In Der Islamische
Faschismus: Eine Analyse (Droemer Verlag, München, 2014)
, Hamed Abdel-Samad makes a case for including
Islam, in its original form, alongside Nazism and Stalinism as one of the three
variant forms of fascist totalitarianism Western Civilization has had to
He argues that it drove
conquest from its 7th
century origins into modern times and its
essentially fascist nature can still be seen today in such organizations as the
Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State. As you will see in the interview below, Abdel-Samad's reasons for calling Islam fascist are the following:
... The idea that the world can be divided into good and evil, the idea that comes out of a Fuehrer principal and the idea that its adherents see the rest of the world as their enemy. That sees anti-Semitism as its raison-d’être - Islamism and fascism are united in that. The ideology that the masses glorify struggle and make battles sacred, martyrdom, death. It's identical with the jihad principle in Islam. One doesn’t fight to live; one lives to fight. That’s what unifies Nazism and Islamism. The concept of the chosen. In Nazism it’s the Aryan race. With Islamists, it’s the Islamic body of believers. They are lifted above mankind, both morally and in human terms. The dehumanization of the enemy. That they take on the status of animals, that their entire destruction becomes a goal. That binds Islamism to fascism.
Islam is absolutist (the Qur’an cannot be
subjected to criticism); it follows the Führer
principle (Mohammad cannot be subjected to criticism or disrespect); it
punishes apostasy; and seeks to establish itself, ultimately, as the sole power
Abdel-Samad’s polemic is to be distinguished from
anti-Muslim tirades, like the best seller Deutschland
schafft sich ab (Germany is abolishing itself)
by Thilo Sarrazin, the most
popular book in a decade, which mirrors the pseudogenetic notions we saw in the
United States in The Bell Curve,
where an argument was made that certain groups of people were
bringing down the intelligence level of the community.
Or the views of the Dresden PEGIDA
protestors, who were looking at the social problems in Berlin and other big
cities and trying to head them off by stopping further immigration.
All Sarrazin accomplished, he says, was to
provide xenophobes with a leader and Muslims with justification for playing the
His own goal, Abdel-Samad says,
is to generate more useful discussion on the topic of how Germans with a
non-immigrant background and Germans with an immigrant background can find
common ground in a love for German democracy.
These new euphemisms are of consequence, since they make the point that
Germans of Turkish and other immigrant origin are now well established as fully
German citizens, and it’s no longer a case of “Germans” vs. “immigrants.”
But rather than relate his ideas second hand, let me try to
quote them directly as much as I can.
Abdel-Samad has given a large number of interviews in which he details
the content of his book.
Let me cite
some of his answers to one such interview
he gave in Vienna with the Austrian
writer, historian and journalist and public commentator, Peter Huemer.
For the sake of readability, I will not
reproduce the entire interview and I will take the liberty of summarizing and
rewording some of the questions and answers, while making every effort to
retain their accuracy. The translation is mine.
PH: It is
my understanding that the fatwa imposed on you by Islamic authorities in Egypt
resulted from your claim that there is something fascistic about Islam itself
that goes back all the way to its origins, i.e., Mohammad, and that that was
considered an insult to the prophet. Do
I understand that correctly?
AS: Yes. That lecture I gave in Cairo was focused on
the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, but I maintained that things did not
begin with the Muslim Brotherhood but are grounded in the ancient history of
Islam. Islam has many faces. It has a spiritual side, which I personally
find very agreeable, a social teaching, which is important to a lot of people,
which give comfort to a lot of people.
But Islam also has a legal and political side which has a fascistic
character. I like to say that Islam has
a birth defect. Islam was successful
early on in its history. It came to
power in the lifetime of the Prophet and founded a state, in contrast to
Christianity, which lived for three hundred years as a minority, which led it
to allow the concept of secularism.
contrast to Jesus, who was on the world stage no more than eighteen to thirty
months, Mohammad had to assume several functions at the same time. He was Prophet, head of state, general, finance
minister, lawgiver, judge and politician, all at the same time. All of this got mixed in with the texts of
the religion. All this is to be found in
the texts and runs counter to the idea of secularization. Islam takes the position that a Muslim is a
Qur’an on two legs. That a muslim’s
every day life is regulated, twenty-four hours a day, by the Qur’an. Islam determines what you are to do before
going to bed, when rising in the morning, what you are, how you are, what you
say before eating, what you say after eating, how you are to behave on the
toilet, what you say before and what you say after you perform your
And this orientation has
something to do with a particular image of God, an image shared by the other
monotheistic religions, but is in Islam’s case exaggerated. A jealous God, who tolerates no other gods, a
God that directs man from afar, that watches you twenty-four hours a day, knows
your deed and your thoughts. Who
punishes your smallest crimes with the torture of hell, but who cannot be
questioned himself. An angry God. All that is in Islam. The Islamism of today didn’t fall from the
trees. It is founded in this
PH: OK, so this Islam
of the 7th Century is a great success. And this has to do with the fact, as you have
just pointed out, that religion, politics, the military build a single
entity. Within one century a great
kingdom was establish extending from Persia to the Atlantic, to Andalusia, an
enormous accomplishment considering the infrastructure, roads, etc., of the
time. A giant logistic
accomplishment. And with the fact that
from the early Middle Ages to the late Middle Ages, Islam was far superior to
Christianity. In science, in culture,
whether you consider astronomy, mathematics, medicine – a thousand years ago
they were performing operations. You say
Islam became a problem, but this dynamism was at least at the beginning a
formula for great success.
