A MOSQUE IN MUNICH: NAZIS, THE CIA, AND THE RISE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN THE WEST
Chapter 11: WINNING THE MOSQUE
SAID RAMADAN HAD NO serious competitors in the fight for control of Munich's mosque project. Men like Ali Kantemir might have been respected in their communities, but they had been broken by World War II. Kantemir was almost blind and got by on a few hundred marks per month, which he earned by editing Amcomlib's Arabic Review. Ramadan, by contrast, was jetting around the globe, helping to lead an Islamic revolution.
"Dear Professor Kegel," he wrote in July 1960, "I am just back from Saudi Arabia and East Africa. It was a very interesting trip indeed. In Somalia, I attended the quiet birth of its Republic and was happy to see my old Somalian friends of exile back at constructive work in their homeland. One of them has already become first president of the Republic and another one already has been the leader of the Opposition." Ramadan returned to Europe just long enough to find a publisher for his book and then was off on a Hajj; next he journeyed back to Europe for a short time before finding his way to Turkey and Pakistan.
During one stop in Europe in 1960, Ramadan addressed the Mosque Construction Commission, telling of his fund-raising success. He had had a personal audience with the Saudi ruler, King Ibn Saud, who had promised a large sum for the mosque. So had King Hussein of Jordan and businessmen in Libya and Turkey. Ramadan told the commission that he had set up "branches" for its work in Mecca, Medina, Jeddah, and Beirut -- probably he had appointed honorary consuls who would collect money for the project. The members of the mosque commission were stunned and thanked him profusely.
Some, however, were worried. Hassan Kassajep, an old battalion commander from the 162nd (Turkestani) Infantry Division, spoke up. He had married, started a family, and was now a carpet dealer. He had taken the job as the commission's manager simply because he wanted a mosque. He wasn't so sure about kings and princes or secret political affiliations. Like other commission members, he hadn't even realized that Ramadan had gone to the Middle East. Kassajep asked how the two had paid for the trip. Ramadan's answer was that the mosque project had "branch" offices in various countries, which had financed it. This answer implies that the project had something of a wide following in the Muslim world, perhaps among the Brotherhood's followers. Kassajep warned that the group shouldn't get too political. "Our task is to build a mosque in Munich," Kassajep said at the meeting, "but not to get involved at all politically."
These concerns brewed throughout the year as Ramadan continued his high-profile tactics, flying here and there, speaking at conferences and attacking communism -- all in the name of the Mosque Construction Commission and Germany's Muslims. Kassajep and Namangani wrote to the Bavarian social-affairs ministry, asking that it help guide the commission back to its original goal. But it was just at this time that the Bavarians were overwhelmed by Jami'at's sudden arrival. Kassajep and Namangani's letters apparently went unanswered. The situation festered into 1961.In February, Kassajep met with Bavarian officials and said Ramadan was a problem for a number of reasons. Because of his political activities, Ramadan was persona non grata in many Arab countries. Even though he was a star of the Islamist scene, he couldn't actually raise money, Kassajep said, and the money promised during the previous year's Hajj hadn't materialized. In fact, the Mosque Construction Commission had only 78,890 marks (about $145,000 in 2008 money) in the bank, and the total project was estimated at 1.2 million marks ($2.2 million). Kassajep said he hoped Ramadan would be replaced.
It was around this time, in 1961, that Dreher sent Ramadan to meet von Mende and that von Mende considered breaking into Ramadan's office. Von Mende's BND contact had talked him out of this plan, but turmoil in von Mende's office also probably played a role in his abandonment of the idea. His plan had called for Hayit to break in, but Hayit and von Mende's other star agent, Kayum, were at loggerheads. Kayum started the trouble by visiting Hayit at his home in Cologne and telling him that he knew all about his work for the West German government. Hayit ran to von Mende, who wrote to his contact at the BND, expressing his concern that Kayum was aware of the arrangement. (Interestingly, von Mende did not dispute that Hayit worked for the BND.)
Salary was another concern for the skimpily funded von Mende -- another sign of the West Germans' inability to compete with the Amcomlib juggernaut. Hayit complained to von Mende that his skills were unappreciated even though he had been working for the Germans since his stint in the Zeppelin unit, which was a group of Soviet minorities who had collaborated with the Germans beginning in 1942. West Germany had plenty of money but spent too little of it on Muslims, he wrote, adding, "And then we demand that these Muslims remains [sic] friends. Paradox!" Kayum too was constantly writing to von Mende about money woes. In 1961,von Mende gave him a monthly salary of 450 marks "in recognition of his earlier services for Germany."
