Friday 4 November 2005 00:30.
Oct 30, 2005 (ASMARA) — Sudanese Islamic leader, Hassan al-Turabi, has dismissed the US as country inhabited by "ignoramuses", who want to dominate the world.
In an interview with the London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, Al-Turabi accused the West of "malice" against Sudan by linking the country with Al-Qa’idah. Al-Turabi, who gave the interview from Eritrea, also condemned Western pressure on Iran saying it was motivated by the country’s wealth. He also dismissed the Taleban saying they "do not understand much about politics".
The following is the text of the interview with al-Turabi published by London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat on 30 October; subheadings inserted editorially.
The leader of the opposition Sudanese Popular Congress, Hassan al-Turabi, has warned against what he called new Western ploys that are being marketed at the present to launch aggression against Syria and Iran.
In an interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat during his visit to Asmara - Eritrea, al-Turabi levelled vehement criticism at Washington and Western capitals, and said Al-Qa’idah led by Usamah Bin-Ladin is merely an illusion invented by Western propaganda machines.
Al-Turabi said: "To say there is an organization and there is Al-Qa’idah, that is proof that the West does not realize anything because they cannot prove anything."
He added: "They do not possess the trait of universality."
He said the Americans are the world’s ignoramuses and understand nothing about the world.
He said France has not returned Sudan’s favour, particularly with regard to Sudan handing over terrorist Carlos (Ilich Ramirez Sanchez).
Al-Turabi said he still fears the secession of Southern Sudan. In answer to a question on the possibilities of the secession of southern Sudan he said: "Yes, the agreement does not contain guarantees for the unity of Sudan. It revolves around the tendency for secession." He said Southern Sudan will perhaps not await the referendum, and the tendency for secession could include Darfur and turn eastward.
During his visit to Eritrea, al-Turabi visited the port of Masawa and the historical site in the port - the mosque established by the first immigrants from among the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Al-Turabi led the prayers with the Muslims of Masawa. He stopped at the new installations: the airport, the port, the (Harkiko) power plant, and several development projects.
The visit was said to be the outcome of a previous promise al-Turabi had made to Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki in 1991, and that is to visit the port of Masawa after liberation, and see the extent of destruction, and then visit it at another time to see the aspects of development.
Al-Turabi called on Eritrean opposition organizations that have been embraced by Sudan to return to their country and participate in building it intellectually and economically or remain in Sudan as individuals and refugees.
Crises in Horn of Africa
How do you see the way out of the crises in the Horn of Africa and what is the future of the region?
Al-Turabi: It is regrettable to see the internal disturbances and disagreements that occurred in Somalia and led to the entry of world interests to the country to deepen their conflicts. However, the Americans did not withstand a small blow in Somalia. Until now, the Somalis have been unable to organize themselves and form a government and a leadership body.
The same goes for Ethiopia, for despite the spread of education and the media throughout the world, Ethiopian nationalities have been sleeping, except for one nationality that was awake and exercised its domination over the others. However, if all the people now wake up they cannot be held under one fist. The Ethiopians must loosen up and find formulas that organize Ethiopia with consent within the country, and it must deal with its neighbours. That is because if they spoil things in Somalia that will harm Somalia and also harm them. The fire at your neighbours’ extends to your house, and their boon overflows to you.
The Ethiopians also want an outlet to the sea. However, all of us would not shrink from allowing them to pass through our territory to the sea, back and forth, importing or exporting. However, for that to turn into exercising hegemony over the Eritreans through measures behind which stood the UN, that does not work now.
That is because even if it prevails one day, might will eventually collapse. History has proved that. If people had repented and become friends and forgot their power, Eritrea would not have prevented imports or exports. However, the Ethiopians have now escalated tension on the border, and shifted ports and relations to other places. I believe all the land is open to the people, and all the roads to the sea and to the air are open to the people. That is an issue that must be tackled.
Eritrea is a small country and wants to depend on itself. If there are countries around it that have exports and imports and benefits it must share them all.