AS: Granted, that we see period
between the 7th and the 11th centuries a golden time for Islam. For the Arab and Persian governed
states. You say, “Islam was superior
to Christianity.” But was it really
Islam that brought this culture into being?
That’s an important question. …
PH: …and let me add something here. And it was far more tolerant of others than
AS: You say Islam was more tolerant, and not the rulers of the
day. They were pragmatic, and had little
to do with the Shariah. Harun Al Rashid* sat in his palace and drank alcohol – according to
Islam, he ought to be whipped for that.
He listened to music, there was dancing, there were poetry contests in
his palace in which Muslims, Jews and Christians criticized each other’s
Mohammad was criticized in
Harun Al Rashid’s court by a Jewish poet!
There was erotic poetry, including homoerotic poetry, all kinds of
things forbidden by Islam. The fact that
a ruler is a Muslim does not necessarily mean that his regime is Islamic. The fact that these countries were ruled by
Muslims does not mean that it was Islam that brought philosophy, culture and science into being. Just look at the cities in which this
knowledge blossomed. Baghdad, Cordoba,
Cairo and Damascus. Why these
cities? Why not Mecca and Medina, where
Islam began? Were Mecca and Medina ever
cities of knowledge or cities where people of different religions lived
together? No. Since the beginning of Islam, Mecca and
Medina were made free of Jews and Christians.
They had to be driven out, and to this day are not allowed into the
cities of Mecca and Medina. There was
never in Mecca and Medina the study of philosophy, the natural sciences, or all
these wonderful accomplishments.
came into being in Cordoba, Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus was the mixing of
different cultures, and distancing of the rule from the shariah. That’s what made tolerance, and science, and
living together possible. And we can see
from Islamic history that whenever one distanced oneself from the shariah,
people of different religions were able to live together. Because religion did not determine that
everything was determined by a higher force.
And freedom was possible. But as
early as the 12th Century, both in Andalusia and in Baghdad, in came Islamic
fundamentalists who insisted we can’t go on living like this, we have to
introduce the shariah, we have to live by the laws of Islam, and in no time it
came to pogroms. In Granada, 4000 people
were killed in one day – 4000 Jews.
Philosophers like Averroes were driven out, sent into exile, because the
religious leaders held them as apostates.
We have to keep these two things separate – Muslim rule and Islamic
PH: That means, if I understand you correctly, that the
question of that time was whether the Qur’an should be interpreted, or whether
it should be taken literally for all time.
And it was the orthodox forces who came to power, those who insisted on
taking the text literally. Even if it is
500 years old (at that time). And with
that began the fall of Islam?
AS: Yes. Earlier, the rulers were pragmatic and understood
that they had to allow certain freedoms.
They had to listen to the expertise of the Jews and the Christians and
the Alawites, and learn from other minorities, and integrate. If we do that, we can develop
economically. But there were certain events
in Islamic history that stopped that development. The Crusades played a role. And the invasion of the Mongols played a
role. But these events cannot be used as
an excuse for the retrograde movement of Islam.
All they were doing was what Islam had done previously. When they had the power, they invaded and
determined how things would be run locally.
The question is why one became weak…
PH: A counter argument… When
you read the texts of the Arab historians, they write of the Barbarian Invasions,
i.e., the Crusades, and about the sacking of Jerusalem, where, for all
practical purposes the entire Jewish and Christian population was murdered –
the Jews retreated into their synagogues and the Christian knights rode in
circles around them as they burned – just as the Nazis did – this kind of
genocidal killing I just don’t see in the early days of the Islamic
AS: But how did Islam come to Egypt
and Iraq and Syria? The locals were
given the choice: convert, pay taxes or die.
Those were military units, or bands, no different from ISIS today. My Egyptian ancestors were not Muslims. They were Copts who were forced to
convert. At first, they could get away
with paying a tax, and there was actually an economic advantage for the rulers
to not having them convert. There’s a
story about a tax administrator who, when faced with Christians who wanted to
convert, said no – you remain Christians.
It’s better for you and better for me.
All that changed with the Crusades, when the Muslims enforced the
protection of the Christians. What you
saw in Mosul, where the houses of Christians were marked with an N – (Nasari =
Christian)*** – all that dates back to the time of the Crusades.
But this came with laws that prevented
Christians from repairing their churches or building new ones. These laws apply to this day in many Islamic
states. There were even laws that requiring that their
clothing show their faith. They
had to cut their hair off in front, and were forbidden to part their hair –
that was limited to Muslims. That’s the
reality of life under the shariah.
There were times in history when the shariah was set aside, and at those
times people were able to live together.
You can’t say “Islam” was more tolerant than “Christianity”. You have to say that certain Muslim rulers,
the ones that had the least to do with religion, made this possible. That’s how history needs to be
corrected. I know that certain scholars
of Islam and Islam experts make the claim that Islam is responsible for this
freedom. It wasn’t. It was political pragmatism, and
PH: If we go back to
the 7th Century, soon after Mohammed’s death, we find a catastrophic
split into Shiites and Sunnis tied up with the murder of caliphs, so yes, it’s
true that this disastrous tradition entered Islam very early on. And a second thing, which you mention in your
book Islamic Fascism, around 1450,
Johannes Gutenberg invents the printing press with moveable type, and the
Muslim theologians succeeded, right up to the time of Napoleon, around 300 years
later, in preventing the importing of the printing press into the Arab
world. That is an unimaginable
catastrophe that has consequences even today.
