Hamed Abdel-Samad is an Egyptian born political scientist, historian and author, now living in Germany. He is the son of a Sunni imam, but has dedicated the recent years of his life to warning against the political side of Islam. Via 10news.dk, translated by Sandra and Nicolai Sennels from Welt:
He claims Islam to have “fascistic characteristics” — and is therefore under threat: The German-Egyptian journalist Hamed Abdel-Samad challenges a religion of which he himself is a member. An interview by Dietrich Alexander.
The author Hamed Abdel-Samad lives in Germany, but he is not safe here. The 42-year-old needs permanent police protection, as he has enemies. Violent, fanatical enemies who want him dead because, in their view, he has insulted Islam and their Prophet Mohammed. The German-Egyptian states his opinion openly and criticizes those Muslims who put themselves above others and claim that their interpretation of Islam is the only true version. With his book Der Untergang der islamischen Welt (Eng.: The Fall of the Islamic World, Droemer, 2010, 18 euros), he earned a lot of criticism. His new book will be out on April 1 and is entitled Der islamische Faschismus (transl.: The Islamic fascism, Droemer, 18 euros). After publicly expressing his theses in Cairo, he got a fatwa on his head: “Wanted Dead” — not: “Wanted, dead or alive”, just “dead”. He had to go into hiding. But he was not silent, and he does not intend to be intimidated in the future.
Die Welt: Lately, 529 Egyptian Muslim brothers have been sentenced to death by a court in Minya, Upper Egypt, in a legally very questionable fast track process. 683 further defendants face the same fate. What is your opinion on these processes?
Hamed Abdel-Samad: That is not the way to deter terrorists, as it will just create new martyrs, who will be models for a new generation of holy warriors! The Muslim Brotherhood will benefit most from this verdict, because suddenly the world is not talking anymore about their ongoing terrorist attacks, but about the injustice that befalls them. Such verdicts are symptomatic of the Egyptian state’s incompetence in dealing with terrorism. In this way, the violence is not stopped, and the division and polarization in the country are deepened.
Die Welt: So you think that such processes will create problems for the future of Egypt and thus probably also the next president, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has just announced his candidacy and is a clear favorite?
Abdel-Samad: Al-Sisi is considered the new savior by many Egyptians. The expectations on 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 cheering him now frenetically will be demonstrating against him, as they demonstrated against Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi, 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 very pessimistic about the future of the Arab-Islamic world in general. You present a new book, your fourth one. It seems to me that you get more and more radical in your theses. Would you agree with that?
Abdel-Samad: No! I often hear that I was a radical thinker and a quarreler. I’m just a rational thinking person who calls a spade a spade. I have always been. I do not do it just to provoke when I say that Islam has fascist characteristics.
Die Welt: But that’s at least semantically sharper than anything you have written and said before. The term fascism in connection with political Islam is certainly new.
Abdel-Samad: For Germans this may sound bold and provocative. But what is fascism? It is a political religion, with truths, with prophets, with a charismatic leader who is equipped with a supposedly holy mission to unite the nation and defeat the enemies. That’s also exactly what Islam is. Fascism divides the world into friends and enemies. In Islam, there are believers and unbelievers. The conspiracy theories in fascism, the feeling of humiliation and having come off badly, this desire for revenge and the dehumanization of the enemy, are all found in Islam, especially in the language of political Islam. The mix of inferiority complex and striving for world domination, of impotence and omnipotence fantasies, links Islamism and fascism. In my book, I write on the 14 theses by Umberto Eco on Ur-Fascism. There, we find it all: the cult of tradition, the attitude to the modern age and the counter-revolution against Enlightenment, the conspiracy theories, the Machism. All that the Islamists are missing is the machinery for mass-destruction that was available to the Stalinists and the National Socialists. Islamism suffered several defeats, but has never been trounced — unlike fascism in Germany and Italy. That is the reason why Islamic fascism drags on.
Die Welt: Would you go as far as to say that the political, fascist Islam would drag the world into a Third World War, if it had the opportunity to get its hands on such destructive machinery?
Abdel-Samad: Yes, maybe not with a world war straightaway, but we will see a battle of apocalyptic dimensions. The Islamists would lead a campaign of revenge against the infidels. On a small scale, you can observe this where Islamists take power in Syrian towns. People are then killed just because they are Christians, even children. This is pure fascism, that people are executed only on the basis of their religious or national affiliation. We can watch that everywhere where Islamists take power, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria — no matter where.
