An original translation by SIMONXML and edited by GoV with many many thanks.
He claims Islam has “fascistic characteristics” – and that he is therefore at risk: The German-Egyptian journalist Hamed Abdel-Samad holds the religion of which he himself is a member to account. An interview. By Dietrich Alexander
The German-Egyptian political scientist, historian and author Hamed Abdel-Samad deals harshly with the religion he himself comes from.
The author Hamed Abdel-Samad lives in Germany, but he is not safe here. The 42-year-old needs permanent police protection because he has enemies. Violent, fanatical enemies who want him dead because he has insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. The German-Egyptian writer often speaks his mind and criticizes those Muslims who exalt themselves above others and claim to have sovereignty in the interpretation about what the only true doctrine, true Islam, is. His book “The Fall of the Islamic World” (Droemer, 2010, €18) earned him a lot of criticism. His new book will appear on April 1st and is entitled: “Islamic Fascism” (Droemer, €18). In Cairo, these publicly expressed theses resulted in the issue of a fatwa, a “divine legal opinion”: “Wanted Dead” – not: “Wanted, dead or alive”, but only “dead”. He had to go into hiding. But he was not silenced and does not intend to be intimidated in the future.
Die Welt: 529 Egyptian Muslim brothers have recently been sentenced by a court in Minia, Upper Egypt, in a very precarious legal fast track to death. Furthermore, the same fate threatens 683 more defendants. What do you have to say about these trials?
Hamed Abdel-Samad: That’s no way to deter terrorists, but creates new martyrs who are a model for a new generation of jihadists! The Muslim Brotherhood will benefit most from this judgment because suddenly the world is no longer talking about their ongoing terrorist attacks, but about the injustice that befalls them. Such judgments are symptomatic of the helplessness of the Egyptian state in dealing with terrorism. This doesn’t halt the violence, but deepens the division and polarization in the country.
Die Welt: So such trials encumber the future of Egypt and thus probably the next president, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has just announced his candidacy and is a clear favourite?
Abdel-Samad: Al-Sisi is considered by many Egyptians to be the new savior. Expectations for him are very high. But he himself knows that the country has serious problems he cannot solve. He also knows that the same crowds that are now cheering him frenetically will be demonstrating against him, as they have demonstrated against Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Mursi because they could not fulfill their desires for stability and prosperity. The era of dictatorship is over. But the absence of dictatorship does not automatically mean the arrival of democracy.
Die Welt: You are certainly very pessimistic about the future of the whole Arab-Islamic world. You’ve brought out a new book, your fourth. It seems to me that you are more radical in your theses. Would you agree with that?
Abdel-Samad: No! I often hear that I was a radical thinker and an oddball. I’m just a sensible person who calls a spade a spade. I always have been. I am not being provocative when I say that Islam has fascistic characteristics.
Die Welt: But that’s at least semantically sharper than anything you have previously written and said. The term fascism in connection with political Islam is certainly new…
Abdel-Samad: … to a German it may sound bold and provocative. But what is fascism? It’s a political religion, with truths, with prophets, with a charismatic leader who is tasked with a supposedly holy mission to unite the nation and defeat the enemies. Islam is this too, exactly. Fascism divides the world into friends and enemies, while in Islam there are believers and non-believers. The conspiracy in fascism, the feeling of humiliation and getting a raw deal, this desire for revenge and the dehumanization of the enemy are all to be found in Islam, especially in the language of political Islam. The mixture of inferiority complex and the quest for world domination; between impotence and fantasies of omnipotence, that connect Islamism and fascism. In my book I write about the 14 theses of Umberto Eco about Ur-Fascism. There we find everything: the cult of tradition, the attitude to modernity and the counter-revolution against the Enlightenment, the conspiracy, the machismo. All the Islamists miss is the machinery of destruction such as was available to Stalinism and Nazism. Islamism has suffered several defeats, but has never been annihilated – unlike fascism in Germany and Italy. That is the reason why Islamic fascism drags on.
Die Welt: Would you go so far as to say that the political, fascist Islam would draw the world into a third world war, if it had the capability of creating a devastating war machine?
Abdel-Samad: Yes, maybe not exactly world war, but we would see a battle of apocalyptic dimensions. The Islamists would lead a campaign of revenge against the infidels. One can observe that on a small scale when Islamists gain power in a Syrian town. People are then killed just because they are Christians, even children. It is pure fascism when people are executed solely on the basis of their religious or national affiliation. We can all see that everywhere where Islamists gain power; in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria – no matter where.
Die Welt: And the so-called “moderate Islam” ? Is there such a thing?