Von Mende finally got Kayum and Hayit to work on a report about Ramadan. Presciently, they focused on Ramadan's right-hand man, Ghaleb Himmat, who would later head the mosque for thirty years and transform it into a national network and a center of international Islamism. His influence was evident in the early 1960s, but only to a sharp observer. It had been Himmat's idea, while a student, to invite Ramadan to Munich to take over the mosque project from von Mende and the soldiers. He was now treasurer of the Mosque Construction Commission and had accompanied Ramadan on his big fund-raising trip to the Middle East. By mid-1961, he was setting up Ramadan's appointments with Bavarian officials during his trips from Geneva. He was constantly at his side and filled in for Ramadan when he was away. Kayum and Hayit wrote in their report to von Mende that Himmat distributed a procommunist Lebanese newspaper, Al-Mujtamah, implying that Himmat had procommunist sympathies. It is unclear if this is true, but it was an early sign that Himmat had his own international ties and interests.
Even though von Mende's operation was puny compared to Amcomlib, he did have influence in the West German bureaucracy. Bavarian social-affairs officials started to ask Ramadan tough questions, reflecting the ex-soldiers' concerns. In one meeting, they asked Ramadan how much money he really had raised. Ramadan repeated the figure of one million marks but refused to say who had pledged it. When the officials suggested to Ramadan that he was the problem -- polarizing the group while not actually raising any money -- he wrote back offering to resign. The mosque, he assured them, was not to be political.
But the mosque was already politicized. Begun by the West Germans as a political project, it was now divided internally. For over two years Arab students had been bad-mouthing the ex-soldiers; Namangani received especially sharp criticism. Finally, Namangani had had enough. On November 7, he sent Ramadan a short letter resigning as vice chairman of the Mosque Construction Commission. He said the commission was not professional enough and criticized Ramadan for not adequately explaining his fund-raising trip to the Arab world. He also said that Ramadan had threatened to sue him when he had raised this point in the past. The commission was due to meet later that month. Namangani asked Ramadan to appear and answer questions about the trip. It was to be the final showdown over control of the mosque.
After numerous delays and cancellations, the Mosque Construction Commission finally met on November 26. All thirty ex-soldiers and students who made up the commission were present. Ramadan gave a long talk justifying his controversial tenure as head of the group. Money was flowing in, he said, and the mosque was all but financed. He now identified the donor of one million marks -- it was a Saudi businessman. Along with a flurry of smaller donations, it would put them near their mark. Many of the commissioners were skeptical. Word had gotten out that Himmat had lost donation receipts during the past year's Hajj, implying that he had issued the receipts and accepted money but then claimed he had lost the receipts and not issued them. That way he could account for the missing receipts and pocket the money. Himmat replied that he had lost only a few blank receipt books. The soldiers on the commission demanded to know how Himmat and Ramadan had paid for the trip -- who was backing them?
At this, Ramadan made a savvy political move. Instead of answering any questions, he resigned and walked out. If he wasn't appreciated, then so be it. The commission held a vote on a new chairman, and the students nominated Ramadan in his absence. But this time the ex-soldiers had shown up in force. The confusion over the date of the meeting -- it had been scheduled for October, then early November -- worked against the young members of the Muslim brotherhood, who were scattered across southern Germany. Instead of winning a new mandate, as he had figured he would, Ramadan lost by two votes. In his place, the old North Caucasus soldier Ali Kantemir was elected, putting von Mende's men back in control of the mosque project. Ramadan had by then returned to the meeting, expecting to hear of his own reelection; when he saw the result, he stormed out and went to his hotel nearby. He claimed that he was a victim of "intrigues" and flew back that day to Geneva. Ramadan seemed finished: he was losing friends in the Middle East -- just the month before, Jordan had withdrawn his diplomatic passport as the country tried to patch up relations with Egypt -- and now his plans for a center in Munich with a young cadre of idealistic students seemed thwarted as well. But he was not as weak as he seemed. Kantemir had won the vote, but the commission statutes required that the chairman be elected with a two-thirds majority. Even though Ramadan hadn't rallied all the students to the meeting, he had secured enough votes to block Kantemir after all. Ramadan hadn't been aware of the discrepancy until a sharp-eyed German bureaucrat scrawled in the margin of the meeting's minutes, "No two-thirds!" Kantemir had failed to win the vote, and Ramadan was still chairman.