Sudan is also now afflicted with the crisis in the eastern region which is intertwined with Eritrea culturally and geographically. There are also the western and southern regions of Sudan that are within the homeland’s framework, but which also connect it with other aspects of Africa.
The Horn of Africa has one common history and one linguistic base. Each country should not have independently tried to resolve its problems and crises, but we should have come together because to do so would have made us stronger and more influential, and we should tackle even our domestic problems together, for we are kith and kin.
Are you calling for a confederation, for instance?
Al-Turabi: I say to the leaders in those countries that we must compete with Europe in this regard, for we have not killed each other by the millions as they have done. There are no religious conflicts. On the contrary, there are no quarrels between the religions here. The dialogue should begin here and we should spread it to them, just as we have spread Christianity and Islam from these areas.
We must set up a common nucleus and delegate some powers to it. Then we should increase those powers bit by bit, and organize all the levels of an independence that is not in contradiction and does not quarrel and does not have a striking force that tears it up and fragments it.
The people of the region should be given the opportunity to give all their thought and all their year’s earnings. I had thought that we could have given Africa - which yearned for unity and formed what it called the African Unity Organization, and then it changed the name into African Union but it did not make much progress - the more reliable model.
North Africa and the Arab Maghreb could have provided the model, but they did not make much progress in unity efforts. They drew the plans, but they did not make progress in view of their quarrels and problems.
What is your response to the accusations that have stuck to the Islamic movement in Sudan regarding its relationship with Al-Qa’idah? Has the relationship ended or are there quarters in the regime that have a relationship although all the dossiers have been handed over to Washington after the 11 September 2001 events?
Al-Turabi: All the accusations levelled at and aspersions cast on Sudan are the result of Western malice. The leaders who were accused were a product of Western culture. They [the West] should realize that those people are the closest people to them in language and understanding. They [leaders] do not belong to their original culture, they belong to Western culture.
Ussama Bin-Ladin did not come to Sudan to spread the salafi or jihadist thought in the first place. He did not appear socially. He came to Sudan as a member of a wealthy family that specializes in contracting in Saudi Arabia. He came to Sudan to build a road and invest in some projects. He was a recluse and did not mix with society.
The Westerners fear all those who fought in Afghanistan, those whom they sent there and armed. When the Russians were driven out, they began to fear those who fought in Afghanistan. That is why they pursued Bin-Ladin until his nationality was withdrawn, and Sudan was strongly pressured to drive him out. He left for the mountains of Afghanistan.
Of course, he is a friend who has not transgressed against anyone in the first place, neither by making a statement nor by a leaflet. That is why he then began to express a cause. That certainly is a matter that concerns him, and has nothing whatsoever to do with any Sudanese. However, it was the Western media that built a monument for him as the person who struggled against the West and against imperialistic hegemony and was followed by some people who had emotion. That is because it is the West which had enlisted them.
However, in general, the Sudanese do not have the spirit of acute political struggle, and not a single Sudanese has been killed in a political quarrel as part of a tradition of assassination.
It is true that as a result of strong pressure the Sudanese gave the Americans everything, but that is the way of the Americans.
Some Arab states if you are soft with them and give them what they want, it is possible that they show you courtesy. The Americans, however, become more tyrannical, and the more you give the more they ask. That is their spirit.
But France was given Carlos and did not give Sudan anything?
Al-Turabi: I do not know why France has hidden itself from Sudan. We used to say to them why do you not drill for oil. All the Asian states have come to our country - India, Malaysia, China - and you have not come. Come, for we want to diversify the people working in our country so that no single country will have a monopoly, because the US now wants to inherit the oil in Africa and the Middle East.
One regrets to say that although Sudan had handed over Carlos to them — although Carlos did not engage in terrorist activity, he had only heard of Sudan and wanted to live in it — yet they did not return the favour.
Secession of Southern Sudan
Do you believe the future of the political process in Sudan is still at risk?
Then do you fear the secession of Southern Sudan?
