A Mosque in Germany

Two books have recently unearthed an important story about the origins of political islam* in Germany and the West. One is A Mosque in Germany by Stephan Meining and the other A Mosque in Munich by Ian Johnson. The subtitle of the first book could be: How the CIA and other western intelligence agencies made a catastrophic mistake long ago but can’t be really blamed for the unforeseen consequences. This series in 4 parts was originally written for the Iraqi newspaper Al-sabah al-jadeed (newsabah.com)

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A Mosque in Germany (1)

Long before Germany in the 1960’s began to recruit Turkish workers by the hundreds of thousands, the city of Munich had a small community of a few hundred muslims who originated from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Albania . Most of the Soviet men had served in the Red Army and had been locked up as prisoners of war in 1941, in horrible death camps, until they were offered a chance to fight with Hitler’s army on the Eastern front. This was an unexpected chance, because Adolf Hitler considered the Soviet muslims as ‘Mongols’ belonging to ‘the trash of mankind’ who shouldn’t be given a chance to fight with soldiers of the German superior race and then demand some reward. Luckily for those muslims, the superior race was soon loosing the war it had started in 1941 in the East. They were needed as cannon fodder and in the German radio studios broadcasting messages in regional dialects to religious minorities in the Soviet Union.

Captured again by American or British troops in 1945 at the end of World War II, these muslims had to fear deportation to the Soviet Union as Stalin had demanded his western allies to do. But some men escaped that death sentence thanks to the interventions of German intellectuals and officers who had served in Hitler’s war and propaganda machines and who had been their comrades or sponsors. And then the cowboys of the still young Central Intelligence Agency (CIA, established in 1947) and other more veteran western intelligence agencies discovered these muslims as a potential weapon to undermine communist rule in the Soviet Union by fostering dreams of independence of the non-Russian states. Promotion of religion might also help, so the pragmatic philosophy of the intelligence communities went, to distract students from the elites of islamic countries studying in the West from the promises of communism and anticolonialism.

‘The 6th of March 1960 was a wet and cold day. (…) But precisely on this uncosy Sunday evening a small group of muslims had decided to meet in the old center of Munich. Their faith had brought the seven men together a little while ago. Together they entered by ten o’clock the Wienerwald, a restaurant in Odeon Square, a chicken grill room that would close soon, so the men were in a hurry. The muslims pursued the same dream. Later that evening they agreed to found an association with the ambitious name <<Mosque Construction Commission>>.

The seven men couldn’t possibly suspect that at that late hour at a restaurant table they were laying the foundations of political islam in Germany and in a good part of the rest of the western world. Nowadays, more than half a century later, the Mosque Construction Commission is called <<Islamic Community of Germany>> and is considered the most influential organization of political islam of Arab origin on German soil. (…)

Around this organization nowadays exist numerous associations and mosques (it has some 600 members); in many German cities exist islamic centers that have their roots in the Munich initiative. International careers of officials belonging to political islam began near the Isar, Munich’s river, and prominent personalities from the Arab world came here as guests. (…)

A few weeks after 9/11 (the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York) the United Nations published a list with the names of numerous men suspected of terrorism. One of these men was the president of the <<Islamic Community of Germany>>, Ghaleb Himmat. The UN Security Council put him and his friend Youssef Nada (a member of the Munich group since 1971) for many years on a sanctions list of persons and companies suspected of links with Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.

Why these two people of Arab origin came to Munich of all places? (…) In the beginning of the sixties Munich was not yet the wealthy, pulsating metropolis in the south of Germany it is now, and it was far away from the Islamic world. The city and its countryside were at that time still deeply rooted in centuries-old catholic traditions. …

But, nothing of what happens these days came into existence in a void, a space without history.’

These are some quotes from Meining’s introduction to his book, published in 2011. In 2009 Ghaleb Himmat and Youssef Dana might have been taken from the UN’s sanctions list, but the <<Islamic Community of Germany>> was put on a long list of terrorist organizations made public by the Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates in November 2014, while Himmat and Nada remained on Washington’s list of terrorist suspects. On the Emirati list, it was the only German organization mentioned.

