A MOSQUE IN MUNICH: NAZIS, THE CIA, AND THE RISE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN THE WEST
Chapter 5: THE KEY TO THE THIRD
ONE OF THE FIVE pillars of Islam is the Hajj, the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim is encouraged to undertake, financial means and health permitting. Devotees make their way to the holy city to see where their religion was founded and ritually relive the prophet Muhammad's struggle to bring the word of God to humanity. Reinforced in faith, the pious traveler returns home, inspiring others in the community to follow God's word.
For some pilgrims, the 1954 Hajj was a bit different. Armed with ripe tomatoes and strong lungs, two CIA-sponsored Muslims turned Mecca into the site of a Cold War showdown. Two eager young men, Rusi Nasar and Hamid Raschid, had followed the now-familiar path to the West: born in the Soviet Union and captured by the Germans, they collaborated with the Nazis and finally were recruited by U.S. intelligence. Their target: Soviet hajjis, who, they claimed, were engaged in spreading propaganda. Sponsored by Amcomlib, Nasar and Raschid flew to Jeddah, the Saudi Arabian city closest to Mecca. They claimed to be Turks, got seats on a bus carrying twenty-one Soviet pilgrims to Mecca, and began their work, talking to the Soviet Muslims and trying to sow seeds of doubt about their homeland. When that didn't work, they tailed their prey in Mecca, heckling them.
"You're no pilgrims; you're communist propagandists!" the American propagandists shouted. "You serve the Moscow atheists!"
Nasar and Raschid recruited local Muslims to help out. They pasted anti-Soviet posters on the walls and harassed the Soviet pilgrims at every turn. Once, they threw tomatoes at them on the streets of the holy city. Perhaps due to the Americans' work, Saudi Arabia's King Saud turned down the Soviets' request for an audience. The Soviets did get one chance to talk about the situation of Islam in the Soviet Union to a gathering of pilgrims. But as they spoke in Meccas Grand Mosque, Raschid challenged them, asking how they could condone the Soviet Union's persecution of Muslims. One Soviet replied that the persecuted had been punished by God. Standing not far from the Kaaba, a small stone building that contains the Black Stone, said to have been given by the angel Gabriel to Abraham, Raschid bitterly criticized him.
"Haven't you a drop of shame left that you can say such things in front of the holy Kaaba itself, old as you are, with one foot in the grave, soon to stand in the presence of God?"
Nasar and Raschid's foray was portrayed in the West as part of a spontaneous uprising of disgust at the Soviet Union -- two Muslim refugees poking their finger in the Soviet Goliath's eye. That was the story that ran in Time magazine and the New York Times. However, their fake Hajj was part of an aggressive U.S. policy to counter the Soviet Union in a new battleground: the third world.
By the mid-1950s,the Cold War had reached a stalemate in Europe. As the East German uprising of 1953 and the Hungarian uprising of 1956 showed, the Soviets were determined to keep control of their satellites, and the West was unable to do more than protest. Both sides had tried aggressive policies -- the Soviets had squeezed West Berlin by cutting ground transport, while the United States had encouraged the Hungarian uprising. Europe, which would be the site of communism's collapse in 1989, remained the fault line during the Cold War. But for many of the intervening years the real action took place elsewhere.
In fact, the third world was arguably the Cold War's most important battleground. Incredibly bloody wars were fought there, not in Europe, and propagandists on both sides aimed their messages there. While both the U.S. allies and the Soviets continued to beam programs into each other's airspace, only in the third world did Cold War propagandists actually stand a chance of scoring meaningful points.
This part of the world has been referred to by different names: the developing world, the third world, or simply the South -- because most of its countries lay in the Southern Hemisphere. Some would later consider the term "third world" pejorative, as if third-world countries had finished third in some sort of global competition. But its original meaning is simpler and more useful. As coined by the French demographer Alfred Sauvy, the name was meant to distinguish certain sectors of the globe from those directly caught up in the duel between the "first world" -- the United States and its allies -- and the "second world" -- the Soviet Union and its satellites. Sauvy defined the third world as a vast area, encompassing most of Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The common denominator: in the 1950s most were in the early stages of industrialization and, excluding Latin America, most were emerging from colonialism. A handful of European powers -- especially the British and French -- had controlled these regions. Now these ancient European empires were collapsing and their territories acquiring independence. Every year, a few new countries were added to the family of nations.
The superpowers were eager to win over these countries as allies. Both the West and the Soviet Union wanted new trading partners and sources of raw materials. Although at the time many of these countries were poor, their strategic importance wasn't overlooked; think of how different the modern world would be if economic powerhouses such as South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand had become communist instead of pillars of the global trading system. And even those that remained poor could vote in the United Nations. The United States and the USSR (along with Britain, China, and France) had veto power in the Security Council, but the two superpowers needed votes to pass resolutions. Although many Americans today disparage the UN, it was a fresher, more idealistic institution during the early Cold War. Effective or not, it was the only global forum for the showdown between Moscow and Washington.