Die Welt: And the so-called “moderate Islam”? Does it exist, anyway?
Abdel-Samad: For a long time, we had this prime example of a supposedly moderate Islam in Turkey with Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the top. The political opportunism of the West has prevented this system from having to show its true face. Only now, in crisis, and under the real political and democratic test, we recognize fascist tendencies there as well.
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 rule of God. He is not interested in fighting unemployment, but wants to enforce a particular moral order of society and then the rest of the world.
Die Welt: So a divine mandate?
Abdel-Samad: Yes. That’s the only thing that motivates him to engage in politics. He does not respect human-made structures such as parliaments and the judiciary, because God has set the law for him already 1400 years ago. It only needs to be applied.
Die Welt: That would mean that dialogue is not possible with these people…
Abdel-Samad: … dialogue, in this case, is actually a waste of time. With Erdogan, a dialogue has been conducted, but he has fooled the West. His so-called reforms were more like empowerment laws. “Moderate Islam” is an invention of Western Islamic scholars. Moderate and Islam is a paradox, they do not match. The truths of the Islamists are already determined. This is also a core characteristic of fascism.
Die Welt: What you say is surely not without danger. You have received death threats, live under police protection, bring family and friends into danger. In a way, you risk your life for your beliefs. Would you therefore describe yourself as a martyr?
Abdel-Samad: No. I like neither the term nor the mindset behind it. I like living very much, despite all the difficulties and problems that I have. But I have long searched for an access to this life and I sacrificed and lost a lot to get it. This life concept is called freedom. It means that no one can determine my morals, my way of thinking and speaking. The fact that there are people in this world who cannot live with that is really not my problem. I have not cut anyone’s throat and I do not intend to do so. I have never questioned the right to exist of any human. I do not think it is worth to die for anything. But I will not moderate or restrict my thoughts and comments just because others do not like what I say. I do not want nor need this “little life”.
Die Welt: Let’s come back to Islam and democracy again. The Egyptian President by the grace of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, was democratically elected and then undemocratically overthrown. What was wrong with Morsi’s rule?
Abdel-Samad: Morsi had no plan for Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood had only slogans. But suddenly they 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 freedom, particularly of women, and infiltrated the institutions.
Die Welt: Is a regime dominated by the military, a quasi Mubarak II, only the lesser evil?
Abdel-Samad: It’s definitely the lesser evil. It is not Mubarak II, though, but maybe “Mubarak light”. It is not democratic, either, because democracy is not created in a vacuum. The Arab-Islamic world as a whole is not yet ripe for democratic structures. But the military share at least a common denominator with the economy and society. Business, industry, tourism — areas where you can discuss and find compromises. The Muslim Brothers were in a completely different world. Their almost fatal mistake was to think that they could turn Egypt into a second Iran. Victory in a democratic election is not a blank check.
Die Welt: This is certainly true. 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 Tunisia within the foreseeable future, as it is small, its civil society is quite well organized, and the West supports the development of civil and democratic structures.
Die Welt: In your book, you thank a boy who has written to you that he is thankful to the Islamists that their death threat against you has brought him in touch with your ideas. Was the death threat therefore useful to spread your message?
Abdel-Samad: Basically, yes, and this just shows the stupidity of the fanatics. They do not understand: If they want to ban a book or silence a writer, this brings about 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 talk only to each other, they believe their threats could silence people. This is ridiculous and naive.
Die Welt: You say that you stirred up a hornet’s nest with your book. Usually, hornet’s nests are smoked out, they are burnt. What is your strategy to combat political Islam? Is there a means, perhaps the economic success of a rival — maybe democratic — system?
Abdel-Samad: The disease must be diagnosed correctly. A clear diagnosis has not been permitted in the past. I see myself as a diagnosing physician. As Karl Kraus said, “I cannot lay eggs, but I can recognize a foul one.” 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 tries to catch people who are stuck in this swamp of frustration. They are light-years away from the modern world. It is much easier for them to withdraw to a ideological level, rather than to address the problems and solve them. A preacher who is considered moderate in the West seriously said that the economic decline has only started since we no longer take jihad seriously. He seriously suggests new wars of conquest against Christian countries, head tax for Christians and Jews, the enslavement of opponents. These are frighteningly clear parallels to fascism, this is inhuman. The helpless leaders are overwhelmed and tell fairytales. Just like an Egyptian general who has loudly proclaimed that they had discovered a secret weapon against AIDS recently. All of this feeds on the same myths, is quixotic, and stews in its own juice. This creates a transfigured world view from which you cannot break out.