That effectively ended the ex-soldiers' presence on the commission. They decided they couldn't win against Ramadan. Kassajep resigned as secretary, and the soldiers refused to participate further. That left the students in control and, so it seemed, the Americans too. It was strange: the West Germans' influence on the commission ended because of a technicality caught by a West German bureaucrat. Von Mende had assiduously used the bureaucracy to bring over Namangani, create his group, and pave the way for a mosque, all in hopes of creating a core of loyal Muslims for West German political purposes. Now he had been bested by an even sharper player.
Von Mende's mistake was to rely heavily on people with a tainted past: ex-functionaries of the Ostministerium. Their former service guaranteed that they would be loyal to von Mende and the German cause, but they were badly tarnished by their Nazi-era activities and easily discredited. In the third world, Soviet propaganda labeled them Nazis, while Islamists like Ramadan looked down on their weak religious credentials. Even old Gacaoglu had landed many blows against Namangani, labeling him a Nazi marionette. That had made it easy for Ramadan to step in and dazzle with his international connections and the promise of a shiny new mosque.
The failed vote was a turning point in the history of the mosque. Dreher and the rest of his U.S. cohorts had tied themselves to Ramadan, hoping he would give the West a credible voice in the Muslim world. The mosque was meant to be his platform. To that end, U.S. intelligence reportedly had pressured Jordan to give Ramadan a passport and financed projects to raise his profile, such as the European Islam conference that Dreher had organized. Now these plans had succeeded. The Brotherhood controlled the mosque project. The question now was whether Ramadan would help his old friends or go his own way.
With the ex-soldiers gone, Ramadan moved quickly. First, he filled the position of secretary of the Mosque Construction Commission, which Kassajep had vacated, with Achmed Schmiede, a young German convert who had been publishing a magazine, Al-Islam, since 1958. Al-Islam became the commission's official organ, an important part of Ramadan's vision for creating a Muslim Brotherhood-type structure. This called for an array of institutions, not just a mosque. One was a propaganda organ, a role Al-Islam filled perfectly.
In March 1962, Ramadan united the Muslim students in Germany under an organization called the Council of Islamic Communities and Societies in Germany. The choice to use students to set up the council was typical: as with the mosque, he wasn't interested in old-fashioned Muslims like the ex-soldiers, who might indulge in the occasional drink or forget the odd prayer. Like all Islamists, he wanted to create a cadre of new and better Muslims. That meant linking up with students, who were younger, less set in their ways, and generally more impressionable. The council's meeting was held in the city of Mainz on March 17 and 18, with student groups from a dozen West German cities. About fifty representatives attended and elected Schmiede as secretary to coordinate their work. According to von Mende's sources, Ramadan financed the meeting, but that begs the question of who financed Ramadan. The records do not say. A key goal of the meeting was to criticize Ramadan's two main enemies: Nasser's Egypt and Israel. His article on Nasser must have thrilled Ramadan's U.S. backers, but it's hard to know what they made of his criticism of Israel. Ties between Washington and Tel Aviv were not as strong then as now; perhaps the agency was willing to accept Ramadan's position on Israel in order to have a strong anticommunist in its corner.
With his German base secure, Ramadan went back on the offensive internationally. In May, Ramadan and Schmiede traveled to Mecca to help launch what today is still the most important Muslim organization in the world: the Muslim World League. This was the culmination of decades of effort to unite all Muslims -- if not under a caliph as in days past, then in a worldwide body that could issue guidelines and speak for Muslims. Ramadan played an important role in the league's founding, helping to draw up the bylaws. He led the "neo-salafiya" faction at the conference -- essentially the Muslim Brotherhood's group. Its goal was to make the league more explicitly political, particularly by attacking Israel. Ramadan wore several hats at the meeting. He attended as head of the Muslim World Conference in Jerusalem, the group that he, along with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, had revived. He was also a representative of the Muslims in West Germany. Signifying how important the league's founding was, von Mende had sent Kayum there to gather information. He sent back a detailed memo on the new body but had little luck in asserting West German influence: when the meeting concluded, sixteen top Saudi officials did visit West Germany, but they came to see Ramadan, not von Mende or other government bureaucrats. Though little is known about this trip, it did show how Ramadan had internationalized the German Muslims and the mosque to a degree von Mende could not have imagined.