The United States was badly handicapped in this new battle. During World War II, it had shown contempt for European colonialism. Most American thinkers assumed that Europe's colonies would gain independence after the war and that the United States would benefit -- after all, it was founded by rebels fighting British colonialism. Who could sympathize more with newly independent countries than the United States?
What actually happened was different. Worried that the newly independent countries were going communist, the United States began to aid the colonial powers. After the French setback in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, the United States sent France weapons to rebuild its colonial army. And in the Middle East, U.S. oil firms seemed to be picking up where the old colonial powers had left off. Egged on by critics in the Soviet Union, many new countries began to call the United States the new colonizer.
Both superpowers decided to strengthen their position by using Islam as a weapon. In the United States, Cold War interest in Islam predated the Eisenhower administration. Under Truman, U.S. intelligence reportedly was on the lookout for a charismatic figure who could rally Muslims in an anticommunist crusade. Truman's Psychological Strategy Board drew up a program for the Middle East that was adopted in February 1953, shortly after Eisenhower's inauguration. "No consideration of the traditional Arab mind is possible without taking into consideration the all-pervading influence of the Muslim faith on Arab thinking." the report stated. It went on to warn that -- contrary to received wisdom in the West -- Islam was not a natural barrier to communism. Many reformers who took power in these countries put economics before religion; that weakened the role of faith and made the region vulnerable to communism. Von Mende and his group also figured prominently in early U.S. analyses of Islam's potential. In April 1951, the CIA received a report from an informant at a major U.S. university stating that von Mende had collected key Muslims and was setting up a think tank of sorts. His efforts to rebuild the Ostministerium team were being noticed. The tightly spaced three-page report was a sign that Americans were starting to think about how to make use of Islam.
The Eisenhower administration boosted these efforts. Its overall view was that the Truman administration hadn't been aggressive or focused enough. Even as the Psychological Strategy Board was adopting the new program on the Middle East in early 1953, one of Eisenhower's chief psychological warfare strategists, Edward P. Lilly, drew up a memorandum called "The Religious Factor." It called for the United States to harness its spiritual advantage and use religion more explicitly. Lilly described the great religious revival going on in the Muslim world. For the past few decades, Muslim thinkers had been trying to figure out how to harness their religion to save their countries from colonialism and subservience to the West. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood promised national salvation by hewing tightly to the Koran. Lilly compared it to the great Wesleyan Christian revival in eighteenth-century England. Later in 1953, he asked his staff to evaluate the feasibility of helping out with Saudi Arabia's annual Hajj; because of logistical problems, that year thousands of Muslims were left stranded and couldn't reach Mecca. In the future, could the U.S. Air Force fly them in? Lilly's adviser shot down the idea. "While the desirability of uniting the Christian world and Islam to maintain freedom of worship, etc., etc., is obvious, I do not feel that this project would help very much," the official wrote. It would be seen as "a deliberate coldblooded attempt by the infidel to organize Islam [that] would, I think, fall flat on its face and would be recognized as a bald psychological gimmick."
Yet officials remained fascinated with the idea of using religion as a weapon. In 1954, "The Religious Factor" was sent to the National Security Council. The NSC had just passed a landmark document, widely known as Paper 162/2, that called for massive retaliation against the Soviet Union. This document is often seen solely in terms of its implications for nuclear war, justifying obliteration of the enemy. But it also called for "mobilizing the spiritual and moral resources necessary to meet the Soviet threat."
The State Department, the CIA, and the U.S. Information Agency were called to action. But how ought they to proceed? The Soviet Union had upwards of thirty million Muslim citizens. For years the Soviets had worked at rooting out religion, closing mosques and persecuting those who practiced their faith; this was one reason why the Germans had an easy time recruiting Muslims to the Wehrmacht and the SS during World War II. But by the 1950s, the Soviets had reversed course, at least superficially. Mosques were reopened and imams trained. As Nasar discovered when he was in Saudi Arabia, Soviet officials had been sending Muslims on the Hajj to score points with the Muslim world. As home to ancient and important Muslim communities in Central Asia, the Soviet Union wanted to show that its Muslims were well treated and enjoyed religious freedom.
The United States had no such reservoir of Muslims. Its only such population of significant size was the Nation of Islam, but this group was at odds with the government, and its members were unlikely to find much common ground with Eisenhower and U.S. intelligence officials. And even if an alliance could be struck, involving the Nation of Islam would probably have been counterproductive; many mainstream Muslims blanched at what they saw as its heretical teachings (for example, that God manifested himself in 1930 to the group's founder; traditional Islam holds that God's final revelation was through the prophet Muhammad). The United States would have to look elsewhere for help.
