America Will Not Tolerate Islamic Movements, Even if They Are Peaceful
Hassan Al-Turabi, the Islamic spiritual leader of
Sudan who hosted Osama bin Laden before he left for Afghanistan and who
was acclaimed as "the second Khomeini of the Islamic awakening,"
has been under house arrest outside Khartoum since 2000 when the Sudanese
government of Omer Hassan Al-Bashir decided to improve relations with
the West. He has just completed the manuscript of his new book, Jihad
and Public Life: The Meaning of Jihad and Its Guidelines. In this exclusive
interview conducted for NPQ by Imam M. Imam, editor of Asharq Al Awsat,
Hassan Al-Turabi speaks out for the first time since September 11.
NPQ | How do you see the events of Sept. 11 in
America? How will they impact the Islamist movements?
HASSAN AL-TURABI | I have long contemplated the relationship of
the West with the new movements of the Islamic awakening.
When these movements were still in their infancy, and due to their combative
role against communism during the bipolar confrontation between the West
and the Soviet Union, Western powers were jubilant and hailed their appearance
on the world stage despite premeditated, negative attitudes against Islam
as a receptacle of backwardness.
Then-prompted by the Islamic revolution in Iran, the subsequent events
at the United States embassy, the demise of the Soviet Union as an enemy,
the emergence of Islamic resistance to Israel and the rise of the Osama
bin Laden phenomenon in the Arab world that targeted America (as distinct
from the anti-American Arab nationalist movement)-the West, led by the
US, started to brand the Islamic movements as "fundamentalist"
comparable to the Christian reactionary movements known in the US.
These attitudes in the West were also encouraged by the excesses of violent
jihad and the aberration of the Afghan phenomenon.
In my view, the contemporary awakening of Islam was labeled "fundamentalist"
by the West in order to avoid a direct confrontation that would have mobilized
the forces of Islam from the far Asian East to the western parts of Africa.
The obvious fact now is that all the Islamist movements-especially in
Afghanistan, Palestine and the active Muslim movements in the North (Europe
and America)-are targeted by the West (and some Asian countries with vibrant
Muslim minorities in their midst) as associated with terrorism.
Progress and response to challenge are the nature of history. History
doesn't ossify. The emergence of new challenges leads to new responses,
which generate a new spirit, a new revival and resurrection. This appears
to be the destiny of the Islamic awakening.
Those who are frightened by the emergence of the Islamic movement try
to contain, suffocate or muzzle it. It responds with anger, with violence
that sometimes exceeds the limits of taqwa (fear of God and devotion to
justice) and fails to deal with others according to the just and humane
dictates of Islam.
The reality is that most Islamic movements are wise, rational and fair.
They call for a version of democracy similar to the Western model; they
believe in human rights, electoral systems, free transference of power,
political pluralism and peaceful and just international relations.
It is also true that, despite the reaction against "fundamentalism"
and the preemptive strikes that are meant to intimidate and terrorize
others, certain sectors in the West are keen to engage Islam in fruitful
dialogue. Now they are even more serious about that dialogue, trying to
identify what they call "moderate" as opposed to extremist movements
steeped in violence and jihad.
The doors are still open for dialogue between Islamic movements and the
West if that dialogue is not aimed at containment of Islam but open to
developing new horizons.
I don't think that the policies inspired by the readiness to appease America,
practiced by dictatorial regimes intent on repulsing Islam in the name
of fighting terrorism, will be of any use in subjugating the Islamic movements.
This attitude can only provoke resistance.
The real problem is that America will not tolerate Islamic movements even
if they embrace democracy and peaceful activism.
NPQ | How do you describe your relationship with Osama bin Laden,
especially during his stay in Sudan?
AL-TURABI | I met Bin Laden only occasionally while he was here
in Sudan. My contacts with him were in the context of his activities in
construction and agriculture, which were related to some government agencies.
He belonged to a cultural environment that was different from the pattern
of the Sudanese Islamic movement. Around him were old comrades in arms
from Afghanistan working in his businesses. Their stand vis a vis our
movement was tantamount to denunciation.
Although the activities of Bin Laden in Sudan were monitored by the Sudanese
security authorities, he was not particularly interested in the issues
that were then central to Islamic movements. He was not building on a
deep organizational experience or engaged in sophisticated activist planning.
Although he had his connections with comrades all over the Arab world,
especially his intimate relations with southern Arabia and Somalia, he
lacked an international organizational network.
When he left Sudan, however, he abandoned economic activity once and for
all and engaged in violent jihad activities. He was provided in Afghanistan
with organizational expertise, planning capabilities and seasoned personnel.
Had it not been for his leaving Sudan in a state of rage, had it not been
for his isolation and denial of contact in Afghanistan, I don't think
that he would have reached the levels of confrontation he did.