I remember reading once what Karl Marcus Gauss said. He pointed out that today, there are more
books being translated into modern Greek than into Arabic.
There are ten million Greeks, and there are three hundred million Arabs,
and the majority of books translated
into Arabic are religious texts. And
that’s an unimaginable catastrophe and unbelievable atrophy that goes back to
this decision, to prevent the printing press.
AS: Yes. I call that, in the book, the mortal sin of
the Ottomans. Because the rulers of the
Ottoman Empire refused to introduce the printing press. Without the printing press, Martin Luther
would be meaningless. Without the spread
of the theses the Enlightenment would not have taken place, modern science
would not have come into being. The
printing broke the monopoly on knowledge that was in the hands of the church
and the princes, and privatized knowledge and gave access to knowledge to the
average person. People could read not
only their Bibles, but also secular
works, critical and philosophical texts,
and that led to the Enlightenment.
The Ottoman Empire, especially the religious scholars, were afraid that
the printing press would lead to a widespread distribution of the Qur’an, and
that would mean the Qur’an could be falsified and that would mean the loss of
control over the Qur’an.
And this motivation
has continued for a very long time. The
fear of touching the holiness of the text.
The fear of counterfeiting of the text.
In my view, that’s what prevented the Islamic world from becoming critical
of their own history. To escape this
lack of maturity – as Kant says when he speaks of enlightenment as “man's
emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” – that one stops leaving it to
others to make decisions. That’s why he
said, “Have courage!” Use your own
reasoning. And it’s exactly that that
the religious scholars rejected.
printing press actually came a little earlier.
It came to Constantinople in 1729 and to Egypt in 1798 with
Napoleon. But even then, these machines
could print only worldly texts and no religious texts. And what an intellectual ossification came
from that. Three hundred, three hundred
fifty years were stolen from us. We had
no idea what was going on on the other side of the Mediterranean.
In the middle of the 18th century wonderful
ideas were spreading – the ideas of Kant and Voltaire and Rousseau and Spinoza
and there was a critical relationship to one’s own religion and one’s own
society and political theories were developed.
And what’s the parallel in the Islamic world? Especially in the Arab world? In the middle of the 18th century? Wahhabism. The most radical form of Islam that we
have. Islam missed all discussion of
how to deal with their own texts, how to relativize them. That’s what the enlightenment accomplished,
to create a certain distance between man and his ideas.
With this distance it is possible to look
critically at one’s own society and thus to develop it. But when self-criticism is seen as a sin,
when new thoughts are seen as a danger, when a harmless printing press can be
declared to be a work of the devil, one can see why the Islamic world is 500
PH: Still, are we
not to be thankful for the fact that Greek knowledge and science, that the
Bhagavad Gita was protected in the monasteries.
Europe needs to be grateful to the Arabic/Persian culture for …
AS: Europe has the Arab/Persian culture to thank for a great many
things. Europe has no need to thank
Islam for anything
PH: I should have
said the Arabic/Islamic culture. It’s
not the Arabic/Persian but the Arabic/Islamic culture
Take note here that Peter Huemer completely misses Abdel-Samad's point that it wasn't "Islam" that was responsible for transmitting Greek knowledge and science, but the Arabs and Persians working beyond the influence of Islamic doctrine.…
now I want to talk about a definition:
There are many
political scientists who see fundamentalist Islam, i.e., Islamism, as the third variant of totalitarianism,
after fascism and Stalinism. But you
chose to use the term fascism.
I’m surprised by that. For me,
the leading definition of fascism is Reinhard Kühnl’s. He defined it as a pact between the old elite
and a new mass movement. Take Nazism as
an example. In Germany, the old
elite was the military, the industrialists and the banks and large landowners,
that is the old nobility and the higher bureaucracy, and they united with a new
mass movement, and that’s the National Socialist Party. And that leads to something explosive, and
new. And that’s not what I see in this
case. I don’t see a mass movement with
PH: 1979, yes. But what about with the Islamic State? And that leads me to another question. Is Islamicism modern or anti-modern? Nazism, in the end, was a modernist
movement at the time. Islamism, as it
presents itself to us, is it not a form of anti-modernism?
AS: It depends on how you define modern. In terms of technology, then yes. But modernity is essentially an intellectual
attitude, and intellectual history, and Nazism was light years removed from
that. Modern means stress on
individualism, on personal freedom and free thinking, critical thinking. All that was missing in national
socialism. For that reason National
Socialism was for me an anti-modern, anti-enlightenment, movement, exactly as
You have used a definition
of fascism that is limited to the outward structure. I would define it differently, first in
terms of ideology, then of organizational structure, and then of its
goals. And that’s where Islamism and
fascism meet, in my understanding. The idea that the world can be divided into good and evil, the idea that comes out of a Fuehrer principal and the idea that its adherents see the rest of the world as their enemy. That sees anti-Semitism as its raison-d’être - Islamism and fascism are united in that. The ideology that the masses glorify struggle and make battles sacred, martyrdom, death. It's identical with the jihad principle in Islam. One doesn’t fight to live; one lives to fight. That’s what unifies Nazism and Islamism. The persecution complex. The concept of the chosen. In Nazism it’s the Aryan race. With Islamists, it’s the Islamic body of believers. They are lifted above mankind, both morally and in human terms. The dehumanization of the enemy. That they take on the status of animals, that their entire destruction becomes a goal. That binds Islamism to fascism.