For decades, Bandung had been known simply as an Indonesian resort town, a cool mountain retreat where Dutch plantation owners had built luxurious clubhouses and hotels as an escape from the tropical heat. But after a seven-day conference in 1955, it became a symbol for the third world's central role in the global Cold War.
The conference was held in the former Concordia Society, the most exclusive club that Dutch settlers had built in the wealthy colony. A grand art deco building in the center of town, it featured Italian marble floors, a great oaken bar, and crystal chandeliers. It had restaurants, meeting rooms, and a vast common area where the colony's European bosses met to socialize and discuss business. Now the two-acre complex was given over to colonialism's subject peoples. The Afro-Asian Conference -- which became known as the Bandung Conference -- gave third-world leaders a chance to get to know one another and find common ground. Organized and hosted by Indonesia, along with several major decolonized countries, including India, Ceylon, Egypt, Burma, and Pakistan, it was the birthplace of the Non- Aligned Movement, a group of countries that did not want to be subsumed into the Soviet or the U.S. camp. Washington saw the movement differently: a group of countries soft on communism that could be used by Moscow. China (at that point still a close Soviet ally) sent its suave premier, Zhou Enlai. In Washington, developments at the Bandung Conference were characterized as a Manichaean battle, and some of the most populous nations in the world were at stake.
Even before the conference started, the National Security Council jumped into action. In January 1955, its Operations Coordinating Board set up a Bandung working group made up of the CIA, the U.S. Information Agency, the State Department, and other offices "to place the Communist Bloc countries represented at the conference psychologically on the defensive." A few days later, the board issued a report, presenting the conference in the starkest of terms: "The Afro-Asian Conference, with Chinese Communist participation, will present the grimly amusing aspect of a spectacle of world communism holding itself up as the protagonist of local nationalist movements and anti-colonialism. Unless this plan is exposed and turned against them, the Communists will succeed in moving another step toward their goal of world domination."
Officially, President Eisenhower would send his best wishes to the delegates. Behind the scenes, however, the United States, which was not invited, would use proxies to distribute covert propaganda. The Soviet weak point was identified: Islam. As one Eisenhower administration official put it, the United States would use it to engage in "some 'Machiavellian'" engineering at Bandung: "I wonder if some of our friends at Bandung might not also have prepared in their briefcases an expose of the East's [Russia's] 'colonial' practices in its governing of the Moslem peoples of the fictitious states of Uzbek and Turkestan. I am given to understand ... that we have some devastating literature on how the Russians punished these 'uncooperative' peoples during and immediately after the war by removing thousands of persons from their homes to new lands and by exterminations en masse."
Indeed, "devastating literature" had been prepared. And once again it was Amcomlib's Rusi Nasar who saved the day. A year after playing the role of pilgrim, Nasar traded in his robes for a journalist's press card, landing an accreditation with the New York Herald Tribune in Bandung. During the conference, the U.S. embassy in Jakarta cabled back information on Nasar, saying he was working for the newspaper "this week" -- implying that the job was short-term, perhaps a cover -- and also claimed to be representing the National Turkestani Unity Committee, which was the most influential of the emigre groups speaking on behalf of Soviet Muslims. It was also funded and closely monitored by von Mende, one of whose paid agents, Veli Kayum, headed it. In the cable, the State Department officer said he wouldn't bother sending the material that Nasar was distributing at the conference because he assumed Washington already had seen it -- implying at least familiarity with, if not a prior vetting of, Nasar's work.
The Soviets weren't fooled. The Soviet newspaper Trud (Labor) attacked Nasar "as a U.S. agent sent from West Germany to demand independent Turkestan and attack Soviet nationality policy, thus providing US 'representatives' at conference basis for 'slanderous anti-Soviet fabrications.'"
But the Munich Muslims landed some punches. In addition to Nasar's attacks, Kayum also sent an appeal on behalf of the National Turkestani Unity Committee. Kayum grandly called the committee the "supreme organ for the liberation of the Turkestanian [sic] people." which had been "authorized" by Turkestanis back home to speak for them. The three-page appeal made numerous factual statements about the conquest of Turkestan by the Russians/Soviets and the Chinese. The communists had carved up this region into pseudo-nation-states -- in an attempt to divide and rule. Nasar's paper called for a commission to investigate the area's lack of religious freedom.