Economic activity was his forte, and had he stayed in Sudan he could have
stuck to that. He found in Sudan a reserved government that was mindful
of diplomatic considerations and obligations-and an Islamic movement with
no zeal for Jihad.
NPQ | Did the Sudanese government offer to extradite Bin Laden
both to Saudi Arabia and America prior to his leaving Sudan?
AL-TURABI | I was subjected to international demands for the extradition
of Bin Laden. I used to tell those seeking his extradition that I was
more sensitive than they to the interests of Saudi Arabia (home of Bin
Laden before the withdrawal of his citizenship) and keen on good relations
between Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Although Osama had his differences with his country, he was less vocal
on that subject when he was here in Sudan. His activities, statements,
brochures, press releases, even his personal letters attested to that.
In Sudan, Bin Laden himself was not in the habit of public appearances
and was not exposed to the media.
At a later stage, the government made some special contacts with Saudi
Arabia and the US concerning Osama bin Laden. When we realized that all
these parties were not interested in taking Bin Laden in whatever capacity-as
citizen or refugee or suspect-we put together a government plan allowing
Bin Laden, with due apologies, to leave Sudan. The government took him
to Afghanistan and was still sorting out the financial obligations it
owed to him till quite recently.
Due to the differences that emerged between the government in Sudan and
our Islamic movement, the government began to shed any Islamic trappings
in its foreign policy, even banning the Popular Arab Islamic Congress-the
international organization used to bring together Islamic movements, Arab
nationalist movements, ruling Islamic movements and others not in power.
It was attended by Islamic and non-Islamic intellectuals. The congress
was a meeting place for people from all over the world and was a venue
for dialogue, peace, making acquaintances and the forging of intimate
Under secret pressures from abroad, the government expelled all the Muslim
refugees and maintained total silence about all the issues facing Muslims
all over the world.
NPQ | How do you see the repercussions of the events in Afghanistan
on the Islamic world both at the regional and international levels?
AL-TURABI | Although Sudan recognized the first Afghan government
after liberation, it also received a high level delegation from the Taliban
to discuss Islamic issues like the status of women, Islamic education,
Islamic banking and the constitutional set-up in the context of the Sudanese
example. Similar contacts continued, with the Sudan sending comrades to
all the parts of Afghanistan.
Now, a government has been imposed on Afghanistan through unashamed Western
intervention, a government bereft of popular support, sustained by nothing
else than foreign forces. It is a government that makes use of Western
cunning to turn its back on Islam, denying the sacrifices of a million
martyrs. It has been seduced by the promises of material reconstruction
and the return to something akin to the ancient regime of the king.
It is extremely difficult to have a stable regime in Kabul without taking
into consideration tribalism and adopting a decentralized system of governance.
I say this based on my long acquaintance with the mujahedeen leaders and
the consecutive liberation governments in Afghanistan, and with the mass
organizations as well-Shiite and Sunni as well as Sufi and tribal.
The situation might now deteriorate into an utter state of chaos, anarchy
and civil war. Some quarters will be pleased to reach such a state of
affairs. Then, they would have no Arab mujahedeen to blame, and the fights
that flare up would not be held in check by the fraternity and compassion
of a just religion. If the neighbors of Afghanistan seek to buy their
security at the expense of inviting destruction on Afghanistan, they stand
to gain nothing but similar destruction.
NPQ | How, in your view, could the issue of the Afghan Arabs be
resolved? Is it at all possible for them to leave Afghanistan in the aftermath
of the American Afghan conflict?
AL-TURABI | The Arabs in Afghanistan, as they used to be in all
foreign lands, were like apostles-holy men spreading the original message
of religion, teachers of a new language and sources of finance and support.
But the ruling circles in Afghanistan that were pressured by the international
coalition are now branding these Arabs as terrorists. They are mobilizing
the tribes against them as foreigners, oblivious to the religious fraternity
that dictates otherwise.
Arab peoples and Arab governments are silent today. They are utterly afraid
to show any trace of sympathy with the Taliban or even with the people
who came from the North (Europe and America). They are indifferent to
the atrocities and the blood bath against the devout mujahedeen who fought
to the bitter end in the mountains. They show no sympathy with those taken
prisoner by America.
I don't want a different destiny for the Arab Afghans than their brethren
in Palestine-that is, to be killed in the cause of religion and go back
to their God, blessed and happy.
When will Muslims all over the world learn their lessons from countries
like Afghanistan and the Sudan? The banners of Islam are raised aloft,
and calls for support are sent to all the corners of the Earth, but when
these calls are responded to in earnest, there appear those who roll down
the banners and turn against the supporters of Islam.