Al-Turabi: Yes, the agreement does not contain guarantees for the unity of Sudan. There is sometimes the possibility of a trend towards secession, and sometimes there is a unionist sign. The migration of southerners to northern Sudan, and the migration of northerners to the south had strengthened the hopes for unity.
However, the death of former First Vice-President John Garang and the events of bloody Monday (riots after Garang’s death) in Khartoum have very much diminished the unionist spirit. What undermines the agreement is that Sudan did not join it so that it can be a support for it, and the basis of the agreement has not been published in the media in Sudan. Moreover, the political parties have not joined the agreement at all. There are no guarantees in the first place. There is a small side and a big side that has been assigned 52 per cent. That is not a guarantee at all.
If Darfur and eastern Sudan were wrested away, the situation could be balanced by the forces that are calling for absolute centralization. However, what exists is an absolute centre, and the south where there is a minority. That is why the dangers are grave and can grow. I say that so that Sudan will realize it, and take steps to avert the danger before it exacerbates.
The south may not wait for the referendum. The bigger danger that arises if the south secedes from the north, is that western Sudan could be encouraged to follow suit, and the trend could spread east. All of Sudan is now in danger.
Government of National Unity
Do you still refuse to take part in the national unity government?
Al-Turabi: All the issues including Darfur and eastern Sudan must be resolved, and they will not be solved by settlements on paper only. And even if those issues were solved, there must be an elected, free, democratic, consultative regime with stringent and honest oversight, fulfilment of obligations and pledges, and probity in handling public funds.
Do you fear the normalization of relations between Israel and Sudan under the new formula?
Al-Turabi: In view of the fact that Sudan is far from Israel, the US pressure that can harm Iraq a lot and is harming Syria now, does not affect it. That is because Sudan is somewhat distant.
There may be in it remains of demands for justice for the Palestine cause which has been lost now owing to the imbalance in the world. I do not think there is a tendency in Sudan towards such normalization.
Relations with Eritrea
What is your stand towards the Eritrean opposition groups which Sudan has embraced, including the jihadist groups?
Al-Turabi: Since the period of armed struggle we used to talk to the Eritrean brothers about the need to liberate Eritrea in whose independence we believed. Those who worked harder and exerted a greater effort and fought more were those who first liberated Eritrea and took over running its affairs.
Our view is that it is not good for a minority to be destined to remain outside its country, without participating in building it intellectually, educationally and economically. The country is also threatened by other dangers. On top of that, it has quarrels and it squanders all its energies on military matters, conflict, and fighting.
It may be good to normalize Sudanese-Eritrean relations. If any Eritrean remains in Sudan he is welcome, and he will be considered part of the fabric binding the two countries, and that is required. If he returns to Eritrea he should be received as a free man and earn his living.
What is your stand on the raging border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea and which threatens to inflame the situation once again?
Al-Turabi: We cannot let borders be an arena for warring. The contrary should be the case: we must prove on the borders that we are kith and kin. We must prove that the borders are the hinges of relations, and one cannot break the hinges of a door. Issues must be resolved by peaceful means.
How do you assess your visit to Eritrea after the years of estrangement between the rulers of the two countries?
Al-Turabi: You did well to confine the estrangement to that between the two governments. That is because the Eritrean people and their revolution were sheltered by the Sudanese people and some of their political forces. That formed a bond. Eritrea did not forget that kindness. It remembered it, and that is good in relations. Eritrea wants to return the charge with it has been entrusted to the Sudanese people, not to eastern Sudan only - where the nationalities that are closest to it live - but also to the distant southern Sudan as well.
It is known that Eritrea played a role in bringing about the peace agreement, and in Darfur as well, which is more distant from Sudan’s extremities and ports. The popular ties that exist between Eritrea and Sudan are the more permanent and lasting, while the transient relations between the rulers of today, yesterday, and tomorrow are strengthened. That is because relations between rulers are transient. Now we have overcome the obstacles that existed between the rulers.