When it comes to the organizational structure, I’ve already mentioned
the Führer principle, the strong hierarchy,
the idea of the infallibility of the leader, the terror militia, which they copied – there was a relationship
between the Muslim Brotherhood of the day and the Nazi Germany and the militia
was built on the model of the SA and the SS to reach their ends.
Then we come to the goals. And that’s where it becomes clear that
national socialism has little to do with modernity. NS wanted to roll back society to old family
structures, to old social structures. NS
proceeds from the assumption that all men “tick” the same, that they must all
have the same goals and that there must be a uniforming of the masses. That unites fascism and Islamism. Surveillance, mistrust of individualism, of
art, of divergent creative energy, all that was seen as a danger, by both fascists
and Islamicists, and the skepticism of the state as a site of decadence. Islamicism has as its goal to eliminate
individualism and make the masses into a block,
and the highest goal of both is world domination. They both proceed from the assumption they
have an inherent right to rule the world.
If these many similarities are not sufficient … I’ve put them together
to reveal the similarities and the dangers and the effect on and the
fascination of the masses, all this is far more interesting than the
distinctions that people, especially fascism scholars are arguing no no no,
they’re not the same thing. Those
foreigners, first they take our jobs away and now fascism too?
PH: I’ll stop with
the pursuit of a definition, except to say what you have described applies as
well to totalitarianism. But let’s move
on. You said at one point, “Islam has
certain fascistic tendencies that are evident in Islamism.” No normally we make distinctions between
Islam and Islamism. But if I understand
you correctly, you don’t dwell on this distinction, but for you it’s a fuzzy
AS: As I see it, it’s fuzzy for Islam itself. The transition from one to the other is very
fluid and non-transparent between Islam and Islamism. I used to belong to those who made a sharp
distinction between the two until I realized the distinction is of no use to
anybody, and actually it is more useful to the Islamists. Islam is perfect, they say. But there are a few people who misunderstand the Qur’an, and misuse Islam. That's a very dangerous notion, because it opens the door to the notion that there will always be new forms of Islam. Others will come along and say, "The IS people, they had it wrong. Follow us. We'll get the real political Islam right." That's what they all say. The IS people say, “Al Qaeda was wrong, but we are the ones who will
apply the correct Islam politically.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists, Boko Haram, AKP in Turkey, all
old wine in new skins.
ultimately defeated in Germany and there was a rethinking. But people did not conclude that racism was a
correct policy, just misapplied by the Nazis.
No. People noted that that was
the ideology itself. And that it is us
human beings that allowed ourselves to be misled by this ideology. And that one is missing the opportunity in the
Muslim world to name the heart of the problem correctly. Either for centuries one fails to recognize
the illness, or one situates the sickness elsewhere and calls it something
else. Either one refuses to take
medicine or takes the wrong medicine and the problems multiply. And I find that we are living in a time when
Islam is developing into a ticking time-bomb.
AS: Naturally, Islam. What
else? I’m interested in a solution. That’s why I call the illness by its
name. The sickness is anchored in Islam
itself. And when you don’t call this
problem out for what it is, then one treats the outward infections but fails to
address the tumor itself. We’ve danced
around the problem in the Muslim world and here in Europe for a very long time. We’ve swept the problem under the
carpet. The increasing violence of Islam
is a result of a failed educational policy in the Islamic world and a failed
policy of integration in Europe.
PH: I think we are
in agreement that there is no such thing as the Muslims and a single Islam,
that there is a multitude of…
AS: We are not in agreement.
I agree that there is no such things as the Muslims. There is an enormous variety, from Sufis from
Mali, who behaves quite differently from a Sunni from Saudi Arabia, or an
Alawite from Syria or an Alavite from Turkey. There are
Shiites and Sunni and many streams and variations and there is no shortage of
Muslims who long ago depoliticized their Islam.
In my view they are peaceful not because they are Muslims, but peaceful although
they are Muslims. But one Islam.
PH: But there are
so many varieties!
AS: Yes. But actually, politically, within Islam all these differences are relatively uninteresting. Maybe for ethnologists and other scientists
and for people interested in different varieties of dance, then maybe it’s
interesting. But from a political
perspective, it’s not interesting, because there it’s not a question of what
divides Muslims, but what unites them.
And that’s Islamism. And that’s
the idea of the caliphate and of the introduction of the shariah. The idea that it’s not man, but God who is
the lawgiver. That the laws of God are
neither malleable nor negotiable. And
that’s the problem. And that is the
Islam. Not a kind of Islam, but
Islam. Mainstream Islam. The fact that there are many Muslims today
who have grown up with the modern, who think liberally, who can think freely,
who can draw positive elements out of their religion, of course, they are
thinking people. Many Muslims are
against the idea of hacking off hands and beheading unbelievers. But Islam is not against these things. These Muslims, are for us an opportunity and
I think when we in Austria or in Germany want to have partners, then we should
extend our hand to these thinking Muslims instead of strengthening conservative
communities and giving them a political leg up.
