Just a word, before getting into Hamed Abdel-Samad’s book Islamic Fascism.
I’m blogging about Hamed Abdel-Samad not because he’s a hero of mine. I don’t see him in those terms, but more like a kindred spirit, somebody who has been fucked over by religion and has decided to fight back. I have to admit I admire anybody who can express a hostility to religion without fear, especially when doing so means you need a police escort.
Most of the people I know are pretty down on organized religion, but don’t make a career out of getting it off our backs – or trying to. He’s on the same wave length as Bill Maher and the whole gang of “New Atheists,” from Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris to Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, except he’s working in Germany and with Islam instead of Christianity as his starting point.
I understand the passion for bashing religion in my bones. After a couple decades scraping out the self-loathing that had seeped into those bones, put there by homophobes convinced they were doing the Lord’s work, I realized if they were so wrong about homosexuality they were doubtless wrong about a whole bunch of other things. Homophobia went from being an oppressive force to being a useful mechanism for recognizing the damage done by those who sacralize their fears and prejudices. In time I came to recognize others who were using the racism or sexism or ethnocentrism they found in their local religions in the same way. Germany and Austria are blessed with a surprising (to me, anyway) number of feminist women who identify with Islam but make more or less the same arguments Hamed Abdel-Samad is making, that without serious reform, Islam remains a pernicious force, and not a religion to take delight in - Necla Kelek, Seyran Ateş, Arzu Toker, Mina Ahadi, and Lamya Kaddor, to name a few. Nor, I should mention in passing, does Germany corner the market on feminist Muslims. Check out Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Irshad Manji… the list continues to grow.
It wasn’t just Hamed Abdel-Samad’s atheism that drew me to him initially. I heard him talking at one point about the restoration of military power in Egypt and the overthrow of democratically elected prime minister Morsi. You know the paradox about tolerance, that the only thing that one must never tolerate is intolerance. Abdel-Samad uses this argument when defending the coup that brought down a democratically elected leader – the first in Egypt’s history.
The standard liberal line is that elections are everything, and that once elected president, Morsi should have been removed only after another election. Not so, says Abdel-Samad. Many people think that when people vote to make the shariah the law of the land, as it is in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Brunei, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan and Mauritania, as long as they do this by majority vote, the vote must be respected: the majority should get what it wants. But the shariah, Abdel-Samad points out, is a belief system in which God, not man, determines right and wrong and is at heart an anti-democratic belief system, in direct opposition to democracy.
This is what is at the heart of the culture war between the two systems, he says. It’s not between East and West, or between Islam and the non-Islamic world, but between those who would have God rule and those who would have man rule. The world sees the Egyptian military removing a man from office who was elected to that office and jumps to the conclusion that the military is doing what it has always done. It is throwing its support behind the non-Muslim totalitarian oligarchs that have always ruled in Egypt. What they don’t see, and what they should see, says Abdel-Samad, is that Morsi and his followers in the Muslim Brotherhood were in the process of dismantling the democratic institutions of the country. Including elections where they might have been voted out of office.
That raises the question of what we mean by democracy. Do we mean only the process? The institutions? The instruments? Or do we mean the spirit of democracy? Morsi, according to Abdel-Samad, illustrates the distinction between legal and legitimate. Morsi was “legally” elected. But he was not a legitimate leader for a democracy, because he refused to follow the rules of democracy. He attempted to dismantle the justice system, remove voting rights. You don’t judge a democracy merely by how a person is elected to office, but by the ability to remove a person from office.
I have heard this issue debated a couple times, without being able to take sides on the issue. Until I can, I want to make sure Abdel-Samad’s views are heard. And not just in the German-speaking world.