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22 Apr, 2010 08:03

Who’s afraid of Dr. Turabi?

What makes the most widely-known religious and Islamist political leader so unpopular?

Is it the fact that he founded the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, the fact that he is a critic of the Sudanese government, or the fact that he calls Muslims to live up to the modern world’s values instead of preserving the ghosts of the past under the name of life’s fundamental set of rules?

If the West were to seek peace with the Muslims, there would be no better middleman than Hassan Turabi. If president Obama really wished to change the relations with the Islamic world, his advisors would be on the waiting list for an appointment with this Sudanese wiseman and lawyer.

His office in Khartoum is easily located, although there are no street names or house numbers to be seen around. People just know Dr. Turabi. The office is quite unpretentious and open. The first floor is full of journalists, who keep arriving. Dr. Turabi himself is a tall, smiling person, full of energy. He appears to be taking both the hot weather and the flow of people in his stride.

”If we want changes to take place, we need to do more than exchange diplomatic protocols and sanctions – we need to exchange ideas. Relations are no longer limited to such things as official ministerial meetings. Look, the world is expanding, and it’s getting harder and harder to apply any limits to it, as more and more new ways and means of interaction appear, and cultural and knowledge exchange is now driven by actors, athletes and researchers,” says Hassan Turabi.

Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, now 78, was educated in the UK and France; he speaks many European languages and has lived in Europe and the United States. The majority of reporters ask him to comment on the issues of the Sudan’s home politics. Turabi responds by criticizing the government. Yet, very few of these words find their way to the Western mass-media.

How to picture anti-terrorist as terrorism-promoter

”They (the Americans – NK) want to label me as the father of the global terrorism, they want to make the world believe that I am the terrorists’ sponsor, but I am a person of quite limited means to be a sponsor, I have no sources of income in Sudan,” smiles Turabi.

The Muslim world regards Dr. Hassan Turabi as one of the most-prominent moderate political leaders, a consistent opponent of terrorism, a supporter of peaceful negotiation processes, democratic ideas, and a multi-party parliamentary system.

For the United States, he is a fundamentalist and Islamic theorist – while both these definitions are used in the West and are not clear to Muslims. The mass media have even labeled him as a father and sponsor of terrorism.

”They (the United States – NK) want to control everything, rule over all, own global resources, just like the United Kingdom and France used to in the past. They think themselves to be the hub of the world. But the hub of the world is here, in the Orient. They should look up geography books. Just look what they are doing. They are killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan – men, women, and children. And they call themselves Christians. Is such behavior Christian? No, it’s not,” Turabi says.

In any case, Turabi is the author of contemporary Islamism. In addition to that, he is the political architect of the new Sudan. The elections that took place here recently were proposed by him, albeit back in the previous century. Thanks to his efforts, Sudan maintains its multi-party system despite everything that has been said on the subject in the West. It was his popularity among the Muslims and in the West that the military government that seized the power 20 years ago widely used. The Sudanese president al-Bashir has been Turabi’s follower in building a Muslim state on moderate principles. Islam in Sudan is quite liberal. It is largely within the historical tradition, but also a credit to Turabi.

In the ’90s Turabi served as the speaker of the National Assembly, foreign minister, and founder of the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference that took place annually in Khartoum until 1999, bringing together representatives of all Muslim states and communities.

He conducted negotiations with the Afghanistan Mujahideen upon the USSR’s request after Soviet troops had been withdrawn from the country. He kept the negotiation process running after the downfall of the USSR.

”I know all the Islamist movements in the area from Sri Lanka to Europe, I know all the jihadist movements in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. The CIA were unhappy with this – they tried to get rid of me while I was in Canada. They don’t want negotiations. They prefer to have various groups in Afghanistan destroy the country after the departure of the Soviet troops.”

Unlike with the peace project for Afghanistan, he succeeded in building up the Islamic Conference and bringing together the Muslims of all nations and schools. This is largely the reason that Western secret services have undertaken a number of operations to have Sudan isolated and Dr. Turabi ousted out of politics.

Endgame Race

In 1998, the Al-Shifa factory, the largest private pharmaceutical enterprise in Africa, was destroyed in cruise missile strikes launched by the United States. No evidence of the factory being involved in any terrorism-linked activity aside from producing affordable quality medication for the continent has ever been found. Yet the message delivered to Sudan was clear – that any further attempts to consolidate the world’s Muslim communities politically will have wide repercussions for Sudan. President al-Bashir chose to distance himself from Turabi, thus probably seeking to relieve the pressure on Sudan. Yet, it has worked the other way round.