* “Political islam” is an American term used widely, also by European scholars and researchers such as Stefan Meining. It is a nonscientific, very vague, unprecise notion, but we use it here and define it as the Arab, Iranian, Pakistani, Saudi, Turkish, Malaysian or whatever nationalist-islamic ideology whose purpose it is to conquer or maintain power in a modern state on earth, not just give learned and practical advice to the sheep and their shepherds on how to reach heaven by living a decent life and following some old rules. Sometimes this ideology rests on backward-oriented dreams about a kind of new Sunni caliphate/dictatorship unbothered by modernity (IS / Daesh), sometimes it feeds on forward-oriented urgent human needs for social justice (Iran, Egypt), sometimes it is just part of the still necessary anticolonialist, anti-imperalist reflex (Malaysia), sometimes it wants to smash the perceived power of christian, jewish, hindu, buddhist or whatever nonislamic religious institutions and cultures. So political islam is all about political rivalry in the real world.

A Mosque in Germany (2)

The aim of the offensive launched in 1941 by the Germans in the East was clear: conquer the Soviet Union, including its originally muslim republics, exterminate not only the Jews living there but also the rest of the population and put German colonizers and others of the ‘Arian’ race such as farmers from Holland in their place. Hitler had explained it in his book ‘My Struggle’. It was an old idea, Hitler was hardly original. Turning the vast territories of the Soviet Union – the biggest country on the planet – into German colonial possessions like other western powers had done in Africa and Asia, that was an idea already promoted before World War I (1914-1918) although without a racial mass extermination policy.

It was a pipe dream though.

In 1941 the German offensive in the East soon bogged down, the expected Blitzkrieg that would bring the Germans in a few weeks to Moscow, proved to be a total phantasy of Hitler’s generals. Instead, the Red Army of the Soviets demonstrated formidable power and the people incredible resilience. Although by the end of 1941 the German army had taken 3,5 million Soviet men prisoners of war, the resistance remained fierce. Hundreds of thousands of German soldiers had already been killed in the fighting.

German officers, some of whom belonged to the old generation that had served in World War I, began to think of using those prisoners of war that were anticommunist in heart and soul: the muslims. Hitler was against it but he was ignored for a change, also because the war machine needed spies in the East who spoke the local languages. One of the advocates of this policy was admiral Wilhelm Canaris, an intelligence officer closely connected to immigration circles in Germany, orientalists, Russia experts and high ranking officers on the eastern front with foresight, men who knew the mass slaughter would continue.

After a few experiments tens of thousands of muslim prisoners of war were selected to serve in usually mixed army divisions. They were fondly referred to as ‘our Mohammedans’. Even Hitler changed his mind about them and after a while agreed they were loyal, trustworthy and brave. They were of course never informed about the extermination plans of the nazi’s and instead were made to dream about independence and ‘liberation from Stalin’. Behind their back they were considered a kind of primitives ‘living close to nature’. Another aspect that the Germans discovered about their ‘Mohammedans’ was that, with the help of religious propaganda, it was much easier to keep them loyal, despite the endless German defeats on the Eastern front, than for example Russian christians. The military was so happy with that: ‘Faith and praying cost nothing but are enormously motivating’. The muslim fighters were given their day off on Fridays, their holy days were respected and some were even offered a course by German orientalists to become imam in the army. All this helped, apart from the experience of fighting together, to secure that friendships between these muslims and their German comrades survived for decades after the war.

In 1941 the nazis gave political asylum to the mufti of Jeruzalem, Amin al-Husseini, an important political gesture aimed at rallying Arab nationalists to the German cause. Attitudes towards muslims in the Soviet Union also changed temporarily because the Germans were planning to occupy the oil fields of Azerbaijan and were still hoping to bring Turkey over to their side. By that time the Germans had already killed tens of thousands of muslims on Soviet soil because they thought they were jews, or didn’t care to make a difference. Being circumcised was enough to be murdered.

After the war British and American troops separated the muslim volunteers from the German troops they captured. They were to be deported to the Soviet Union, an explicit demand of Stalin agreed to by his western allies. Also, there were over nine million foreigners on German soil: prisoners, young men forced to work in German factories and on farms, as well as foreign fighters. The Allies, let alone the bombed-out Germans, couldn’t provide food and other care for them, so the Allies were in a hurry to get rid of these people. A terrible episode of the aftermath of the war began. Of course many foreigners loved to go back to their countries (like my father who simply walked back hundreds of kilometers to Holland with some friends), but most of the muslim volunteers refused to return and a lot of violence was used to force them. There were mass suicides, men drowned themselves, burned themselves in their barracks. But in the end, for example, only some 800 of the 267.000 volunteers of the <<Turkestan Legion>> managed to

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escape deportation. They had often succeeded to have false ID’s that showed they were from Turkey, provided by Turkish students and some German orientalists. Deportations were stopped in March 1946 after the UN counted less than 800.000 ‘stateless’ persons on German soil. Everyone who had managed thus far to escape deportation, obtained the right to stay in occupied Germany – and many went to live in huts and shacks in the countryside near Munich.

Why Munich? One reason was surely that many American military institutions and American aid organizations for refugees had their offices in the city and its province Bavaria. Cities in southern Germany were often not as devastated as cities in the North that had been victims of allied carpet bombing and firestorms. There were some useful buildings left standing in the South. The Americans also wanted to show that in cities where the nazi party had its origins (Munich) and had celebrated its triumphs (the military parades in the city of Nuremberg), they now were the masters of the hour. An American consulate was based in Munich, providing generously visa for foreign refugees and Germans to emigrate to the U.S.

But more importantly in a few years, was the fact that the Cold War had begun. Stalin’s Soviet Union was not longer considered an ally but a danger comparable to nazi Germany. Again former Soviet muslims could make themselves useful, could be used, or were supposed to agree that they were used. Indeed, some made themselves useful, some were used, but others used the freedoms granted to them in Germany for their own agenda.

A Mosque in Germany (3)

In March 1953 the poor and small islamic community in Germany’s South created an association, <<Religious Community Islam>>. The initiative came from its first president, the pious but tolerant Ibrahim Gacaoglu (1903), an animal doctor and former volunteer, who was married to a German woman.

Eight years after the end of the war everyone had forgotten about the muslim volunteers. They didn’t pose a problem. An earlier request by a self-appointed imam to Munich’s local government to introduce religious education for muslim children in the schools was answered, after six months, with a simple no: religious education could only be christian.

But the Cold War was in full swing (NATO was already established in 1949). That same month in 1953 <<Radio Liberation>> began to broadcast its programs for non-russian speaking peoples in the Soviet Union. For more credibility it was presented as a private, independent station, not as what it was: a branch of American government propaganda, set up by the CIA. The radio station was linked to the <<American Committee for the Liberation of Bolchevism>>, AMCOMLIB, that would soon start to help financially Gacaoglu’s association. The task of this committee and the radio was “to provoke discontent between the Soviet people and the government in the Kremlin”. The radio was assisted by the German <<Institute for Research on the History and Culture of the Soviet Union>>. The CIA had to search for German experts on non-russian minorities to fill dozens of posts in the radio station because America had none. Inevitably it found Gerhard von Mende, a language expert who had also assisted the

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nazis in their propaganda efforts, and who had escaped being sent to court for it. After a short and well-paid stint with British intelligence and the CIA and then during his years of cooperation with German nationalists, Von Mende would again become the spider in a network, this time of academics, former nazis and muslim volunteers, and western intelligence services. He did this from a modest office called <<Bureau for Foreigners Exiled by their Home Countries>>.

It didn’t escape Washington that Stalin was putting his relations with Soviet muslims on a new footing. Selected men were given a chance to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. In nine Soviet cities regime-loyal muftis were present again. For 1952 Stalin even planned an international conference for muslims. The CIA too began to send its willing muslim agents to Mecca – to make contact with the muslims sent by Moscow to Saudi Arabia.

Under American occupation German government institutions were not active in the anti-Soviet propaganda field, espionage or diplomacy. But this changed soon after the occupation was formally ended in May 1955, when “the old elites, tainted by national-socialism, were given a new chance to take political decisions in the name of Germany”. Already in March 1956 the Interior Ministry discussed with officials of the German churches how to keep the stateless muslim masses away from communism. “Their religious interests should be settled in a satisfactory way,” was the conclusion. The idea of the Ministry was that muslims should defend German interests in the islamic world, in exchange for financial and political support of their organizations. Subsidies to them tripled in three years and would have sufficed to create a thousand jobs.

In that time Germany also had a particular <<Ministry for the Deported, Refugees and War Victims>>. It was responsible for over sixteen million people, about one third of the people living in West-Germany. This mighty power house was headed by a man who already in 1923 had joined Hitler in his failed putsch, Theodor Oberländer. It was the same man who once had selected muslim fighters in the POW camps of the nazis and put them to work in his <<Bergmann batallion>>.

 

He might be considered by some as a kind of intellectual precursor of the genocidal nazis because of his ideas on ‘the new order for the East’, but he can’t have been a fanatical racist, because his friendships with the muslims of the Bergmann batallion lasted for years after the war.

Under his leadership the German government began te develop its own Islam policy. Also here, a former nazi, this time an ex-SS officer, Gerhard Wolfrum, ran the show. Wolfrum’s notes make clear that the officials’ first priority was to eliminate “the unwelcome American influence” because the Americans “try to run their own policies among Arab, Turkish, Pakistani and Iranian students and trainees” in Germany. Those young people could be “abused for all kinds of intrigues” of American politicians and secret services and that could possibly damage the image of the new German republic. It was high time to create “a real religious community” to get a political grip on the muslims. We need “an orderly situation”, the officials said.

But Wolfrum and his colleagues didn’t like natural leaders like Ibrahim Gacaoglu, although he had refused over time several American offers of well-paid assignments. He detested to be involved in politics and had kept his distance. He would have loved to become the imam of the former volunteers and their families, people he had so long taken care of in times of utter despair and poverty. And he would have been elected, if not for Wolfrum and friends.

When the “real religious community” of muslims needed to appoint their imam in 1957, Wolfrum and friends tried to get rid of popular candiate Gacaoglu and get a certain Nureddin Namangani elected, a protegé of Gerhard von Mende. This drama took place during the annual Eid festivities, organized after Ramadan every year by Gacaoglu in the German Museum in Munich. But Namangani lost unexpectedly the election because of the resistance by Bosnian and Albanian muslims.

So it was time to replace Gacaoglu’s association. In 1958 a rival of his <<Religious Community Islam>> was born, the <<Religious Office for Muslim Refugees>>, again populated with many former muslim volunteers, among whom was Hassan Kassajep, a liberal muslim married with a German novelist who became the secretary of the new apparat. Kassajep would become later on the secretary of the Munich Mosque Commission. During its fifth meeting it discussed the idea of constructing a mosque in Munich. It held the first islamic conference in the federal republic of Germany.

And then came along Said Ramadan, the famous Muslim Brotherhood intellectual; son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; an Egyptian academic persecuted by Nasser, a protegé of the king of Jordan.

A refugee too intelligent to be used.

* We can’t deal here with the Middle East policies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, president of the United States from 1953-1961, but if we are talking about catastrophic mistakes, we have to mention these too. He is known for the “Eisenhower doctrine”, a strategy especially developed for Iran and Arab countries, where the appeal of communism among ordinary people should be halted or military cooperation with the Soviet Union prevented. In this logic fitted the coup d’état of 1953 against the government of Mohammed Mossadeq (a secular democrat) in Iran, as well as halting US financial support for the construction of the Aswan Dam (as a punishment for Egyptian president Nasser’s beginning love affair with the Soviets). Also the coup of the CIA in 1963 against Abd al-Karim Qasim (who decided to leave the pro-western Baghdad Pact) with the help of the Baath Party, is one of those mistakes with very longterm consequences that even today sometimes seem irreparable.

A Mosque in Germany (4)

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Said Ramadan (1929-1995) was already a well-known islamic intellectual when he became involved with the Munich Mosque Commission. As a teenager and ardent believer he was honorably called ‘ little Hassan al-Banna’ but in the Egypt of president Nasser this wasn’t a recommendation. Nasser wasn’t ready to share power with the Muslim Brotherhood, which had hundreds of thousands of members after the Second World War and managed hundreds of institutions such as schools. The brotherhood had already been once banned under king Faruq and it would suffer the same fate under Nasser. As an eternal refugee, Said Ramadan became a famous face in islamic internationalism, probably his favorite habitat after the proliferation of various alliances of islamic states since the Sixties. He enjoyed diplomatic immunity thanks to the king of Jordan, who had provided him with a passport (‘at the request of Washington’, the German secret service wrote) and the title of cultural attaché of Jordan in Bonn, with a nice house to live in Geneva, only a few hours drive from Munich.

Said Ramadan was a member of the <<Mosque Construction Commission>> from the beginning, together with Nureddin Namangani of the <<Religious Office for Muslim Refugees>>, the new islamic association that worked in tandem with German and Munich authorities. Officials in Germany including Gerhard von Mende, were not interested in Ramadan. They were busy gathering information about people in or from communist countries.

Stefan Meining looked into American archives to find out what Ramadan’s relations with Washington might have been, as he was already received in 1953 in the White House by president Eisenhower, during a colloquium in the American capital. The CIA considered Ramadan as a reactionary, probably also because of reports on the dislike the muslims in Munich developed towards him. The young Ramadan constantly criticised these older men for not following stringently islamic rules and in the end they tried to kick him out of the Mosque Construction Commission, where he was to be replaced by a seventy years old German convert, a sailor named Mohammed Abdul Karim Grimm.