Nasar's role in the Muslim propaganda war was at times opaque. Although he appeared in the media during the Hajj and the Bandung episode, he disappeared from public view afterward. He would reappear only after the fall of the Soviet Union as an Aksakal, or community leader, of Uzbeks living in the United States. When I interviewed him in 2006, he was eighty-nine years old but spry, intelligent, and lively. He easily recalled events from half a century earlier, his nimble mind sorting through people and places.
Born in 1916 in the Uzbek district of Namangan, Nasar had direct experience of Soviet brutality. His family had been deported to Ukraine in an effort to remove the region's intelligentsia. When the war started, he avoided service and hid with a Ukrainian family. After the Germans overran the region, he heard that the great Turkic leader Mustafa Chokay was trying to unite Turkic peoples and form a government in exile. He found out that Chokay had died of typhus while inspecting a German prisoner-of-war camp. Still, Nasar joined a Turkic unit and fought for the Germans. He was wounded twice and sent to officer training school in the German province of Lothringen (now the French province of Lorraine). Nasar was later attached to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, the German army's supreme command, and during the last days of the war managed to escape to Austria and then Bavaria. He was sheltered by a farmer for a couple of months until the Yalta repatriations subsided. In 1946, he served as a representative to the Anti- Bolshevik Bloc of Nations but declined an offer from his old friend Baymirza Hayit to leave the U.S. sector for the British sector and work for the National Turkestani Unity Committee. In the early 1950S he was recruited by the legendary CIA spymaster Archibald Roosevelt Jr. to go to the United States. When I suggested that he had worked -- even just indirectly -- for the CIA, he bristled. He said he had engaged in "strategic studies" for the Pentagon but never worked in covert propaganda. In fact, he was derisive of Amcomlib.
"I had no respect for them." Nasar told me. "They were pro- Russian. They didn't care about the minorities."
Many people I talked to in the course of researching this book have come to think of themselves as nationalist leaders who kept the flame of independence burning during the dark days of Soviet rule. Nasar, for example, was now a respected Uzbek leader, an elder. The fact that some of his work was done in the service of another nation, for its goals, doesn't fit this image. Nasar said Amcomlib tried to recruit him several times; the Amcomlib trustee Isaac Don Levine promised him a "big villa and a car" in Munich if he joined. But he says he scorned the group. Once when visiting Munich he discovered that an Uzbek he knew from the war, Amin Burdimurat, worked for Radio Liberty. Burdimurat said he couldn't broadcast what he wanted because of Amcomlib's pro-Russian slant. Nasar lambasted Burdimurat. "I said, You idiots, why are you working for this organization?"
Nasar might have looked down on Amcomlib, but evidence suggests he worked for it. In their articles about Nasar's Hajj in 1954, both the New York Times and Time magazine reported he had been sent by Amcomlib (which was depicted as a private organization). Minutes of Amcomlib board meetings show that group members viewed Nasar as a key to their covert propaganda strategy, calling him a "damn good man, useful in several operations of the American Committee." They also tried to get him a full-time job.
Whatever Nasar's allegiances or fate, at the Bandung Conference, the use of Soviet Muslim exiles who had congregated in Munich constituted a US. coup. Even the White House was ecstatic. During the April 29 cabinet meeting Secretary of State John Foster Dulles said everyone had initially assumed the communists would dominate Bandung. In the end, US. efforts had paid off, and the tables had turned. "Secretary Dulles considered it quite significant that [the Chinese premier] Chou [Enlai] made no attempt to defend the USSR at the conference -- even though the Soviet Union came under intense criticism on 'colonialism' charges."
Washington wasn't alone in recognizing Bandung's importance. Most of the major players from Munich appeared there, from leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to freelance intelligence operators like the US. novelist Ahmad Kamal. Of the Munich cast, only von Mende wasn't present. But his people were, and they sent him detailed analyses of the conference and its participants. Even though Bandung went better than expected for the West, von Mende was growing worried. The United States seemed to be trying to poach his organizations. Nasar, for example, had showed up at Bandung claiming to represent the National Turkestani Unity Committee. Von Mende had sent Kayum to the US. consulate in Munich to find out why Nasar had claimed to represent Kayum's group. Kayum told the Americans that he knew that Nasar was on their payroll. The Americans were shocked that von Mende knew their financial arrangement with Nasar and brought it up a few weeks later during a meeting with von Mende.
"Prof. von Mende said that last year Nasar had also been at Mecca and had indicated there that he was sent by the Americans, that he was known to have received 600 dollars from the CIA representative in the US. Embassy at Jeddah. Prof. von Mende said that he was telling us this because he felt that it was against US. interests to have this kind of an operation bungled."
Von Mende probably didn't care if the operations were bungled. It was who the Americans were recruiting that rankled him. The two Western allies were headed for a clash that would open the door to a third force.