In 1999, Dr. Turabi was placed under house arrest. The Islamic Conference stopped its meetings, and Turabi was removed from all his posts. However, journalists keep coming to him unhindered. Dr. Turabi is the leader of the Popular Party, which nominated its candidate, Abdullah Dink, at the presidential elections in April 2010.

Sanctions against Sudan are still in force. The International Tribunal has put President al-Bashir on its wanted list. Dr. Turabi’s name hasn’t been included in any list of unwanted persons; and he is a welcome guest at conferences in Europe.

There is an obvious political standoff between Dr. Turabi and President al-Bashir. Turbi is actively criticizing al-Bashir. Government bureaucrats claim that all opposition members, except Turabi, will be in the new government. There is a lot of political game in all this. It is quite well-thought from both sides. The thing is that most political processes in Sudan are unfolding according to Turabi’s plan: the multi-party elections, a search for partnership under international sanctions, peaceful agreements with Southern Sudan and Darfur, a referendum on the autonomy of Southern Sudan.

“The Americans see the Al-Qaeda network everywhere just like some see ghosts. It was the same with Che Guevara.”

Shortly after 9/11, the Western media literally linked Dr. Turabi to al-Qaeda and, personally, to Osama bin Laden. Some called him the Muslim Pope or the Pope of Terror. However, he is not on any list of wanted terrorists, and no one accuses him of anything.

“We don’t say al-Qaeda in Arabic. We don’t use the word fundamentalism. The British and the French don’t use it either. The Americans have invented all this,” Turabi maintains. “Bin Laden was a quiet, modest and well-bred gentleman with a traditionally narrow Saudi education. He lived one quarter away from me, not far. One day he called at my place. No one knew him at that time, no one was interested in him and his name was not making headlines. He was the son of a rich construction contractor, and the Americans asked him to invest his capitals in the struggle against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. He did that. Then the Soviets pulled out, and he also left Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden arrived in Sudan as a construction investor. He built airports and roads. The United States exerted pressure on Saudi Arabia, and they stripped bin Laden of his Saudi citizenship. Then the Americans exerted pressure on Sudan, so the Sudanese authorities expelled bin Laden from the country. Where else could he go? The Americans themselves sent bin Laden to the mountains. There was no room for investments in the mountains – airports and roads were not necessary. The Americans see the Al-Qaeda network everywhere just like some see ghosts. It was the same with Che Guevara. They’ve turned bin Laden into a movie character. They don’t understand a word of Arabic in Pakistan, but they know him. They recognize him without knowing anything about his ideas. There’s no need for any ideas. Over the past years all the parties have disappeared. There are no socialists, no nationalists, no left or right. A host of Islamic parties have sprung up to replace political movements. All of a sudden, people start thinking of themselves as true Muslims, and oppose their abruptly-acquired identity to others. But what do they know about Islam?"

“Don’t give too much power to secret services – they breed terrorism instead of fighting it.”

Dr. Turabi is aware of the situation in the Caucasus. He believes that the presence of a large indigenous Muslim community in Russia is an indisputable advantage. These people feel at home, they are not immigrant communities like in Europe or the United States.

“You should respect their culture, their family traditions; then most of the problems will vanish. Russia can attract Muslims to establishing trade and economic ties with the Islamic world,” Turabi says. He is sure that Russia will build relations with its Muslims without creating the threat of separatism.

“The world is on the way to consolidation rather than separatism. Muslims are unlikely to separate if relations are built. These relations need to be built like in a family or with neighbors. Muslims are as inclined to peace as Russians: everything is reciprocal. Diplomacy is not going to solve anything. Today, diplomacy only sticks to protocol and sends reports. You shouldn’t press – even the most peaceful person will go and blow himself up if the pressure is too hard. Try to establish contacts with scientists and prominent people in Islam, and not just with local elders and local leaders. And don’t give too much power to secret services: they breed terrorism instead of fighting it.”

Turabi believes that Iraq is a good example of how secret services breed terrorism.

“They (secret services – NK) are not just exaggerating, but lying about terror. Russia shouldn’t allow its secret services to focus a grip on power: they provoke people and their actions force people to go and blow themselves up to become a martyr. Muslims should have an opportunity to listen to and to talk to influential scientists. We should find a way out of this situation. Force begets force. Arguments and talks are needed instead of muscular pressure. Force is counterproductive. Look how European nations, who used to wage wars against each other for centuries, have managed to pass over from wars to a single space. The Soviet Union had many similar approaches to Islamic countries: with regards to fair distribution and taxes. Russia shouldn’t stick to muscular solutions, but should look for ways to find a common language with the Muslims,” Turabi believes.

Nadezhda Kevorkova, Khartoum – Moscow, for RT