THE SO-CALLED ARAB Spring has ushered in many surprising changes, not the least of which is an apparent sea change in American foreign policy. The Muslim Brotherhood--hitherto regarded as the principal ideological incubator of Islamic extremism and shunned accordingly--has been rehabilitated by the present American administration. Long before the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi was elected Egyptian president in June, the administration was openly courting the organization. The first sign of the change came in the form of what seemed initially to be a bizarre gaffe. Speaking at congressional hearings in February zoi r, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper incongruously described the Brotherhood as "largely secular." But the gaffe soon proved to have been a harbinger of policy. Within a year, the American ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, John Kerry, were meeting with Brotherhood officials in Cairo. The contacts, in both Cairo and Washington, have gone on ever since.
In this context, it is hardly surprising that many observers and especially those wary of the administration "reset" with the Brotherhood--would regard a recent book by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson as, in effect, the book of the hour. Bearing the sensational title A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), Johnson's volume contains an even more sensational thesis: namely, that the U.S. had already gotten involved with the Muslim Brotherhood in the 9 cos and that the Brotherhood's leading representative in Europe at the time, Said Ramadan, was even a CIA asset! On Johnson's account, the CIA helped Ramadan to seize control of the "mosque in Munich" of the book's title. The claim is all the more sensational inasmuch as the mosque--or rather the Islamic association that sponsored its construction--would in the aftermath of 9/1i come to be linked to al Qaeda. It is not difficult to understand, then, why Johnson's book has been hailed as a "cautionary talc."
And this it would be, were it not for the fact that the tale Johnson tells is not supported by the evidence. The whole basis of Johnson's narrative of American "collusion"--as he put it in the Fall tot r Middle East Quarterly with Ramadan and the Brotherhood is circumstantial evidence and conjecture Unnervingly, once introduced into the narrative, the conjecture is then elevated to the status of established fact. This procedure allows Johnson, for instance, to refer repeatedly to an American "plan" to install Ramadan as the head of the Munich mosque project, even though he has offered no proof that such a plan ever existed.
Dangerous liaisons or casual contacts?
MORE PROBLEMATICA ELY STILL, most of the circumstantial evidence points precisely to American disdain for Ramadan, not the "mutual attraction" that Johnson essentially conjures out of thin air Take, for instance, Ramadan's now famous September 1953 visit to the White House. A photograph documenting the visit is reproduced in a February 3, 2011 post by Johnson on the blog of the New York Review of Books. The picture shows a group of more than. twenty Muslim dignitaries crowded around President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Oval Office--among them, the then merely 1--year-old Muslim Brother Said Ramadan. The occasion for the photo-op was an international "Colloquium on Islamic Culture," which was cosponsored by Princeton University and the Library of Congress. The U.S. Information Agency and the State Department's International Information Agency were also involved.
The apparently scholarly conference thus enjoyed U.S. government sponsorship. Johnson makes much of this fact, quoting darkly from a State Department memo that admits to ulterior motives. A passage from the same memo that is quoted by another source (to which we will come momentarily) specifies the ulterior motives in question: namely, "to create good will and to contribute to greater mutual understanding between the Muslim peoples and the United States. …