PH: Let’s see if I
understand you correctly. There is a
variety of Muslims, but Islam itself you consider to be incompatible with
AS: Neither Islam, nor Christianity, nor Judaism are
compatible with democracy. (loud
applause) They were not established to
be compatible with democracy. They come
from another time. They were politically
neutralized and established under democracy.
I think in Europe Christianity and Judaism have found a way to play another
role, under democracy, with new duties.
We are not done yet with the process of secularization. Austria still has a lot to do. We need another Joseph II to bring more
secularization to this country. That’s
the problem with Islam. Christianity and
Judaism lived a long time as a minority and found a way to accommodate
secularism. Jesus said, “Render unto
Caesar…” But Mohammad himself was
Caesar! It was already too late. And this duality between Caesar and the pope,
created a space for politics which never existed in Islam. This duality is missing. Islam sees itself as the last message from
God to man, the last book that God wrote personally, addressed directly to mankind. That is an incredible demand. Before God became silent forever more, he
spoke directly to us, and left us with this final message, there is no way
Islam can become part of democracy.
Islam cannot become part of anything!
It must determine everything from above.
And that is the very heart of Islamic fascism.
PH: OK. So
the monotheistic religions, if we follow Jan Assman, are since Moses, all three especially dangerous, murderous
religions, and naturally the crusades have something to do with Christianity,
and naturally the executions under Franco have something to do with
Christianity. And on the other side,
naturally the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has something to do with Islam. The question, on the one hand, naturally, is
whether one can see this as a deformation or as abuse of religion. And I concede, Christianity took a long time.
I mean the pope once sang the praises of fascism. It was only with Vatican II fifty years ago that a
reconciliation took place between Christianity and democracy. But I think it wasn’t due just to a loss of
power of the Catholic Church, but the idea that religions can change in substance and in their basic
structure. My question is to what
degree do you think this change is possible in Islam? And to what degree will this concept of
abuse by the likes of the Islamic State be accepted?
AS: In essence, religions don’t change by themselves, but
must be forced to change from without.
But something happened in Christianity which did not take place in
Islam. When the Reformation took place,
when one was no longer in agreement with the Catholic Church, Luther’s approach was to return to the
teachings of Jesus as a model. And one
can build on that. He didn’t kill
anyone. He didn’t impose any
inquisition, he didn’t start any crusades, he even taught the contrary. He said love your enemies, who among you is
without sin cast the first stone. I’m
not a Christian, have no intention of converting and am critical of all
religions equally. But when one sees
these differences, then one can see that the crusades, and the inquisition and
the witch burnings are a deformation and an abuse of Christianity. At least of the teachings of Jesus. But why are we talking of Khomeini and Hamas and Al
Qaeda and Boko Haram as a form of abuse.
It’s a way of reading (the Qur’an), not an abuse. When you go back to the figure of
Mohammad, you have to recognize that he
conducted wars, beheaded people, drove Jews from their homes, and imposed his
religion with the sword. That may have
been normal for his time, and I don’t want to judge him by the standards of
today. My problem comes when he is
presented as a model for life in the 21st
Century. That’s when I consider what he did as crimes
We have to make a
deal. I won’t insult the Prophet and the
Qur’an, but they must remain in the 7th
Century. And not mix in with our affairs in the 21st
. Many Muslims have already accomplished that
in their heads. But the IS people
proceed from the assumption that the message applies forever, that what is to
be found in the Qur’an is not just for the 7th
Century but applies
to the 21st
. That what
applies to the non-believers of then applies to the non-believers of
today. It’s not an “abuse” but a direct…
they are not “interpreting”. The people
who are “interpreting” are the Muslim theologians who find themselves in a
dilemma. On the one hand they are a
part of the modern world, and they are ashamed of such things as cutting off
hands, and so they diddle with the verses in the Qur’an in such a way as to
make them compatible with today. They
pick at a few raisins in a stone hard cake and tell us they have found proof
that Islam is a religion of peace. The
fact that their interpretation makes them more sympathetic to us does not mean
that their interpretation is correct.
PH: When I listen
to what you say, then I have trouble understanding why Islam needs
PH: It’s a
power position that established itself in the high middle ages and now it’s all
set in stone. Anybody who wants to read
it can read it. There is no
interpretation to be made. So who needs
theology? OK. I want to move on to something else. We’re sitting here in the Education Center of
the Labor Chamber. The Labor Chamber has
many Muslim members. They will say that
what’s going on in Syria and Iraq is gruesome.
Something terrible is going on.
But it doesn’t have anything to do directly with us here. Only what we are experiencing here directly is the general suspicion that falls on all Muslims. And you are criticized for inciting criticism of
Muslims. What are we to say to these
AS: That’s a problem that has to be taken seriously. But anybody who has read what I have to say
can see that while I minimize the difference between Islam and Islamicism, I
make a huge distinction between Islam and Muslim people. Many people think a Muslim is a Qur’an on two
legs and he or she goes around applying everything that is written in the
Qur’an. No. Most Muslims have neutralized those things…
PH: So in your
interpretation, the good Muslims are the less pious Muslims.
AS: No. I didn’t say
that. One can be both pious and
secular. People who limit their religion
to the spiritual and make no political demands.
