Abdallah Schleifer is the former director of NBC Middle East office.
In the early 1990s, the American journalist born to a Jewish family from New York and converted to Sufi Islam, began a long interview with Hassan Turabi about political Islam:
"I was stunned by his intelligence and knowledge of Western culture, which is very rare among the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially those of his generation. Those young brothers currently emerging in Europe are certainly more familiar with Western culture, than were those of Turabi generation. He had studied in London, and presented his PHD thesis in Paris at the Sorbonne. He had read English and French authors in their original language. In addition to European literature, he knew perfectly the corpus of contemporary Islamic writers: Hassan al-Banna, of course, but also Sayyid Qutb, or Pakistani Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi. Many Brothers come from a secular milieu, and are not as conversant with this type of literature as one might think. Turabi seemed to me very different from the traditional leaders of the Brotherhood whom I had met so far, of whom Ayman al-Zawahiri was the typical prototype: people who studied medicine, and grew up either in a totally religious milieu, or in a secular milieu, and who became radical as a result of an accident in their private lives. Turabi was an intimidating person, but since he was friendly, I dared a question that I knew would displease him. I told him: "I converted to Islam, because I fell in love with the traditional culture I met in Morocco: warmth, people tolerance, and the universal dimension of their relationship to Islam. However, every time I have spoken with Muslim Brothers, I have more clearly recognized in their speech my past as a Marxist militant in the New Revolutionary Left, than the warmth and softness of emotions that I remembered from my stay in Morocco, and which represent true Islam for me. When I speak with Muslim Brothers, I often feel like I am with my former revolutionary companions, with members of the "party". For me, the ideology of the Brotherhood has more to do with Leninism than with Islam.
He laughed and said:
"You are right, and you are not the first one to think so. There is no difference between us and Marxists. Even when comparing our slogans, you will be able to find common ground. The only difference is that we are the ones who chased the communists away from Khartoum."
"Basically, Islamism is a kind of derivative of Leninism right wing. And what is Leninism right wing, if not fascism? Fascism is not a conservative movement. It has always been a revolutionary movement, as opposed to conservatism as it is to communism or other forms of socialism. Many notions have been introduced into modern politics by Marxism-Leninism, such as mass movement, flag, or salvation. All this has been renewed and in the most effective way by Leninism, of which fascism is a somewhat less utopian version than communism. In the case of Nazism, the ideal vision of a world rid of the Jews replaces the communist vision of a world rid of the bourgeoisie. Fascist salvation, from an emotional point of view, is more powerful than a closed fist. Today, we are of course horrified by this, and we associate it with Nazism and all the terrible things it has produced. But just have a look at the Nazi flag and you will understand why it means to people. The swastika has symbolized life for thousands of years in India. It is a very strong symbol, whereas the sickle and hammer only find an echo for some people; it is only the symbol of workers and peasants. Today, if I had the chance to see Turabi again, I would say to him: "I now know why your movement was able to stop communism - just as fascism, whether in Italy or Germany, was beaten by the Communists. The Muslim Brothers have been touched by Leninism, as they have been affected by many other European phenomena, but in terms of organization, as a party, as a mass movement, their closest cousin is fascism. It was much easier to understand for a Muslim Brother trained in the 1930s, like Hassan al-Banna and many others, than it is today. Leninism was in fact absorbed by the Muslim Brothers, through their romance with fascism."
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