At any rate, there has been a visit and an initiative towards the Sudanese regime by Eritrea - particularly as those who are in power now are the same ones who used to be in opposition in the past. Our visit is to strengthen the relations which Eritrea has extended towards all the peoples of Sudan, not only on paper and on the diplomatic level, or to have the limited border trade only which takes place between all neighbours, but we want to strengthen and bolster those relations.
I also hope that Eritrea will further develop all popular relations with all the people in Sudan, and not only with those who are close to it, and that such development of relations will reach the political level, so that all political, economic and social efforts will be integrated to strengthen unity and bring about rapprochement between the two countries.
When after a time events become clear, the people will see that relations are now being strengthened and they will forget transient words that were said by some men in power.
How does the Popular Congress view current issues such as globalization, the Western onslaught on the region, the blockade, relief work, and withholding aid and loans?
Al-Turabi: God outspreads the earth so that mankind can communicate and interact. If some of them acquire more knowledge and earnings they become a potential that benefits those around them. These challenges when they surround us can stir us up and galvanize our energies. Then the thought of conquest fades away.
We must not be weakened by those who exploit our wealth and invigorate us with their money, so that they will not dominate us. Also, when those who invade us physically with their overwhelming force which our meagre force cannot resist, they provoke us to confront the challenges surrounding us. That is God’s law on earth, and God deals with days among people in turns [based on a Koranic verse].
It is known that affluent people do not have to exert a big a effort to make a living as that exerted by the poor striving to get rich. Knowledge has made them rich conceited and then they will wither and decline, and others will inherit them.
One day we used to be insignificant, and this country was much oppressed. However, a momentum arose to confront the challenges coming from Rome and Persia, and force began to perish and justice began to appear, and the might of justice was exercised on earth. However, after that we were seduced by what we had gained, and we began to decline. Then national struggle staved off imperialism, but it has begun to wander about us in other faces.
We believe in a globalization whose boon is spread over everyone, including regional neighbours. However, the West has been possessed by an internationalism that is surrounded by force to renew its imperialism in our countries and so that we can become slaves who serve it the same way serfs served the aristocracy in Western countries in the past.
It is known that by globalization the West does not mean good relations among peoples, internationalism, and people getting to know one another, for its definition has moulded us in the mould they want.
Then what is the solution?
Al-Turabi: Our excellence must be stimulated. We must not cut ourselves off and build a wall around ourselves so as to hide from them behind it. We must go back to our situation and derive strength from it, by acquiring knowledge and thoughts with which to argue and wrestle with them. We must make economic gains from our land and bargain with them, resist them, and deal with them on an equal footing. We must acquire strength so that we can ward them off if they should attack us and repel them to their borders.
We do not commit aggression against them, but we do not accept to be victims of aggression. Now all Europe has come together, while we are fragmented and mortgaged by the borders they have drawn for us.
How do you view the situation in the region immediately after the events in Iraq?
Al-Turabi: The British invaded Iraq in the past to take its oil, and provoked the Iraqi revolution. They were repulsed and expelled from the country. However, they have seen now that the Iraqis have taken the oil and are making advances scientifically and have reached a level that they began to fear for their foster child Israel from military power and the manufacturing of arms. They feared that the balance will tip in favour of the oppressed Third World. That is why they resorted to a ploy that deceived many people in the world.
Even their peoples were aware that they were the plotters with the ploy of weapons of mass destruction. They bypassed the UN and deserted it completely, yet they always say they are the law and legality on earth. It has become quite clear that their claim is false. However, I believe the Iraqi people have begun to resist. In order that our turn will not come whereby they market for us the ploys they are now marketing for Iran and tomorrow for Syria, and after tomorrow for any country here that rejects slavery and subservience, the best remedy for us is to meet them united as they come to us as a group.
We should meet them as a united rank so that they will not isolate us from each other and eat the sheep that are further away one after the other. We must now begin with the countries that lie immediately beyond us, the Horn of Africa.
We must come together so that they will not incite us against one another.
Do you believe that the hope of reviving the caliphate in the thought of Islamic movements has disappeared following the failure of the experiences of the regimes in, for instance, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iran?
