A respectable half-shelf in my library consists of books which explore the resonance Nazi anti-Semitism enjoys in the Islamic world. They usually concern the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, a close collaborator of Hitler. The latest addition is Ian Johnson’s A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Houghton Mifflin, £17.99). Johnson begins with Hitler’s Eastern Legions. They were the predominantly Caucasian and Central Asian peoples among whom Nazi intellectuals sought “splittist” collaborators as they pondered how to divide the Soviet Union along ethnic and religious fault-lines. Many of these Turkic or Tatar peoples had suffered under Stalin’s version of atheism and Russian chauvinism. Maybe a quarter of a million such Muslim (and Tatar Buddhist) men enlisted in the German armed forces, although many of them were logistical auxiliaries rather than combat troops. Shamefully, after D-Day we handed many of the Cossacks captured in Normandy back to Stalin to be killed, along with the Russian “Fascists” in General Andrei Vlasov’s Liberation Army.
The Germans who dealt with these men were mainly from academic backgrounds, because they had the languages and cultural sensitivity. More than two decades ago I published a book, Germany Turns Eastwards, on Germany’s eastern experts, the “Ostforscher” who eagerly put their knowledge of “the East” at the disposal of the Nazi regime, before adroitly realigning themselves with “the West” after 1945. Although many of my books are translated into German, this one has not been, since it went a little too close to raw nerves.
One key figure was Theodor Oberländer, the post-war minister responsible for ethnic German eastern expellees. Oberländer was far-sighted. He thought that West Germany should cultivate the former Eastern Legion veterans, so that one day, when the Soviet Union collapsed, these future leaders would encourage independent states to lobby for German unification. But even though Munich became the epicentre for such veterans, who felt unsafe in Berlin, it was not the German government which called the shots any more. Munich’s Oberwiesenfeld Airport was home to Radio Liberty, the CIA broadcasting arm aimed at the Soviet Union.
Wary of the Nazi past of most of their German interlocutors, the CIA sought to incorporate these Muslim exiles into its own anti-Soviet propaganda machinery, while alighting upon Islam as a powerful weapon in its anti-communist tool kit. The CIA turned to a younger generation of Muslims, notably Said Ramadan, who played a leading role in the construction of the Munich Islamic Centre, which opened in 1958. The son-in-law of the murdered Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hassan al Banna, and father of Oxford’s Tariq Ramadan, Said was an intriguing combination of modern man and inflexible views. The Munich mosque became the hub from which the Brotherhood set up shop in several other European countries, Markfield Conference Centre in Leicestershire being its local incarnation in Britain. While the Brotherhood seems modern enough in its modus operandi, the effect of its presence is to heighten religious separatism everywhere. They may or may not be Fascists, as one of Eisenhower’s officials perceptively observed way back in 1953, but they are certainly supremacists with a special loathing for Jews. Ken Livingstone’s hero, Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, is a very visible version of the type.
Recently I came across a remarkable novel, The German Mujahid, by the Algerian Boualem Sansal. Writing novels in Algeria is a risky business; my favourite, Tahar Djaout — author of The Last Summer of Reason — was murdered by the Armed Islamic Group in 1993. An engineer turned government official, Sansal explores the deep psychological affinities between Nazi exterminism and fanatical Islamists, through one, assimilated, brother Rachel, who kills himself after finding out that his German father worked at Auschwitz, and Malrich, a ne’er-do-well who has to confront the Muslim Brothers on a bleak Parisian housing estate. The depiction of the latter is much better than the former: especially an imam who goes around “talking it large” as “Allah’s Terminator”. The role of the French state in seeking “dialogue” with the worst bearded bullies is also instructive.
The German Mujahid is a brave and path-breaking book in terms of its local culture. Recently I read Israeli President Shimon Peres warmly welcoming the Arab Spring; that event will be even more hopeful when, rather than televising serials of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Arab TV transmits one of The German Mujahid.