Die Welt: So Islam and democracy are not compatible?
Abdel-Samad: Of course not. By claiming that they are, you prolong the disease and delay the healing process. True Islam is as true socialism: So great, but unfortunately, it is nowhere practiced around the world. The Islamic world deceives itself by thinking that an Islamic system could be democratic. Democracy means that the people decide. Islam means that God is the legislator.
Die Welt: That sounds hopeless and is hardly encouraging for the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world…
Abdel-Samad: The Arab-Islamic societies want to be modern and successful. But when I want to build a car, I first need to familiarize myself with the laws of physics, with the mechanics and even with the environmental regulations that apply in a modern world. Then I have to see what materials are available to me. But I do not have to re-invent the wheel. I just need to figure out which of my materials fit car manufacturing and which don’t. Cow dung and car do not fit. To insist that cow dung should be part of the car is a fatal fallacy. Applied to the Islam-democracy discussion: There are Western intellectuals who say that it will somehow work out with the cow dung. This is not to help one to help himself, but anesthesia. The Muslims did not invent the car, but buy it anyway. Why should that not be possible in the case of democracy? We insist on sharing our culture, even if this is a hindrance.
Die Welt: You call Islam a “belated religion” which got stuck in the year 1435 and thus lives in its own Middle Ages. Does this mean that the Islamic world will have to go through all that Europe has experienced in its Middle Ages?
Abdel-Samad: Absolutely. We are heading towards a religious war between Sunnites and Shiites of global dimensions. And we can only hope that afterwards, we will have a reformation, as was the case in Europe. We cannot get past it, but the price will be high. The juvenile masses without perspective and hope can only be fed, employed – and burnt — 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. About what?
Abdel-Samad: The ideological war rages between a modern, Western-oriented class that got partly independent from the official knowledge and the religious supremacy of Islam, and the traditional forces which fear freedom. Fascism has always been feeding on this fear. The war is considered a chance of rebirth, by fascists as by Islamists. That world peace can only be restored if all people belonged to Islam. This is not Islamism, it is already written in the Koran. We can only counteract this by addressing the roots of this ideology, without taboos, and tear them out. Whoever calls that radical, belittles the problem.
Die Welt: When you disappeared without a trace end of November last year in Cairo for two days, many people were worried about you. What happened back then?
Abdel-Samad: I was just kidnapped in the street by four people in a car and held for two days. I was mistreated, beaten and forced, with a gun to the head, to sign papers whose contents I could not read. As the kidnappers released me, I came across the most stupid policemen in the world. The Egyptian police just want to prove that they did everything right. But the authorities have not adequately taken care of my personal safety. I have sued them. The investigations are ongoing. But as for this particular investigation, the police department that I sued is responsible, nothing happens.
Die Welt: And was this case connected to the death threat of the Islamists against you?
Abdel-Samad: No, it was about money. It was criminals who appeared to have acted on behalf of somebody else. After the revolution, in the phase of optimism, I had invested all my savings in an Egyptian company, which now employs 100 people and in which my brother played an important role. However, my brother’s partners gradually wrangled their relatives into the company. They got more and more corrupt and engaged in criminal and dangerous business. My brother then got out of the company’s management and I wanted to take my investments back. A first check of 27,000 euros was due and I told the debtors, either you pay or I will report you to the police. I did not get anything and also this case is still ongoing.
Die Welt: Do these events still stress you today?
Abdel-Samad: Yes. After my return to Germany, I was in psychiatric treatment for a week. I could not deal with daily life and had a great loss of confidence in everything. I thought the death threat was the worst thing you could experience in Egypt. But I was wrong. The Egyptian government loses control of the people and the people lose control of themselves. And the clergy sits there and deals with the question of whether the Prophet can be shown in a movie or not. This is far from reality. And someday someone comes and says, I know how it all works. This is how fascism comes into play.