Among my friends there are a number of believing Muslims who are
secularists and democrats, people who understand that the demands of the Qur’an
do not apply in the modern age. I had a
wonderful grandmother who prayed five times a day, who taught me much, much
love and warmth, and she was never violent or radical. It’s important to stress that. But I protest that my book is against Muslims
or that it creates hostility to Muslims.
What you said earlier, that the IS have misunderstood the Qur’an and
abuse it for their violent and hate and resentment. The Qur’an, God’s book. God himself can’t prevent the abuse of his
book, and me, a mere mortal, am supposed to defend my book against
misinterpretation? [laughter] I know that Muslim organizations try to bully
me with this logic. They say, you know,
with your appearances and your writing you make life difficult for us. There have been charges of rabble-rousing. But when I see that there are some Muslims
who are highly incensed that I should publish a book with this title, or that a
certain cartoonist from Denmark who sketched the Prophet with a virtual bomb in his
head, then they go wild. They go into
the street and 150 people died at that time.
But when the IS runs around with a flag with the name of Mohammad on it,
and they march and they massacre people, suddenly they don’t get excited. For me that’s a part of the problem. And I challenge Muslims with my books. Take this criticism seriously. And react with books and articles, and not
with hatred and rage. And not with the
role of the victim. We are not victims
here. We are citizens. We have the opportunity here in Europe to
play the role of the citizen. In fact,
we have a responsibility to Muslims in the countries where dictatorships have
grown up, who cannot develop any free theology, cannot express any thoughts
freely. That’s my criticism. Not of the normal Muslim, the technical
worker, not on the mothers at home.
don’t expect these people to take action and make excuses for the deeds of
the radicals in Iraq and Syria, but I do ask of the Muslim intellectuals that
they at long last finally stop this PR for Islam. The problem we have with Islam is not an
image problem, but a problem that Islam has with itself. The problem Islam has with the interpretation
of its own texts, with its political demands, with the establishing of equality
between men and women, with the nurturing of hatred, with this message of fear,
fear of hell, those are the kinds of
things which terrorists make use of when they are not debated and
discussed. Believe me. I’m not a problem for Islam. I’m a symptom. I’m pointing to the problem. When I see that a house is burning, and I
start shouting, "Hey this house in on fire," then you can’t attack me for
disturbing the peace.
We don’t have that
luxury. We’ve got much more serious
problems than image problems. I’m
against racism, and we can fight racism only when we name the problems clearly
and seek solutions. As long as we dance
around the problem of Islam, then we give space for the right wing to take
control of the problem. These topics
belong in the middle of society, in
politics, and it’s time to stop avoiding these problems because of a fear of
being saddled with the charge of being racists. When we writers and politicians are to
speak honestly with Muslims about the problems, then we will develop a
sensibility in the general public. But
when we start with the assumption that all criticism stems from a kind of islamophobia and block it, then we defame not only Muslims but a majority of
people in Austria and Germany. A phobia
is an illness. The fears people have in
regard to Islam are not an illness.
These fears are real. And
justified. And should be taken
PH: You say that
there is such a thing as islamophobia, but that the term is misused.
AS: I reject the term islamophobia. This term is a political construct. The first person to use it was the Ayatollah
Khomenei, in order to describe the attitude of the west, especially
American. Then along came the
islamophile scholars and researchers from Germany and America. Then came a business man from Saudi Arabia by
the name of Al-Waleed bin Talal who financed some twenty centers in the USA for
Near East Studies and Islamic Studies and suddenly the term islamophobia was on
everybody’s lips and in all these centers.
You can’t take this seriously.
What I do take seriously, I prefer the term “Muslimfeindlichkeit”
(hostility to Muslims). I was a member
of the Islam Conference in Germany and the leaders wanted to establish the term
“Islamfeindlichkeit” and I said no, it’s “Muslimfeindlichkeit” that is the
problem. Because we can limit it and
define it. Hostility to Muslims is when
a Muslim wants a job, and because of his name he doesn’t get that job. That’s a disgrace, and something we should
fight against. But what is “hostility
to Islam” – when I say “In Sura 4, verse 34 it says a man may beat his wife”
and I detest this verse. Does that make
me “hostile to Islam”? Should I go on
trial? No. I may, if I choose, take certain things in
Islam and be hostile to them.
And it’s particularly Muslims who have to fear what’s in
Islam, since it’s primarily Muslims who are the victims of Islamism.
PH: To criticize religion,
and the representatives of the religion, is in a western enlightened society
obviously a right. And the applies to
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc..
That’s not the issue, but what there is that you don’t want to subsume
under islamophobia, is a general prejudice against Muslims. In Austria and in Germany. And it’s a kind of general suspicion which
these people live under. It has to do
with the fact they represent different cultures, and it has to do with the
question of whether they are compatible with our democracy. And that is in fact a problem.
AS: It’s a problem that concerns all of society, but it’s
also a problem with the way the Muslim communities and Muslim intellectuals
present themselves. If they were to be
self-critical and engage in discussion about the problems that we have and take
a stand against them, this problem would diminish. But there is this general impression that
they are all hiding under a blanket, they never speak the truth. Just look at the public Muslims in Austria. I just had a discussion with a couple of them
. They can’t come out with an honest
opinion. They always have to take into
consideration who their clients are and who pays for them, domestically and
internationally. That’s very
problematic. Only an honest debate can
draw the poison out of this climate.
need a new formula. I understand Austria
has a long tradition of working with Muslim organizations, but I think these
arrangements are not longer appropriate for today and they should be renegotiated. The question of Islamic instruction has be be
happening now in Austria.
AS: Exactly. But too
late. That should have been done in 2009
with that study
published by Mr. Khorchide** in which it was revealed that 22% of
the Islam instructors in Austria are anti-democratic. We now have teachers, financed by the state, presenting
anti-democratic and violent ideological ideas in the schools. When that study was published, it was a
golden opportunity for both the state and the community of believers as well as
the secular intellectual Muslims. But
what happened? From the community of
believers the study was blocked and called the scientific validity of the study
in question. Not true. All our teachers are so dear and democratic
and nice. And “Friede, Freude,
Eierkuchen” (love, peace and harmony) and that’s the kind of thing that causes
anxiety in the land, that they don’t see that this is in our own interest to identify these teachers. What did the state do? They called the teachers together and they
had to fill out a form. That is to say,
“Starting today, I’m a democrat.” It’s
all eyewash. That’s when the Muslim
community itself should have stepped in and cleaned itself up.
I am a secular man. I
think it is wrong that this discussion of integration is constantly islamicized and dumped on
the Muslim community. That’s
wrong. We are integrating people. Individuals.
Not groups. Not mosques. Not churches.
Religion is a private thing. I’m
opposed to Islamic instruction in schools for a variety of reasons. It’s not the job of the state to transmit
religious truths to children. Rather,
the school should offer a balance to that which is taught in the family and in
the mosque. Critical thinking. Questioning of religious truths. Those are our citizens of the future. And not religious communities in need of
protection. That’s no solution for
integration. It’s my opinion that – I
don’t want to make a generalization of all mosque communities, but many of them
have no interest in integration. Rather
they thrive on the skepticism the Muslims have about Austrian society. It is in this gap that they thrive. And that’s what they have to offer to
Muslims. And that’s why they should not
be involved in integration. Integration
begins precisely with the emancipation from these faith communities.
PH: Good. I grant you that religion should be taught as
cultural history with the significance of religion in society...
AS: It should be called “Religionskunde” (the study of
religion) and not “Islam”.
PH: Right. But I would take issue with what you say
about taking religion out of the schools.
Particularly at this time, when there is a new law governing the
teaching of religion by the state, I consider that a giant step forward,
because when you take it out of the schools, what happens is exactly what you
fear most, it gets it wanders away into the back alleys and that gives
precisely those people access as religion teachers that we don’t want teaching
about religion. It must be controlled
by the government – and I know this is a border area between freedom of opinion
and religious freedom – it’s my opinion that it has to be strongly controlled
what is taught in the schools, and it has to be in strongly controlled what is
taught in the mosques.
And now I’d like
to turn to something else you brought up.
There were intensive demonstrations in the summer when Israel bombed
Gaza and Muslims died. In this instance,
Muslims were the victims of bombing. In
the case of the IS, it’s Muslims who are the perpetrators. And the victims too are almost entirely
Muslims. But there have been no
demonstrations so far because the perpetrators are Muslims. That’s the negative part. Then last August, in Die Furche, the Catholic weekly in Vienna, I read,
“How does the Muslim community stand in regard to the Islamic State? The rejection is widespread, yet in the media
this fact is largely overlooked or not taken seriously.
In the meantime, in France – and this is
connected with the murder of the Charlie Hebdo people, and in Germany – there
are demonstrations by Muslim officials who say, “Enough with this barbarism.” And in the U.S. and Britain, there is the
“Not in My Name” movement. That means
that’s a beginning. Muslims in
responsible positions are standing up and saying that is an abuse of our
religion and we want to have absolutely nothing to do with it. Those are criminals. I consider that hopeful. There are I don’t know how many hundred
million Muslims in Europe. I’d like to
see large Muslim demonstrations in the cities that make it clear that this is
not our Islam. It would be especially
nice if we non-Muslims could march alongside them, because that would build a
community. And a large demonstration
like this, which should be organized by Muslims, that’s something I am hoping for.
AS: It is of course always praiseworthy when representatives of
Islam take such initiatives, and start a
movement. It comes, in my opinion, a
little late. Time to reject the IS was
sooner rather than saying, “What does that have to do with me? This has nothing to do with Islam.” That’s where the problem begins, when people
try to push this problem away from Islam because that eliminates the
possibility of a critical engagement with the religion itself. Instead, the Muslim organizations began in
the same week as the Gaza War a giant movement of all Muslims – the Muslim
brotherhood was of course a part of this – against the war – egged on by the
Turkish government because it’s in the interest of the head of government in
Turkey. There were many many Muslims in
the street in the same week. I'm talking
about the representatives. There are few
Muslims who approve of what IS is doing.
