to America with a group of Muslims for a Symposium at Princeton University and took a side trip to Washington to meet with President Eisenhower as well.  The White House and State Department wanted to work with the Muslim world and thought they could impress the Symposium delegates and Ramadan about U.S. moral superiority over the Soviets.  A CIA analyst reporting on the meeting had a less sanguine opinion of Ramadan than did the White House and State calling him a “political agitator. . . a political reactionary, a Phalangist or Fascist type. . . interested in the grouping of individuals for power.” (p. 118)

In 1956 Ramadan went to Cologne, Germany for doctoral studies under Dr. Gerhard Kegel.  His thesis was how to implement Sharia Islamic Law.  Dr. Kegel told Johnson in an interview that Ramadan was “intelligent if also fanatical.” (p. 121) Besides working on his thesis, he was traveling all over the Muslim world promoting Islamic interests, including the Mosque. The CIA was supportive and even sponsored some of his conferences.  He was also successful in swaying Muslim students in Germany to his Brotherhood perspective and succeeded in taking control of the Mosque project away from von Mende and his Muslim soldiers.  But his influence eventually waned.  He had helped organize the Muslim World League but lost control of it to the Saudis, who not only funded its projects but came to control its governance.  He was soon to lose control of the Mosque as well.  When it was completed in August of 1973, Ramadan didn’t even attend the celebration ceremonies as he “had left the project in disgust…” (p.182)  He continued his work on Muslim causes from his home in Switzerland and even got involved in various controversies in his final years.  His son Tariq would become well-known as a European model of a moderate Muslim!  As some readers may no doubt remember, Tariq Ramadan was given an appointment to teach at Notre Dame University in Indiana; however, as the Bush Administration denied him visa rights for his questionable ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, he did not assumed his teaching position.[iii]

Even without Ramadan, Muslim Brotherhood influence over the Mosque via its “politically expansionist, Saudi-financed wing” (p. 185) only intensified as other men came on the scene to run it.  Its name even changed as the years went on reflecting its expanding commitments beyond a mere meeting place for local believers. Ghaleb Himmat, in particular, a Syrian and strong Muslim Brotherhood man, “was able to lead the Islamic Center of Munich down an adventurous path…” (p.188)  Youssef Nada, another wealthy Egyptian businessman, was his right hand man who knew where the contacts and money were and “helped guide the Mosque into the Saudi Brotherhood network.” (p. 190).  Even though they headed up the Munich project and the growing number of other German Islamic Centers, they both owned swanky homes near Lake Lugano in Italy from where they spread the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.  Nada lived in the U.S. for a while where his three daughters were born.  So it was that the “marriage of Saudi money and the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology set the stage for the spread of Islamist thinking, not only across the Muslim world, but into the West too. Nada, Himmat, and the Islamic Center of Munich would be its epicenter.” (p. 191) Its ideology became more stridently provocative as it took up Jihadist thinking.  No wonder it would become a haven for future terrorists.  Even Himmat became suspect and had to resign the leadership because of accusations of helping finance Al Qaeda.    (p. 188)

Western leaders are slow learners, if they learn at all.  Recent trends are disturbing.  American officials both criticize and work with the Muslim Brotherhood, mostly the latter.  In 2005 the State Department sponsored a Conference paid for by American taxpayers to implement the idea that “the United States had better Muslim leadership” (p. 223) and could teach their European counterparts a thing or two.  And the teachers were all Muslim Brotherhood men.  So in effect, the “State Department was importing Muslim Brotherhood Islamists with roots in Europe to tell European Muslims how to organize and integrate.”  (p. 223) “This paralleled U. S. efforts in the 1950s to enlist Muslims in Munich for similar public relations purposes…. Just as in the 1950s and ‘60’s, the United States opted for the Brotherhood.” (p. 225) 

In the final chapters Johnson sets forth how the Muslim Brotherhood has exhibited a vastly expanded world-wide influence.  It can be pragmatic when necessary.  It has shown great organizational finesse in starting Islamic entities, with much Saudi financing, in democratic countries, particularly the United States.  It has a freer range of action in America and Europe than in its home country, Egypt, ironically “using” the free world’s media, governmental and academic institutions in perhaps a more effective way than ever the West “used” the Muslim minorities Johnson elucidates.  Iraqis in America founded the Muslim Student Association in 1962.  Ismail Faruqi took charge of the Brotherhood’s International Institute of Islamic Thought near Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he taught.  The Brotherhood’s goal “to provide the theoretical underpinnings for the spread of Islamism in the West” was its organizing principle.  (p. 195) Many Islamist leaders are suave and charming peddlers of the Brotherhood message, and adept at downplaying the harsher aspects of its unbending ideology. Gullible Western leaders in their desire to bend to the demands of “political correctness” are willing to overlook those harsher aspects as well.  The impression is given that they don’t really understand the religion and ideology opposing them.  Such submissive acceptance looks like self-imposed Dhimmitude.

In our post-911 world, the West has no excuse for not educating itself on the beliefs and aims of the Muslim Brotherhood and its desire to implement Islamist goals world-wide. What the Brotherhood has wrought for Islamism on a global scale through that one Mosque in Munich, is frightfully impressive.  Western politicians and intellectual elites would do well to take note of Johnson’s reminder that the Muslim Brotherhood is not just “an Egyptian political party” but “an ideological universe.” (p. 231) So much has been accomplished by the Islamists from events surrounding that small MOSQUE IN MUNICH.  Ian Johnson’s digging into the past for those background events has produced an impressive book.  Now we know how former Nazis, CIA operatives, heads of governments and a colorful cast of other characters used those Muslim minorities left in limbo after WWII for their own political ends.  And in the process the tables got turned.  We can only conclude that by insisting on bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to “educate” the Muslim refugees of the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Americans and West Germans paved the way for an irreversible “Islamic Infiltration of Europe,” which may well transform it into part of Daru’l Islam, i.e., the House of Islam. 

Back to Egypt, the birthplace of Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon. During the one-year rule of President Muhammad Morsi, the Brotherhood almost took over the Egyptian State institutions.  Ironically, prior to Morsi election, the U. S. State Department, under Secretary Hillary Clinton, rooted for the Ikhwan. The thirty-million Egyptians, who demonstrated against him, were much wiser and realistic than the American Administration. We are thankful that President al-Sissi has reversed the course of his predecessor.  He is battling the remnants of the Brotherhood’s believers, and seeking to blunt their underground activities.  He has a great challenge to face in the wilds of the Sinai Peninsula, where an Islamist insurgency is still going on.

What will happen in America is hard to predict.  Perhaps, the next Administration in the USA, would have learnt from the mistakes of the past, and shed the dominant political correctness that afflicted the present Administration.  Let’s hope that our political leaders would become wise as well as prudent, in dealing with the growing international threats to peace and security!


[i] This event remains vivid in my memory. It so happened that on that day, when I was living in the Middle East, I was listening to Radio Cairo. It was broadcasting President Nasser’s speech at Alexandria. Shots were heard; Nasser stopped for a moment, then he raised his voice almost an octave high, and began to shout and denounce the murderer who was apprehended instantly. 

[ii]A MOSQUE IN MUNICH: NAZIS, THE CIA, AND THE RISE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN THE WEST”

Hardcover: 336 pages. Publication Date: 05/04/2010, ISBN-10: 0151014183, HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN, and HARCOURT, NEW YORK

[iii] Tariq Ramadan, after failing to come to America, he received the position of Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University. He also teaches at the Oxford Faculty of Theology. He is Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies,