Johnson’s New Book Digs Deeply Into History

When trying to understand the collision of Islam and the West, the narrative usually goes back to the U.S.-backed Islamic insurgency in Afghanistan against the Russians.

It was the usual Cold War scenario. But Ian Johnson dug deeper into history to the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War in his book, A Mosque in Munich.  

A group of Muslims defected from the Soviet Union to Germany during World War II and German agents fashioned this group into an anti-Soviet propaganda machine. At the end of the War, as West German and U.S. intelligence operatives vied for control of this inscrutable but influential Muslin community — with a quiet mosque in Munich at the center of their covert struggle — radical Islam gained a beachhead in the West. The CIA was instrumental in bringing in a group of better educated Muslims from Egypt where they had just been banned. This Munich centered group was now called the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ian Johnson, an OPC member,   OPC Hal Boyle Award winner and Pulitzer Prize winning Wall Street Journal reporter spent five years researching, interviewing survivors, scouring archives, including newly declassified documents. The result is a picture of a naïve CIA using Islam to fight Communism and how the short sighted use of one political group against another produces unintended consequences in the future.

Johnson uncovers an array of crazy colorful stories:  a brilliant Nazi linguist, a CIA man who’s a nudist and a radical Muslim on the l a.m. … and he weaves them together to create  a beautifully written look at the history of the interface between Islam and the West in the 20th century.

Adam Hochschild writes:  “I thought I knew something about blowback:  the way U.S. support for anti-Soviet Muslim militants in Afghanistan two decades earlier came back to haunt us on September 11, 2001. But Ian Johnson has unearthed an extraordinary episode of similarly disastrous American judgment that begins well over half a century ago, whose full consequences we’ve not yet seen.  It’s a chilling piece of history few people know, and he tells the story with a novelist’s skill.”  

The Book Night on Tuesday, May 11 at 6 p.m. is co-sponsored by South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA).  Books will be available for purchase and signing. RSVP online (must be logged in as a member) or call the OPC office 212-626-9220.