Al-Turabi: The caliphate is an old principle. After the companions of the Prophet Muhammad it did not exist. Those who came after them were not called caliphs but emirs. They did not come to power by succession and consultation (shura) - like the first, second, third and fourth caliphs - but they came by force and bequeathed the caliphate to their sons. After that they called themselves caliphs so as to affiliate themselves with the first caliph, Abu-Bakr al-Siddiq.
First of all, we do not believe in that, but we believe in empowerment on earth and in giving power to society, and that matters are all decided by consultation. The fact is that we in Sudan began with that course, but those who held power wanted to continue with the old way, and wanted one individual to be the caliph and the religious scholars (ulema) must swear allegiance to that caliph without a price and without that individual giving them anything. He wants them and their money for nothing in return.
That disturbance split the Islamic movement and the project failed politically. The project had benefits. Women became liberated in society, and the people of Sudan began to speak one language: in the north, west and south.
In Iran, at the time of the Shah, the Shahists were a minority. They had their own organization like the church, when the Romans persecuted the Jews and Christians. However, Jesus - may peace be upon him - was not an Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran or Reformist ecclesiastic. He used to gather all people within one framework.
After the Shah, there was in Iran a government of the people combined with religious power. Power is for the people. The equation may tip a little. However, since Iran is a rich country Western interests hover around it. And since it is an advanced country, they fear it will be equal to them, because they do not want Third World countries to be equal to them. They want them to remain inferior to them and to be enslaved from a distance.
In Afghanistan it was a revolutionary movement. The French Revolution did not succeed although it raised the slogans of equality and justice, and for the sake of its cause it killed the nobility, changed the regime, and almost left all religion and brought its own religion. Really it was no use. They lived an era of disturbances known as the reign of terror. When they were exhausted by the disturbances they returned to the rule of Napoleon who was like King Louis whom they had killed 100 years earlier. The principles veered towards republics.
The Afghans did not know how to rule and how to build a house of rightness. They knew that the house of falsehood must be demolished by fighting and martyrdom. They succeeded in that and they were sincere.
We wanted to get to them in the later days and talk to them about what happens after their victory, because building is a difficult task - after they demolished falsehood. We did not get to them until they took power, and turned the hostility towards them.
They did not know how to build a unified army, how to tackle refugee problems, and how to conduct relations with the world. Even the Islamic religion, they did not know about it other than it should rule. They did not know how it was revealed. Experience has shown that there is no good in an emotional spiritual trend that awakens the people, because if emotions are aroused without guidance they can be destructive.
Then how do you view the revival of the heritage according to the concept of Bin-Ladin, Mulla Omar, Abu-Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi, and others in Islamic movements in the Muslim world such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad?
Al-Turabi: Taleban do not understand much about politics. They came from religious schools because they found the political leaders quarrelling. They tried to take power from them to purify it. They excluded women and stopped television, although it is a means of communication that could bring or bad, and one can use it as one pleases. They did not advance much in that. Now, they are not calling for anything.
Even Bin-Ladin and his movement are merely a movement for fighting only, and not a movement for building. He of course was expelled from Sudan, and he had lost his nationality. He went there and now the world is besieging him. He was depicted to the West world and to the United States in the name of terrorism and the war on terror and the spotlights were focused on him. Their [Bin-Ladin’s and others’] words are only hostility to the other, clashing with the other, and defiance of the other.
Religion teaches us to build and purify ourselves first, and to win over the other and not to kill him.
What I mean by that is jihad according to their interpretation. Do you believe that the jihad in which they are engaged has brought the present calamities in the Muslim world?
Al-Turabi: Some people may misunderstand jihad. The Westerners’ translation of the word jihad, "holy war", is a grave mistake. However, war in the Arabic language is other than jihad.
Jihad means an effort in return for an effort. It is interaction with the other. Thus the Koran says: "...strive hard against them with this Koran". That means they say visions and schools of thought, and you should argue with them guided by the Koran until you lead them to Islam. If they were to escalate their effort until they become a physical force and commit aggression against you, then you defend yourself and punish them with a force they appreciate: "So if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you."