That’s a fact. But the
representatives, those people who speak in the name of Islam hesitates, washed
their hands in innocence.
pressures started. There were a couple
of mosques set on fire, the details are still not clear. But then they combined the two topics. I think that was a mistake. It’s clear we’re all against burning down
mosques. But by putting the two things
together, it makes a statement, “I’m against what the IS is doing, but I am
also a victim.” Reminds me of an Egyptian
joke. There was a watchmaker who wanted
both to place a notice in the paper about the death of his son and to place an
advertisement about his business. He
didn’t have enough money to do both, so he published one notice: “I mourn the death of my son and I repair
watches.” That's what the Muslim leaders in Germany did. They should have just gone
into the street and said we are against the IS, period. But this…
PH: We are in
agreement that this would have been the best way to prevent enemies of Islam,
however you define them, set fire to mosques. But before we end, I want to pose a question
that will no doubt be directed to you.
When you were a student you were a Muslim brother. Why did you leave?
AS: I was with them for two years. It’s the typical story. I came from a village, was all alone in
Cairo, didn’t have any friends, felt alone in the masses, had no way to express myself politically, and there was a death
in the family and I couldn’t deal with it.
I needed this organization. And
they were super at the beginning. They
take you in, give you support, then you begin to feel important, you take on a
role and a long-term project. That's very important for young people. Then
suddenly comes the indoctrination and brainwashing. I am a born sceptic and I began to see that
these were people interested in substituting one dictatorship for another. The way they dealt with us, blocked
criticism, denied things, double talk - outwardly they talked about reform, and among
themselves talked about taking over - that led to serious doubts and I began to
realize I was on my own. There was a time
when they marched us into the desert in a terrible heat. We each had an orange to eat. After hours we were excited to finally have
something to eat and drink and began to peel the orange when the leader says to
us, “Now put the orange in the sand and eat the peel. It was at that moment that I realized that
there was no way such men as these were capable of constructing a working
state. The only people they could
control would be those who followed them blindly and didn’t think for
themselves. We know that from all kinds
of groups – not just Muslim ones - and
I’m glad I had that experience, because it taught me what they think, how they
operate, what they say publicly and what they say privately.
That’s why I remain skeptical when I hear
their protestations about democracy. I
know what they think and am glad I got out.
It would have been fatal for me.
I might have become one of the radicals.
So many things go into the fascination, world conquest, jihad, changing
the world, but also inferiority complex of the individual – a mixture, actually,
of inferiority complex and the vision of power.
And that brings us back again to the comparison between fascism and
Islam. This combination of humiliation,
illness and the lust for revenge.
question. In your book,
The Fall of the
Islamic World, a prognosis: If Islam does not fail in Europe what is the faith
community, and how should they behave if they want to prevent this downfall,
since there is a universal suspicion against these people, a massive hounding
of these Islam and Muslims (sic)
AS: I don’t know how much the communities themselves are capable of
changing themselves from within. They
have to be forced to change from two sides.
Normal Muslims have to stand up and say “Not in my name.” They have to say to these representatives, “You
don’t represent me.” No matter what you
say, the Qur’an is much older and it is constantly being called into
question. And the state needs to stop
valuing the Islamic organizations so highly.
Not treat them like the Oracle of Delphi whenever there is a
problem. The way to go is this: Muslims
are people. They are children in
kindergarten and school, they are workers, they are a part of this society. And the way you take part in society is to
become a part of the organizations, the economy.
And these false debates don’t work. One doesn’t solve problems debating whether
there should be more minarets or bigger or smaller mosques. Instead, we need to invest more in these
people. People who need
emancipation. They need help in learning how to think critically. They will
change their communities eventually. For Islamic intellectuals, the biggest
danger comes from outside. What happens
in Islamic history.. they are living with great difficulties, an increase in
population, badly led educational programs that lead automatically to
radicalization. What we see in Syria and
Iraq, is increasingly in places like Yemen and Libya. Algeria may break apart. And who knows what may happen in Saudi
Arabia. Now there’s a big issue.
We are sitting here in Austria in this
wonderful center for international dialogue built with money from King Abdullah
– interreligious dialogue! – and we get all excited when IS cuts off the heads
of people. How many of you know that in
the last weeks when we were occupied with the beheadings by the IS that Saudi
Arabia beheaded nineteen people? You don’t know that. Or only a very few of you. Do you know that my friend Raif Badawi, a
very nice blogger, was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and a thousand
lashes of the whip and a fine of 260,000 euro because he blogged something
critical about Islam? And we sit here,
with representatives of the Saudi government and have “interreligious
dialogues.” How nice!
Real dialogue begins with honesty. When I respect Muslims, I take them seriously
and I criticize them honestly and trust them to take this criticism on and
react positively and honestly. And we
have to do that inside the country, as well.
This pretense of dialogue doesn’t bring us together. It does no good to sit in an air-conditioned
room in Vienna and tell each others great stories about Abraham while men in
Saudi Arabia are being beheaded and women are humiliated and toyed with and
whipped for the slightest offense.
Honesty means, “No my friend, before you sit down at a table with me to
discuss the wonders of the three monotheistic religions, go home and have an
inter-Saudi conversation with your people and solve your problems at home.
PH: I thank you for
this discussion (to AS) and (to the audience) for your interest.
Harun al-Rashid was the fifth Abbasid Caliph. His birth date is debated, with various sources giving dates from 763 to 766. His surname translates to "the Just", "the Upright", or "the Rightly-Guided". Wikipedia
** Mouhanad Khorchide is a professor of the sociology of religion at the Islamic Religion and Pedagogical Institute at Vienna University. Read more at http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=e7d_1233866244#BPhoKhAwDk5LZVrW.99]