Despite the CIA’s judgment, American officials in 1959 showed interest in the idea of Said Ramadan to create an organization “for all muslims in Europe”. Ramadan had always understood the importance of structures, of organizations. Gerhard von Mende, one of those ex-nazis busy with pushing back American influence in Germany, was outraged when he heard about the plan. He always suspected Ramadan of secret dealings with the Americans but was unable to figure out with whom exactly. It will not have been the CIA, that had lost interest by then in the refugee associations as they were becoming clubs for the elderly. But Ramadan was an interesting figure for Washington, for he fitted into the US strategy to have good relations with “states that understand islam as political program against Arab nationalism”, especially the pan-Arab nationalism of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1962 Ramadan was present at the founding ceremony of the Islamic World League in Mecca. Halfway the 1960s, Ramadan had become, for Egypt, ‘the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in exile’.

In Germany the terrain was gradually left open for new actors. Minister Oberländer had to confront his nazi past because of a show trial in East Germany where he was convicted in absentia for the murder of thousands of Jews and Poles. Gerhard von Mende died in 1963, his office closed. It seemed German politicians had lost their interest for the small islamic minorities. When Turkish workers were imported, their religion and cultural traditions were considered unimportant, their presence was thought of as temporary, they would return, so no action needed. The <<Religious Office for Muslim Refugees>> was dissolved. Its old chairman Namangani became one of the first to care for the religious needs of Turkish workers. Hassan Kassajep retired and became a painter. Many men of the old guard were buried in the islamic graveyard in Munich, friends and foes next to each other.

In 1961 the Mosque Construction Commission ‘was little more than a file cabinet with a bank account’, writes Stefan Meining. Said Ramadan was supposed to become chairman of the Mosque Construction Commission that year, thanks to the promise of his good contacts with Arab states that felt threatened by Nasser’s popularity. Ramadan didn’t win the election, nevertheless the refugees critical of his behavior left the commission. In 1963, after Ramadan had created an islamic center in Geneva, he turned the Mosque Construction Commission into a new association, the <<Islamic Community in Southern Germany>>, with only a few dozen members, most of them students and academics. It had political aims now: promote understanding of islam and create a dialogue with all churches, to struggle together against ‘atheist materialism in every form, for freedom and human dignity’. Ramadan himself did most of his missionary work from his islamic center in Geneva, that had become ‘the most important headquarters of the Egyptian opposition’, according to historian Christina Phelps Harris.

In 1968 Ramadan had more important things to do than begging foreign governments for subsidies for the mosque in Munich. He left the Association that he had created in Munich. He had enough authority to head a delegation of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who had found refuge in Saudi Arabia and were going to negotiate with Nasser about their position. Years later, in 1976, he became member of the executive committee of the Saudi Islamic Council for Europe. By then muslim students, muslim workers, and mosques were organizing themselves everywhere in Europe and creating national, European and international alliances and federations. Sponsoring the construction of mosques became a sport of foreign Arab governments, as well as those of Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, as a means to exert political influence over useful moslims far away: petitions against Iran, collections for Afgani orphans, demonstrations in support of the Palestinian cause. Gilles Kepel, the well-known expert on the history of islam in France, once said sarcastically in an interview about the Saudi sponsoring of mosques: ‘Hadn’t the managers of the French mosques been so corrupt, there would now be standing a mosque on every square meter in France.’

The dream of building a mosque in Munich had remained. The German state adheres to the principle of separation of religion and state, so it was out of the question that it would pay a contribution for the construction of a mosque in Munich. The commission had to find other sponsors. Already in 1960 Namangani had been dispatched to Saudi Arabia, together with the Uzbek historian and orientalist Baymirza Hayit. The Saudis had told them they were happy to see “that a christian government shows goodwill towards islam” and promised them aid. The Islamic World Congress promised to build a school and library next to the mosque. Not much of these promises materialized.

A few years later, Fazal Yazdani, a Pakistani medical student, proved succesful with the Saudis, who promised one million D-mark. As a thank you he became the chairman of Ramadan’s organization. The mayor of Munich ignored protests in his city against the mosque. The German ambassador in Baghdad mixed in the battle too. He wrote that activities of muslims in Germany should not be hampered because “communist activities are much more free in Europe than in most of the countries of origin”. Communism was still the bogey man, but of course most European employers simply didn’t like the idea that their muslim employees would become members of trade unions and worse. In France, trade union activists from the Maghreb countries were even regularly assassinated – and such young social leaders began to turn to the kind of islam preached in homes.