Jihad above all is not only fighting. It is interaction with the other. But they consider it fighting. If he is peaceful with you, then be peaceful with him. If he greets you, then greet him with a better greeting. If he is neutral, not on your side nor against you, God has not given you power over others. If he comes to you with false thought argue with him. If he comes to kill you, defend yourself, but we are not allowed to initiate aggression against anyone. The religion that is called Islam is that people’s lives remain safe [taslam].
One is sorry to say that the great pressure by governments to which some people belong lead those people to explosion and fighting.
Do you believe they adopt wrong methods?
Al-Turabi: Personally, I do not blame them, but I blame the reasons that led them to that. It is something brought about by the West. Before, socialism became extremist, and established a state that ultimately failed. There are also some sects in America. Extremism came from there, and the destruction of buildings began in America. Who else?
To say they are an organization and there is an Al-Qa’idah network that is proof that the West does not know anything, because they [Bin-Ladin and his followers] cannot build anything, not even an organization with widespread branches. They do not have such universality. However, in view of the strong Western pressure on and intimidation to governments that have come to office without the people’s consent but by force to exert pressure on those people, kill them, and imprison them, the tables have been turned against them and they built illusions with the help of the media.
I personally lay the blame more on the states that are responsible. As for the others, what they are doing is wrong, but the question that needs to be asked is what has made the mistake exacerbate to such a degree.
Dialogue between civilizations
Do you believe the dialogue between civilizations will achieve what is expected of it, or will the clash between civilizations prevail, even in the future?
Al-Turabi: Human beings must not fight one another, because there is no compulsion in religion, and there is no aggression on human life. The means of technological communication are now wide open for dialogue, instead of going as conquerors in order to convey our message, for religion forbids us from entering the homes of other people by force.
However, in view of the fact that the imperialist spirit still exists among some Westerners, for they had previously killed the peoples in America and they believe they are the mighty power of the entire world. Pluralism yields fruits that yield material, financial, intellectual, and artistic gain. That is why dialogue is essential.
However, some people turn into a clash of civilizations in view of the material power they possess, because they are unable to argue and after that they brandish their weapons.
Politicization of Islam
Therefore, how do you view the concept of terrorism as used in the West? Is there real terrorism?
Al-Turabi: The old imperialist spirit rose in some of them. They called the first onslaught on Islam the Crusades, although Muslims did not call them that. They did not come for the sake of the cross, but came for imperialist reasons. They killed hundreds and millions in order to seize the origins of the wealth that came from the east. They failed in their objective. The clergy used to tranquilize the masses to serve the interests of the companies. However, the Muslims resisted them and that generated grudges within them. They viewed Islam as a threat, and in order not to say so they attributed the matter to fundamentalism.
The word fundamentalism is derived from their experiences with the rebels in the southern US. That is why they tried to turn it into terrorism so that it will be a direct word that incites everyone against them. The fact is there are rebellious groups in Germany and Italy and throughout the world, among Muslims and among Christians as well as among non-Muslims in Asia and elsewhere. All that is one of the most dangerous depiction of the world order. In view of the fact that the US is powerful, and its dollar is dominant, its word prevails, and conferences are held on its territory only.
There has been much argument about your politicization of Islam, and about your interpretation of the [Islamic] heritage and the Koranic sciences. That has prompted some of your critics to consider you an unbeliever. What is your response?
Al-Turabi: That is not strange to me. I do not care much for them, for I am talking about new tribulations, new worries and new generations. The heritage books may have rendered a service in their time, but our age needs renewal. The Koran is an immortal book that was revealed at the time to address the issues of its time.
By juristic reasoning and analogy we must use that discourse to address directly the present situation that exists today. The interpretations that existed hundreds of years ago did not address our lives through the Koran. Even when religion was revealed, we see how the Jews together with the Roman emperors at first tortured Jesus Christ and his apostles, and how Muhammad addressed his people at first until his companions took flight to this country [Eritrea and Ethiopia], then he took flight to Medina. However, he was also besieged by the old imperialist spirit. Thus every sprout begins small and then becomes a fruit-bearing tree.