Abdel-Samad: For a long time we had this showpiece example of a supposedly moderate Islam in Turkey with Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the head. The political opportunism of the West has prevented this system from showing its true colors. Only now, in crisis, and in a real political and democratic test do we also recognize the fascist tendencies there.
Die Welt: A wolf in sheep’s clothing, then? Or, as you call it in your book: democracy as a Trojan horse?
Abdel-Samad: Exactly. The Islamist who wants to come to power is not interested in democracy. He does not believe in it, he believes in the sovereignty of God. He is not interested in fighting unemployment but wants to enforce a particular moral order of society and then as the next step to Islamise the world.
Die Welt: So a divine mission?
Abdel-Samad: Yes. That’s the only thing that motivated him to go into politics. He does not respect Man-made ??structures such as parliament and the judiciary because God laid down the law for him 1400 years ago. It just needs to be applied.
Die Welt: That means that dialogue is not possible with these people …
Abdel-Samad: … dialogue in this respect is actually a waste of time. There has been a dialogue with Erdogan, but he has tricked the West. His so-called reforms were more like empowerment laws and the whole time he hid behind Europe. “Moderate Islam” is an invention of Western scholars of Islam. Moderate and Islam is a paradox, they do not fit together. The truths of the Islamists are already fixed. This is also a core characteristic of fascism.
Die Welt: What you say is indeed quite dangerous. You have received death threats, you live under police protection, you put your family and friends in danger. In a way, you risk your life for your beliefs. Would you describe yourself as a martyr?
Abdel-Samad: No. I don’t like the term or the mindset behind it. I love life, despite all the difficulties and problems that I have. But I have been looking for a way to live this life for a long time and sacrificed and lost a lot for it. This life plan is called freedom. It means that no-one can decide on my morals, my way of thinking and speaking. The fact that there are people in this world who cannot live with it is really not my problem. I have not cut anyone’s throat and don’t intend to. I have never questioned the right of existence of any man. I do not think any cause is worth dying for. But I will not moderate or restrict myself in my thoughts and comments just because other people don’t like what I say. I don’t want and do not need this “little life”.
Die Welt: Let’s come back to Islam and democracy. The Egyptian President by the grace of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Mursi was democratically elected and then overthrown undemocratically. What was wrong with Mursi’s rule?
Abdel-Samad: Mursi had no plan for Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood had only slogans. But suddenly it had to deal with the economy, foreign policy and tourism. They did that very amateurishly, they focused on the morals of society. The Islamist has no plan, but a moral corset. To this end, they limited the freedoms of women in particular and infiltrated the institutions.
Die Welt: Is what we can expect in Egypt now better? Or is a regime dominated by the military, a quasi Mubarak II, only the lesser evil?
Abdel-Samad: It’s definitely the lesser of two evils, but it is not Mubarak II, perhaps “Mubarak light”. It is also not democratic, because democracy is not created in a vacuum. The Arab-Islamic world as a whole is not yet ripe for democratic structures. The military has not the slightest common denominator with the economy and society. Business, industry, tourism – things can you talk about and find compromises. The Muslim Brothers were in a completely different world. Their most fatal mistake was to think of making Egypt into a second Iran. Victory in a democratic election is not a blank cheque.
Die Welt: It is certainly true that democracy must be filled with content. Is any Arab-Islamic country able to assume the role of a pioneer in this regard?
Abdel-Samad: No. Maybe in the foreseeable future Tunisia, because it is small and well organized civil society and the West supports its development of civil and democratic structures.
Die Welt: In your book you thank a boy who has written to you, he was thankful for the Islamist death threat against you because they had brought him into contact with your ideas. Has the death threat helped to spread your message?
Abdel-Samad: In fact it has, and this just shows the stupidity of the fanatics. They do not understand: If they want to ban a book or silence a writer, it has the opposite effect. They say: he must be killed ! But then people start to ask why? What does he say? Who is he? Just because the Islamists live in their closed world and only talk to each other, they believe their threats could silence someone. This is ridiculous and naïve.
Die Welt: They say you have stirred up a hornets’ nest with your book. Hornets’ nests can usually be smoked out, they are burned. What is your strategy for combating political Islam? Is there a means, perhaps the economic success of a rival, perhaps a democratic system?