Ramadan's new visibility seemed good for the United States, but Washington was not likely aware of everything Ramadan was doing. Dreher, especially, seemed happy to pay for Ramadan's conferences but probably had scant knowledge of the young Islamists' activities and little idea that Ramadan was a stubbornly independent man who would not be controlled by anyone -- not by a Muslim organization, let alone a non-Muslim one. But in the short term, Ramadan's involvement in the Muslim World League helped strengthen the group's anticommunist credentials, which was exactly what Washington wanted. Although many observers at the time thought that Islam was a natural enemy of communism, it was not a foregone conclusion. Just nine days after the league was founded, for example, a rival group, the World Muslim Congress, met in Baghdad. At the time the most important Muslim group in the world, the congress's meeting was sponsored by the Iraqi leader Abdul Karim Qassim, a left-leaning military dictator who had overthrown the monarchy in 1958. Normally, because of his interest in organizing Muslims, Ramadan would have attended the conference and might even have stood for office. But Qassim was steering a pro-Soviet course, so much so that Ramadan felt it was physically dangerous for him to attend. In his place he sent his ally Mahmoud K. Muftic -- a former Bosnian SS soldier with ties to the Grand Mufti and the Deutsche Muslim Liga in Hamburg.
This was probably the most dangerous time in Ramadan's life. Nasser had proclaimed that Ramadan was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Swiss police believed that a group of six men had been sent to Switzerland to assassinate Ramadan. Police detained some members of the group and the attempt failed, but Ramadan wasn't taking any chances. According to Swiss investigators, he asked his former assistant to buy him a concealable handgun, a Walther PPK. Fearing for his life, he didn't attend the Baghdad conference, but he was still able to help Amcomlib slip in one of its best Muslim agitators -- Garip Sultan.
Sultan had been honing his covert propaganda skills for Amcomlib back in the United States. A typical operation was a talk he gave at Philadelphia's venerable International House, a nonprofit institution founded in 1919 as a place for international scholars to congregate and share ideas. He appeared there as a Tatar scholar, reading a nineteen-page paper, "Modern Forms of Colonialism."
Sultan started by attacking colonialism, a line of thinking with which all students from the developing world could agree. But he then broadened the idea to include the Soviet Union, which had enslaved a dozen countries. The discussion was lively. A few days later, Sultan wrote a memo on it to Ike Patch, who was heading Amcomlib's "Special Projects" department in New York, since Dreher had bumped him out of Munich.
''As far as I am able to judge, the report fulfilled its objective," Sultan wrote. "Heated discussions based upon the report took place. I was left with the impression that these students, although they are studying at American universities, for some reason have adopted the Soviet viewpoint instead of the American one. Or perhaps they have no idea of the American viewpoint." Sultan was now a U.S. citizen. He had emigrated from Munich to the United States in 1957, leaving Munich without a camera-ready Muslim able to smooth over Gacaoglu's rough spots -- a crisis that in part led to Dreher's courting of Ramadan. But Sultan hadn't been completely out of the picture. He had continued to work with Amcomlib on special projects, deployed behind his own lines to fight communism on the home front. His guises were numerous and imaginative, always hewing as close to the truth as possible to create believable front organizations. During his appearance at International House, he was introduced as a fellow at the Institute for the Study of the USSR, one of Amcomlib's front operations. But he was also an authorized representative of the United Republican and Democratic Voters Club, a freelance writer for the American Federation of Labor's Trade Union Courier, and the founder of a raft of fancifully named organizations, such as the National-Liberation Revolutionary Organizations of the Islamic Peoples of the USSR and the Organization of Muslim Refugees from the Soviet Union. As head of the "Writers' Section" of the latter group, Sultan went to Cairo in 1962 to give a talk called "Soviet Asiatic Writers and the Problem of Creativity."
In a display of networking skill, Sultan finagled an invitation to the Baghdad conference by exploiting his Pakistani contacts. He wrote to Manzooruddin Ahmad at the Central Institute for the Study of Islam, asking if he would be interested in being point man for a conference on self-determination. Sultan then mailed Ahmad a $200 check from the Committee for Self-Determination, Inc., a covert propaganda organization run by Amcomlib's sister organization, the National Committee for a Free Europe. Sultan also wrote saying he'd like to attend the Baghdad conference. Ahmad answered that getting Sultan an invitation was proving tricky because the Iraqi dictator, Qassim, opposed allowing any Americans to attend. But he promised to lobby a personal friend, Inamullah Khan, the Baghdad conference's secretary general. Sultan then contacted Ramadan, who promised to ask his allies to lobby on Sultan's behalf. Qassim eventually consented, letting Sultan in as the sole U.S. representative.
Sultan made full use of the stay. He held private sessions with Muslim notables to convince them of the evils of communism, interviewed the head of the Soviet delegation, gave interviews on Baghdad television, and of course presented a talk blasting the Soviets and Chinese for their colonialist practices in Central Asia. But the situation in Baghdad was volatile, and Sultan was warned to leave. "Someone said I was to be kidnapped or assassinated." Sultan said in an interview. He left Baghdad early, but the conference remains one of the high points of his career and of U.S. deployment of Islam in the 1950s, thanks in part to Ramadan's work.