The world is one of immortal values. However, renewed challenges must be addressed every day. Always those who are ahead begin at first as strangers, and in their alienation all anger is directed at them. It is the extremists who think that disbelief and belief are black and white, although there are levels of disbelief and levels of belief, but they do not know that differences in opinion do not lead one to the path of disbelief. That is why I personally do not care much for them [critics], and I talk to growing generations about new tribulations and worries.
There are those who accused you of annulling interpretations of the Koran, including interpretations about jihad and beautiful maidens [houri in paradise], especially after the split in the [Sudan’s former ruling Islamic] Salvation Front?
Al-Turabi: The words houri and beautiful are adjectives. Women want beauty for themselves, and so do men. However, some people who fantasized in the past turn those attributes to things that are made from a substance other than that from which human beings are made. I said to them if women feel blemished by old age - and they marry a great deal - they are entitled to look for men who are made from a substance other than that from which human beings are made. I believe that is being very backward, especially as language advances with civilization and generates new words by derivation.
If culture becomes profound, language also becomes profound through the tempo of culture. If culture is absent words are also absent. That is why I believe many people do not realize the meanings of the Koran. The issue now is to understand the Koran and apply it to the new reality, and see what example we can have and present to the people.
Will al-Turabi surprise the Arab and Muslim world - and even the Western world - with anything new, be it in the field of thought or politics?
Al-Turabi: Of course, I was detained for some time in one prison after another. That is because God fated me to live in seclusion so that I combine all experiences and events in a religious and a non-religious world. Now I will go out to the people with something new. I will go out now, God willing, and give the world something new. That is because the present maladies in the world are other than those that existed in the past, and the opportunities now are wider.
I am talking about systems of thought and not a specific idea with which to tackle matters. Not by force, of course. One for instance wants to go to Somalia, west Africa, or Europe to talk to them in their language and through the product of their culture, so that perhaps they will adopt a wiser stand in relations with the new threat they call terrorism, while they adopt means that inflame and exacerbate it rather than tackle it.
In the past, several accusations were levelled at you, including those connected with exporting a civilizational project, and the attempt to overthrow regimes in neighbouring countries and the Arab region, and the attempt to assassinate heads of state such as the attempt to assassinate [Egyptian] President [Husni] Mubarak. What is your response?
Al-Turabi: How can we be thrown into prison and accusations are levelled at us and we become the object of suspicion, while the accused, who are oppressed and besieged, have no say, especially as justice calls for a case for the prosecution, a defence and a judge to pass a sentence. As for exporting a civilizational project the whole world interacts. Was socialism confined to one country? It was an experience under the injustice of capitalism, and it had influence in the east as well as in the West.
All kinds of religious maladies are found in the world. One can spread a civilizational project or an intellectual project. You cannot create ideas just for yourself. If they are unmarketable and do not become widespread that is because they are poor ideas. Who taught us English? They came to our country and imposed it on us and made it mandatory. We never conquered a country to teach it Arabic. They conquered our country and taught us English by force. Why should not people speak in Arabic as a language of discourse?
What about the accusations that you attempted to overthrow the regime in Arab states?
Al-Turabi: That is wrong, because I address peoples, not governments. If the ruler is good and the people are weak and do not work, the ruler would not be able to do anything with the people. If the people are good they will produce a good ruler. The good earth produces good trees. Of course, if you are talking about liberties, no-one should be subjected to intimidation.
The regime that is better for the people is that on which there is consent among the people, not tyrannical dictatorships that anger the people and silence them. Even when it comes to books, there are immortal books hundreds of years old, and there are books that are past history. The more ideas are widespread, the more they will influence people.
Personally, it does not interest me if a government falls or a government comes to power. I address peoples, not governments. When we were in the Salvation Front we strived for openness with most regimes. Whenever we held a conference, we invited the ruling party and the opposition party in all the Muslim and Christian countries in the Arab World and elsewhere.
