This week's closing of one of Europe's most notorious mosques, Masjid Taiba, formerly known as the al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, has significance beyond the continuing saga of a place where several of the 9/11 terrorists were radicalized. It also helps counter a myth surrounding radical Islam: the notion that mosques don't matter.
When experts are pressed on why young Muslims turn to terrorism, they usually give one of two answers. The first is the socioeconomic argument -- that poverty or discrimination caused the turn to violence. We heard this most recently in the aftermath of the failed bombing in New York's Times Square: The perpetrator was said to have been a victim of the economic crash, which caused him to lose his home and, supposedly, turn to violence.
The second answer is that radicalization takes place via the Internet, where preachers of hate circulate videos and writing that corrupts receptive minds. Terrorists, so goes this argument, become what they are through the spread of new media -- not person-to-person contact.
These two arguments, however, miss the full picture. Most terrorists come from fairly prosperous backgrounds, and though the Internet does help disseminate hate, a close look at terrorism shows that, almost invariably, a necessary step in the process to radicalization occurs in a place of worship. This doesn't mean that all mosques are bad, of course, but it does mean that some have played an important role in the West's decades-long struggle with radical Islam.
The mosque that was closed on Aug. 9 is a good example. It's better known around the world by its old name, al-Quds, where Mohamed Atta and two other of the 9/11 pilots worshipped. (It was renamed in 2008.) When the attacks took place in 2001, I went to Hamburg along with many other journalists and tried to talk to the people who ran it and worshipped there. Everyone we met said that they didn't know the plotters and that their radicalization must have taken place elsewhere.
That turned out to be exactly wrong, as police investigations later showed. In 1998, in fact, the al-Quds mosque showed up in a German police investigation. A Sudanese man, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, had been arrested in a Munich suburb, charged with conspiring to build an al Qaeda network in Germany.