Abdel-Samad: The disease must be diagnosed correctly. A clear diagnosis was not allowed in the past. I see myself as a diagnostician. As Karl Kraus said, “I cannot lay eggs but I know if one is lazy.” It’s about the chronic diseases of Arab societies: lack of education, lack of economic structures, corruption, paternalism … the list is long. This is the swamp in which fascist Islamism is trying to fish the people who are stuck in this swamp of frustration. They are light-years removed from the modern world. It is much easier for them to retire on an ideological level, rather than to tackle the problems and solve them. A preacher who is regarded in the West as a moderate seriously thinks the economic decline only started when we no longer took jihad seriously. He seriously proposes new wars of conquest against Christian countries, poll taxes for Christians and Jews, the enslavement of opponents. These are frighteningly clear parallels with fascism, which is inhuman. The helpless leaders are overwhelmed and tell stories. Like an Egyptian general who loudly proclaimed that they had discovered a secret weapon against AIDS. Everything feeds on the same myths, is unworldly and stewing in its own juice. This creates a transfigured worldview that you cannot break out of.
Die Welt: Islam and democracy are therefore not compatible?
Abdel-Samad: Of course not. When you say that, you prolong the disease and delay the healing process. True Islam is like true socialism: So great, but unfortunately, not practised anywhere in the world. It is self-delusion to think that the Islamic world, an Islamic system could be democratic. Democracy means that the people will decide. Islam means God is the legislator.
Die Welt: That sounds hopeless and is not encouraging for the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world …
Abdel-Samad: Arab-Islamic societies want to be modern and successful. But if I want to build a car, I first need to familiarize myself with the laws of physics, with mechanics and even with the environmental regulations that apply in the rest of the modern world. Then I have to see what materials are available to me. But I shouldn’t re-invent the wheel, I have to just look at which of my materials are suitable for car manufacturing and which are not. Cow dung and cars do not fit together. To insist that cow dung should be part of a car is a fatal flaw. Transferred to the Islam-democracy discussion: There are Western intellectuals who say it will work out with cow dung. This is not helping themselves, but anesthesia. Muslims did not invent the car, but buy it anyway. Why shouldn’t that be possible with democracy? We insist on our cultural share, even if it is a hindrance.
Die Welt: You call Islam a “retarded religion” that has just reached the year 1435 and is thus reliving its own Middle Ages. Does this mean that the Islamic world will have to go through everything that Europe experienced during its Middle Ages?
Abdel-Samad: Absolutely. We are heading towards a religious war between Sunnis and Shiites of global dimensions. And we can only hope that we will then have a reformation as was the case in Europe. We cannot get past it, but the price will be high. The youthful masses without perspective and hope can only be fed, employed, burned by religious wars.
Die Welt: Samuel Huntington once spoke of the “clash of civilizations” and meant Islam against Western culture. You speak of an “inner clash of civilizations”, an intra- Arab struggle. For what?
Abdel-Samad: The ideological war raging between a modern, Western-oriented class that has made itself partially independent of the official knowledge and the religious superiority of Islam, and the traditional forces, who are afraid of freedom. Fascism has always fed on this fear. A war would be a chance for rebirth, for both fascists and Islamists. The peace of the world could only be restored if all people were to belong to Islam. This is not Islamism, it says so in the Koran. We can only counteract this by, without taboos, grasping the roots of this ideology and tearing them out. Anyone who calls that radical is trivialising the problem.
Die Welt: Many people were worried about you when you disappeared for two days without trace at the end of November last year in Cairo. What happened back then?
Abdel-Samad: I was kidnapped in the street by four people in a car and detained for two days. I was abused, beaten and forced with a gun to my head to sign papers whose contents I could not read. When the kidnappers released me, I came across the stupidest policemen in the world. The Egyptian police just want to prove that they did everything right. But the authorities did not take adequate care for my personal safety, I have sued them. The investigations are still ongoing but the police department that is responsible for this particular investigation is the one I am suing, so nothing is happening.
Die Welt: And this case was connected with the death threat from the Islamists against you?
Abdel-Samad: No, it was about money. There were criminals who appeared to have acted on someone’s orders. After the revolution, during the phase of optimism, I invested all my savings in an Egyptian company, which now employs 100 people and whose leadership my brother was heavily involved. However, my brother’s partner gradually planted his relatives in the company. They became more and more corrupt and were also involved in criminal and dangerous business activities. My brother then got out of the company’s leadership and I wanted to get my money back. A first cheque for 27,000 euros was due and I told the debtors, either you pay or I will sue you. I did not get anything and the case is still ongoing.
Die Welt: Do these events still have an effect on you today?
Abdel-Samad: Yes. I was in psychiatric treatment for a week on my return to Germany. I could not deal with daily life, I had a major loss of confidence in everything. I thought the death threat was the worst thing you that could happen to you in Egypt. But I was wrong. The Egyptian government is losing control of the people and the people are losing control of themselves. The clergy sit there and deal with the question of whether the Prophet should be shown in a movie or not. This is a long way from reality. And someday someone will come along and say, I know where to go. This is how fascism works.