With the first contributions that had arrived, some 350.000 D-mark, Ramadans association purchased a piece of land for 120,000 D-mark in 1964. It would take three years before the first stone was laid in a ceremony that saw the flags of many islamic countries waving. Also, for the first time in Germany, the call of a muëzzin was heard.

In February 1969 the money ran out and the mosque was still not finished. Business men from Libya, then still a kingdom, came to the rescue with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Colonel Gaddafi, although no friend of the Muslim Brotherhood, followed their example by the end of 1970 and together with Saudi Arabia put another 1,6 million on the table. The mosque opened its doors in 1973. Master of ceremonies was Libyan sheikh Mahmoud

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Souby, shaking hands with another most prominent guest, the president of the Saudi Islamic World League, Nagib al-Rawi.

The <<Islamic Community of Southern Germany>>, the owner of the mosque, remained loyal to its founder’s roots: Arab, intellectual. Arab students, academics and German converts were the dominating force in the association. What was important was “class not mass” writes Meining. The board of the mosque decided against letting Turkish workers become a member, because, Meining writes, they feared this would mean the end of their political action. (Turkish organizations would open many years later, in 1989 and 1999, their own mosques in Munich).

During the first general assembly of the mosque in 1973, Fazal Yazdani, the Pakistani, lost the vote for the presidency and had to make place for Ghaleb Himmat, born in Syria, who had lived for years in the US.

The 1980s are the turning point in the long story of muslim organisations in Europe – and the link with the war in Afghanistan and American financing of muslim anti-Soviet forces cannot be denied. But in those same years it became clear that muslim immigrants and exiles were going to stay in Europe, build families and live their religion.

In 1982 Said Ramadan’s organization translated its expansion over all of Germany by a change of name, it became the <<Islamic Community in Germany>>. It was never presented as a daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood, understandably perhaps, in view of its history of repression. The Munich base was the first to obtain recognition of its islamic school and receive full government funding. Young German men who refused military service and had to work in Germany’s civil service, were allowed to serve in the islamic center in Munich. Military personnel from American bases nearby in Bavaria province, flocked to the center to study Arabic or the Koran, or went to the mosque to pray. Mosques everywhere in Germany began to hold ‘open days’ for non-muslims.

In 1989 the <<Islamic Community in Germany>> became a member in the <<Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe>>, that would create the <<European Council for Fatwas and Research>>, now headquartered in Brussels. Relations with foreign religious organizations or islamic states began to have the attention of journalists, but still not of government circles. The Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami could build a network of islamic universities in Europe and promote courses in islam for the youth. No secret service read their teaching materials, or the books published by the islamic publishing house SKD-Bavaria, claims Stefan Meining, even when the official aim of some preachers became ‘converting all Germans to Islam’. Some German politicians and journalists treated Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, that first class religious extremist from Afghanistan, as a hero. The Soviet Union was still the enemy and inside the Islamic world Iran was their problem, not Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or the Muslim Brotherhood.

A decade later came 9/11, the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York. Meining regrets that “until 2001”, authorities had ignored “the uncontrolled growth of islamic structures”. He writes about the many stages of muslim mobilization in Germany: the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Rushdie affair, the war between Iran and Iraq, the war in Kuwayt, the embargo against Iraq. Gradually, with every new issue, the idea of jihad or financing jihad as a religious duty was spread among ‘a new generation of young muslims not afraid of conflict’. In the same time muslims and islam became presented much more often as victims, of wars, of conspiracies, of wrong policies.

 

Stefan Meining is a German and wants to tell the history of political islam in Europe since the establishment of the Munich Mosque Commission through his German looking glass and his focus on the Muslim Brotherhood and Said Ramadan (father of Tariq Ramadan btw). It creates a good story line, one can’t mention all the details, all the connections, every coincidence. But it is not fair. There are many other authorities, organizations, states and personalities in and outside Europe to blame for unwanted extremism on European soil and elsewhere than just German security institutions and the politicians who ran them. Meining would agree. Perhaps it is better to pinpoint at the Cold War as a horrible factory of enormous mistakes that have produced such hot dangers to our societies. We will be busy correcting the effects of old politicians’ stupidities for decades to come. If we can.

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