By Marc Erikson, Asia Times
[Editor's note: As distinct from the world religion of Islam, Islamism - as in part contextually defined below - is a political ideology that adherents would apply to contemporary governance and politics, and which they propagate through political and social activism.]
On November 7, 2001, on the request of the US government, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office froze the bank accounts of Nada Management, a Lugano-based financial services and consulting firm, and ordered a search and seizure raid on the firm's offices. Police pulled in several of the company's principals for questioning. Nada Management, part of the international al-Taqwa ("fear of God") group, is accused by US Treasury Department investigators of having acted for years as advisers and a funding conduit for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.
Among those interrogated by police was a certain Albert Friedrich Armand (aka Ahmed) Huber, 74, a Swiss convert to Islam and retired journalist who sits on the Nada board of directors. Nothing too unusual perhaps, except for the fact that Huber is also a high-profile neo-Nazi who tirelessly travels the far-right circuit in Europe and the United States. He sees himself as a mediator between radical Islam and what he calls the New Right. Since September 11, a picture of Osama bin Laden hangs next to one of Adolf Hitler on the wall of his study in Muri just outside the Swiss capital of Bern. September 11, says Huber, brought the radical Islam-New Right alliance together.
On that, as his own career amply demonstrates, he is largely wrong. Last year's horrific terrorist acts were gleefully celebrated by Islamists and neo-Nazis alike (Huber boozed it up with young followers in a Bern bar) and may have produced closer links. But Islamism and fascism have a long, over 80-year history of collaboration based on shared ideas, practices and perceived common enemies. They abhor "Western decadence" (political liberalism, capitalism), fight holy wars - if needs be suicidal ones - by indiscriminate means, and are bent on the destruction of the Jews and of America and its allies.
Horst Mahler - once a lawyer for, later a member of, the 1960s/'70s German ultra-left terrorist Baader-Meinhof gang, and now a leading neo-Nazi - summed up convergent radical Islamic and far-right views and hopes in a September 21, 2001 letter: "The USA - or, to be more exact, the World Police - has shown itself to be vulnerable ... The foreseeable reaction of the East Coast [= the Jewish controllers and their gentile allies = the US Establishment] can be the spark that falls into a powder keg. For decades, the jihad - the Holy War - has been the agenda of the Islamic world against the 'Western value system.' This time it could break out in earnest ... It would be world war, that is won with the dagger ... The Anglo-American and European employees of the 'global players,' dispersed throughout the entire world, are - as Osama bin Laden proclaimed a long while ago - military targets. These would be attacked by dagger, where they least expected an attack. Only a few need be liquidated in this manner; the survivors will run off like hares into their respective home countries, where they belong."
Such convergence of views, methods and goals goes back to the 1920s when both Islamism and fascism, ideologically pre-shaped in the late 19th century, emerged as organized political movements with the ultimate aim of seizing state power and imposing their ideological and social policy precepts (in which aims fascism, of course, succeeded in the early '20s and '30s in Italy and Germany, respectively; Islamism only in 1979 in Iran; then in Sudan and Afghanistan). Both movements claim to be the true representatives of some arcane, idealized religious or ethnically pure communities of days long past - in the case of Islamism, the period of the four "righteous caliphs" (632-662), notably the rule of Umar bin al-Khattab (634-44) which allegedly exemplifies "din wa dawla", the unity of religion and state; in the case of the Nazis, the even more obscure Aryan "Volksgemeinschaft", with no historical reference point at all. But both are in reality - as historian Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, puts it - 20th century outgrowths, radical movements, utopian and totalitarian in their outlook. The Iranian scholars Ladan and Roya Boroumand have made the same point.
The Nazi ("national socialist") movement was formed in reaction to the World War I destruction of the "Second Reich", the "unequal and treasonous" Versailles Treaty and the mass social dislocation that followed, its racialist, corporatist ideology laid out in Hitler's Mein Kampf (My Struggle). The Muslim Brotherhood (Al Ikhwan Al Muslimun), parent organization of numerous Islamist terrorist outfits, was formed in 1928 in reaction to the 1924 abolition of the caliphate by Turkish reformer Kemal Ataturk, drawing the consequences of the World War I demise of the Ottoman Empire. Ikhwan founder Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian school teacher, wrote at the time that it was endless contemplation of "the sickness that has reduced the ummah (Muslim community) to its present state" which prompted him and five like-minded followers - all of them in their early twenties - to set up the organization to rectify it.
Fascist Nazi history need not be dwelt on further here. It led to the horrors and destruction of World War II and the Holocaust. Neo-Nazism, whether in Europe or the US, remains a terrorist threat and - as the French Le Pen version demonstrated in parliamentary elections this year - retains a measure of political clout. It is nonetheless a boxed-in niche force with little capability for break-out. Its ideological twin, Islamism, by sharp contrast, has every chance for wreaking escalating world-wide havoc based on its fast-growing influence among the world's more than one billion Muslims. Immediately following September 11 last year, US President George W Bush declared war on terrorism. It's a catchy phrase, but a serious misnomer all the same. Terrorism is a method of warfare, not the enemy. The enemy is Islamism.
Al-Banna's brotherhood, initially limiting itself to spiritual and moral reform, grew at astonishing speed in the 1930s and '40s after embracing wider political goals and by the end of World War II had around 500,000 members in Egypt alone and branches throughout the Middle East. Event background, ideology, and method of organizing all account for its improbable success. As the war drew to a close, the time was ripe for an end to British and French colonial rule and the Ikhwan was ready with the persuasive, religiously-buttressed answer: Free the Islamic homeland from foreign, infidel (kafir) control; establish a unified Islamic state. And al-Banna had built a formidable organization to accomplish just that: it featured sophisticated governance structures, sections in charge of different segments of society (peasants, workers, professionals), units entrusted with key functions (propaganda, press relations, translation, liaison with the Islamic world), and specialized committees for finances and legal affairs - all built on existing social networks, in particular those around mosques and Islamic welfare associations. Weaving of traditional ties into a distinctly modern political structure was at the root of al-Banna's success..
But the "Supreme Guide" of the brethren knew that faith, good works and numbers alone do not a political victory make. Thus, modeled on Mussolini's blackshirts (al-Banna much admired "Il Duce" and soul brother "Fuehrer" Adolf Hitler), he set up a paramilitary wing (slogan: "action, obedience, silence", quite superior to the blackshirts' "believe, obey, fight") and a "secret apparatus" (al-jihaz al-sirri) and intelligence arm of al-Ikhwan to handle the dirtier side - terrorist attacks, assassinations, and so on - of the struggle for power.
In 1948, after the brotherhood had played a pivotal role in mobilizing volunteers to fight in the war against "the Zionists" in Palestine to prevent establishment of a Jewish state, it considered itself to have the credibility, political clout, and military might to launch a coup d'etat against the Egyptian monarchy. But that wasn't to be. On December 8, 1948, a watchful Prime Minister Nuqrashi Pasha disbanded it. He wasn't watchful enough. Less than three weeks later, the brethren retaliated by assassinating the prime minister - in turn prompting the assassination of al-Banna by government agents on February 12, 1949.
That didn't end it. Under a new, more radical leader, Sayyid Qutb, the al-Ikhwan fight for state power continued and escalated. A mid-1960s recruit was Ayman al-Zawahiri, present number two man of al-Qaeda and the brains of the organization.
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Next, Part 2: The World War II Nazi connections of the Muslim Brotherhood, the ideological precursors of Islamism, and its present-day exponents and financiers.
Islamism, fascism and terrorism (Part 1)
By Marc Erikson, Asia Times