We used to believe that Africa should initiate groupings of regional states and compete with the West in that. We had personal relationships with various governments. There were no quarrels between them and us, wherever they went. It was a good and open relationship - even with China. Some people in the West began to see that a renewed and genuine will is spreading such thought in the world, and therefore they wanted that thought to be besieged and completely buried. That is why accusations were levelled at us.
But the attempt to assassinate President Mubarak was ascribed to you?
Al-Turabi: The people of the country in which the attempt took place [Ethiopia] as well as Americans who had access to data told me that the culprit was so and so. Now they turn a blind eye to that. Perhaps they have also used the incident as a powerful instrument against so and so who are now in positions of authority. They also know the other quarters which did not know about it in the first place.
Personally, I say in my speeches that it is an impulse of anger when a head of state is killed, even if he is a tyrant. It is not worth it. He will be succeeded by another, who will use revenge for him as a pretext to kill scores of reformers, and we do not make any progress. Spread your ideas so that the country will develop and progress.
Even revolutions, they are not in order to produce generations that only kill and demolish. I do not say that that applies to all revolutions, but it does apply to some of the revolutions which consider that to be necessary when it is a means to express the nature of the people under tyranny. However, I remind people of the dangers and defects of revolutions, so that if they become necessary in reality such defects will not lead them to destruction.
Was the Popular Congress able to restore its shaky relations with the Arab region, for in the past those relations were the reason for the accusations levelled at you?
Al-Turabi: I know most of the leaders of the Arab and African states. I am not involved in a crisis with any of them. They all know that if an incident occurs and it originates from Sudanese territory or from any other territory who they should hold responsible for such an incident. But it is international pressure, especially by the ignoramuses of the world - the Americans, who do not know anything about the world. Of course they know the phenomenon of lying, and they think it is the danger with which they replace the national goal.
Behind that goal they look at his personality, because they believe that in religion there is a Pope, and that all of terrorism is inspired and financed by the Pope, and they name him, and so they exert pressure on some of those states, because that is the danger for the regime and for you and for us.
Some of them talk to me warily during a private tete-a-tete meeting - as a friend talks to a friend - and they say to me we hope to be guarded. However, I do not have a quarrel with a ruling regime in the first place. Look. Look. I want my witness to be in Eritrea. Is it ruled by an extremist Islamist? Are my relations with Eritrea based on principles and are not a matter of friendship between neighbours, or colleagues, or companions? It is a relationship of principles, companionship, struggle, and long-standing friendships that continue to this day.
How can that be, when we are imprisoned for the sake of Southern Sudan? Are the southerners led by extremist Islamists? (Al-Turabi says, laughingly)
Finally, how do you assess relations between Sudan’s Islamic movement and Iran?
Al-Turabi: Unlike certain states in particular, the Sudanese Islamic movement is not mortgaged to sectarianism, be it Sunnis or Shi’is. Personally I talk with Christians and say to them, go back to Jesus for he has not said that, and his apostles were not like that. They abandoned that which divides them for that which brings them together. I also talk boldly to Muslims and say I am neither Sunni nor Shi’i, but I go back to the origins. If I find something good in whatever book I read, I embrace it and I renew it with another opinion, and I build on it or I leave it if it is not appropriate for the present age.
For that reason, the Shi’i-Sunni division did not exist in our relationship with Iran. And it was not affected by Persia’s remoteness from Iran. We are internationalists and we open out to the world, for Sudan is a word that describes our colour and our nationality and not our land.
We are a country that is open to its neighbours, for we are bound to them by ties of race and kinship. We talk to them about their experiences, and if we find something that is not the best course we tell them that frankly. Their heads of state, religious scholars, and intellectuals are all my friends. Also Iran used to reciprocate some relations with Sudan at a time when there were was a degree of estrangement in Iran’s relations with the Arabs.
We continue to maintain relations with Iran, as well as with Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, African states, Arab states, and even with non-Muslim countries such as China. We maintain those relations as a movement, not as a state with embassies.
We believe in internationalism, and we do not believe that anyone should be the master and the world is globalized according to his will.