The big losers in all this were Munich's Muslims. Initially, West German officials were keen to support the mosque project -- after all, it had been von Mende's idea and carried out by his protege, the SS imam Namangani. Later, when Ramadan took charge of the project, von Mende still thought that West Germany should support it because of the positive public relations it would garner. He blamed Ramadan for problems with the commission but concluded that West Germany should go ahead with the project, secure a plot of land, and donate 100,000 marks to get it done.
But as it became obvious that von Mende's ex-soldier friends were completely cut out of the plan, West Germany's generosity evaporated. When Schmiede, Himmat, and Ramadan's other lieutenants contacted the Bavarian social-affairs ministry in 1962 for help with finding land, they were politely rejected. The social ministry had been involved, they were told, because the project had been meant for refugees. Now that refugees were no longer members of the commission, it did not need government support. West Germany guaranteed freedom of religion so the students were free to pursue their goals, but they wouldn't get state support. Rebuffing Ramadan might have felt good, but it underscored the fact that von Mende and his allies in Bavaria and Bonn had failed. A year later, Namangani reported that St. Paul's Church -- where the whole idea had begun on the snowy night after Christmas in 1958 -- no longer provided room for the ex-soldiers to use for prayer. That meant they didn't even have a prayer room, let alone a mosque.
Namangani was bitter. Four months after the blowup meeting, when Namangani and the ex-soldiers failed to dislodge Ramadan, the old SSimam finally wrote up his version of events. Someone -- perhaps von Mende, but probably the German wife of Namangani's trusty friend, Hassan Kassajep -- polished the text. It was laced with sarcastic swipes at Ramadan; for example, it said that "he clung to the Mosque Construction Commission as apparently a last hope." Despite the rhetoric, Namangani's comments were prescient, showing great insight into the actions and motives of Ramadan -- and, really, of Islamic radicals over several decades.
Namangani said Ramadan had criticized the refugees for their lack of knowledge of Islam and their thirst for alcohol. Ramadan, Namangani said, should have been more humane in trying to understand the ex-soldiers. Their ignorance wasn't surprising, considering that they came from a communist land that systematically had tried to destroy their religion. Instead of offering sympathy and gentle guidance, Ramadan had lectured Namangani on how he should behave and threatened to write a letter to the authorities pointing out his faults; he told Namangani that he had only refrained from doing so to spare the Germans' feelings over having picked such an incompetent imam. Although Ramadan had led celebrations at Muslim festivities, he pointedly disappeared when Namangani did the same. He had no respect for the older man, one of the clearest signs that his revolution wanted nothing to do with tradition. In Ramadan's view, Namangani was a reactionary, and Namangani knew something about that sort of accusation. He had been called that once before -- in the Soviet Union, when he had been thrown in the gulag for not being revolutionary enough.
"In one of his writings." Namangani wrote of Ramadan, "he declared that the Muslims studying in Germany would be the future rulers of the Muslim world and to whom we, the refugees, would do best to submit." He also said Ramadan had told him that these older men could never return to their home countries because they weren't real Muslims. If they went back, they'd just create crises. The Soviet Union was better off without them.
It is impossible, of course, to know at this juncture what Ramadan really said. These accounts reflect Namangani's perspective. But they match the recollections of Ramadan's young acolytes, who admit to having disdained the ex-soldiers. Interviews with some surviving students indicate that they had problems with the soldiers' version of Islam. Ramadan's arguments encapsulated pure Islamist thinking, in the best tradition of Sayyid Qutb or, later, Osama bin Laden. Saying the ex-soldiers didn't deserve to go back home -- that they were worse than the communists -- was in keeping with radical Islam, which holds that anyone who doesn't subscribe to fundamentalist views is an apostate and can be mistreated or killed without compunction.
As usual, blunt-speaking Gacaoglu reminded the community of its loss. The brusque, poorly educated imam, who had started West Germany's first group in support of the refugees a decade earlier, had been cut out first by the Germans for accepting American aid and then by the Americans in favor of the more polished Ramadan. He had been used by political operatives, but all along his main aim had been to help the Muslim refugees in southern Germany. Undiplomatic as ever, he laid the blame on von Mende for bringing over Namangani five years earlier.
"It is very shameful for our Society Islam when we receive calls from foreign guests asking about a prayer room, a mosque, or something similar and we must answer that it doesn't exist. The Federal Republic is trying to make reparations for damages that the German people caused in the Second World War. Why is it precisely the Islamic refugees, who lost everything in the last war, who are being so neglected?"