Islamism, fascism and terrorism (Part 4)

By Marc Erikson, Asia Times, 5 December 2002

An early convert to Sayyid Qutb's new-fangled fascist Islamism which condones, indeed commands, terrorism and murder was the alleged number two man of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. [see part 2]. Having joined the Muslim Brotherhood at age 15, he was caught in the Nasser dragnet after the 1965 assassination attempt on the Egyptian leader and—young age and elite family background notwithstanding—was thrown in jail. An April 1968 amnesty freed most of the brethren, and Ayman, in that regard following in his father's footsteps, went on to Cairo University to become a physician. He obtained his degree in 1974 and practiced medicine for several years.

His profession, however, was not his calling. By the late 1970s, he was back full-time in the Islamist revolution business agitating against the Egypt-Israel peace treaty (concluded in 1979). In 1980, on the introduction by military intelligence officer Abbud al-Zumar, he became a leading member of the Jama'at al-Jihad of Muhammad Abd-al-Salam Faraj which on October 6, 1981, assassinated President Anwar El Sadat while he was reviewing a military parade.

Faraj, like al-Zawahiri, had been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but became disenchanted with its passivity. In 1979, he penned a short pamphlet titled The Neglected Obligation (al-Farida al-Gha'ibah), which relied heavily on the ideas of Sayyid Qutb. It became the founding document of al-Jihad, arguing along the familiar lines that acceptance of a government was only possible and legitimate when that government fully implemented Sharia, or Islamic law. Contemporary Egypt had not done so, and was thus suffering from jahiliyya. Jihad to rectify this, wrote Faraj, was not only the neglected obligation of Muslims, but in fact their most important duty.

Following the Sadat assassination, al-Zawahiri was arrested on a minor weapons possession charge and spent three years in jail. In 1985 he left Egypt for Saudi Arabia and later Peshawar, Pakistan, where he was joined by Muhammad al-Islambuli, the brother of one of Sadat's five assassins, 24-year-old artillery lieutenant Khalid Ahmed Shawki al-Islambuli. There, connections were made with the groups of Palestinian Islamist Abdullah Azzam and the latter's one-time student Osama bin Laden, by then fully engaged (with well-known CIA support) in assisting the mujahideen struggle against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Al-Zawahiri's al-Jihad was in many respects better organized and better trained than other groups in the Afghanistan theater. Prior to the murder of Sadat, it had succeeded in recruiting members of the presidential guard, military intelligence and the civil bureaucracy. Most importantly, it was in possession of a cogent and comprehensive ideology pointing beyond the Afghan struggle against the Soviet occupiers. Afghanistan should be a platform for the liberation of the entire Muslim world, was the distinguishing creed of al-Jihad.

Al-Zawahiri wrote several books on Islamic movements, the best known of which is The Bitter Harvest (1991/92), a critical assessment of the failings of the Muslim Brotherhood. In it, he draws not only on the writings of Sayyid Qutb to justify murder and terrorism, but prominently references Pakistani Jamaat-i-Islami founder and ideologue Mawdudi on the global mission of Islamic jihad.

Mawdudi had written, Islam wants the whole earth and does not content itself with only a part thereof. It wants and requires the entire inhabited world. It does not want this in order that one nation dominates the earth and monopolizes its sources of wealth, after having taken them away from one or more other nations. No, Islam wants and requires the earth in order that the human race altogether can enjoy the concept and practical program of human happiness, by means of which God has honored Islam and put it above the other religions and laws. In order to realize this lofty desire, Islam wants to employ all forces and means that can be employed for bringing about a universal all-embracing revolution. It will spare no effort for the achievement of this supreme objective. This far-reaching struggle that continuously exhausts all forces and this employment of all possible means are called jihad.

And further, Islam is a revolutionary doctrine and system that overturns governments. It seeks to overturn the whole universal social order ... and establish its structure anew ... Islam seeks the world. It is not satisfied by a piece of land but demands the whole universe ... Islamic jihad is at the same time offensive and defensive ... The Islamic party does not hesitate to utilize the means of war to implement its goal.

Not just or even principally the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan or the removal of any one godless Muslim regime, but global jihad as Mawdudi had prescribed, became al-Zawahiri's obsession. And he acted as he had read and written. After several years in Afghanistan and Pakistan, constructing there the platform from which to launch broader pursuits, Zawahiri traveled extensively on Swiss, French and Dutch passports in Western Europe and even the United States on fund-raising, recruiting and reconnaissance missions. Then came initial implementation of the offensive.

It is not known whether he had a hand in the 1993 bombing of the New York World Trade Center. But he had close connections to Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the spiritual leader of the group that carried out the attack. Then, in 1995, he was behind the truck bomb attack on the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan; in November 1997, he led the Vanguards of Conquest group responsible for the Luxor (Egypt) massacre in which 60 foreign tourists were systematically murdered and mutilated; in August 1998, he organized the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; and probably, in 2000, the speed-boat bomb attack on the USS Cole in Aden. Israeli intelligence considers him the operational brains behind September 11; the fact, in any case, is that the Egyptian Mohammed Atta, principal of the Hamburg, Germany, al-Qaeda cell that was instrumental to the World Trade Center destruction, was a member of Zawahiri's al-Jihad.

Osama bin Laden, as we wrote earlier, had the money, some of the connections, and perhaps the charisma to function as the leader of the al-Qaeda global jihad. But it was not until Zawahiri's al-Jihad in February 1998 formally joined forces with bin Laden that the present global Islamist terrorist threat truly emerged. With his long experience in the Muslim Brotherhood, his critical assessment of its failures, his cunning—albeit highly eclectic—fashioning of a fascist ideology drawing on Islamic religious elements, and his organizational and operational skills, al-Zawahiri is the key personality of global jihad. The key point to understand is that Zawahiri fascist Islamism has seized the ideological initiative in the Muslim world against which traditional Islam has so far proved an impotent, indeed often unwilling, opponent. Young Muslims everywhere are captivated by Zawahiri Islamism and jihad to which they attribute selfless idealism and in which they admire ruthless determination. It will be a long war.

And make no mistake: In this war against a new, ideologically vigorous fascism, collateral assets of the Islamists, the neo-Nazis of the Ahmed Huber variety which we described in part 1 of this series, or—for that matter—Saudi financiers wittingly pushing narrow sectarian Wahhabism upon youths in madrassas worldwide, are key forces in the enemy camp. Islamism as we have portrayed it in its historical and present dimension is a form of fascist madness—the same type of madness which one of Hitler's closest confidants, convicted war criminal Albert Speer, saw during the Fuehrer's final days. In his Spandau prison diary entry for November 18, 1947, Speer recollects:

I recall how [Hitler] would have films shown in the Reich Chancellory about London burning, about the sea of fire over Warsaw, about exploding convoys, and the kind of ravenous joy that would then seize him every time. But I never saw him so beside himself as when, in a delirium, he pictured New York going down in flames. He described how the skyscrapers would be transformed into gigantic burning torches, how they would collapse in confusion, how the bursting city's reflection would stand against the dark sky.