Hamed Abdel-Samad is a man at war. He moves around escorted by bodyguards, receives constant threats and is the subject of a fatwa and an accusation of “heresy” by the al-Azhar religious leaders. Since last year, when, together with journalist Nazan Gökdemir, he presented on German public television station ZDF the investigation on Europe’s Muslims, he has seen more than one door closed in his face. And this despite the fact that his scholarly work is appreciated by important figures of European Islam like the scholar Bassam Tibi and the former imam of Marseille, Soheib Bensheikh.
Forty-five years old, born in Giza near Cairo, the son of a famous imam, Samad himself grew up in the environments of the Muslim Brotherhood. Abdel-Samad has lived in Germany for 20 years, where he became famous for his work as a political scientist at the University of Munich and where he gained great notoriety for what he considers a kind of existential battle in the name of “Arab Enlightenment,” which is opposed to political Islam and the Muslim “religious obscurantism.” He reaffirmed this thesis in his most famous and controversial book, Islamic Fascism.
Right from the title, your book was perceived in many Muslim circles as a provocation. What prompted you to write it?
I was formed in the study of Islam and the political cultures related to it. So I had already noticed how many Western scholars consider the relationship between faith and politics in the Muslim world, and particularly Islam, as a new phenomenon arisen as a reaction to colonialism without a specific and independent beginning. This is a serious simplification which makes it difficult to understand what is happening today. Therefore, I decided to analyze the ideological roots and the way in which it has been developed over time, starting from the sinister similarities that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century between political Islam and European fascism.
You focus on the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during the 1920s. Aren’t the points of contact between them and fascists, however, read also as a consequence of the fact that English democracy influenced the origin of colonial rule in Cairo?
A reading of this issue as a tactical alliance with “the enemy of my enemy” explains things only superficially. Since the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, their leader Hassan al-Banna gave more importance to the fact that all the other parties had been banned, except “that of Allah,” than the democratization of the country or the struggle for independence. The similarities with fascism appear at several levels. I refer to a vision of the world that is based on the fact that Muslims consider themselves superior to the rest of humanity, similar to the vision of the Nazi “Aryan myth.”
In both cases, the enemies are dehumanized, compared to animals, especially the Jews, while war and death on the battlefield or in jihad, constitute the core of the movement’s identity. It moves toward the prospect of world domination by all means and, in the meantime, to restore a hard return to social and traditional gender roles. Finally, at the top there is a “supreme guide” or “leader” which translates metaphysical certainties for the benefit of the masses. To all this, you can then add that al-Banna wrote pages of admiration for Hitler and Mussolini and was very close to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, a notorious Arab collaborator. The problem is that the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood are the source of both the contemporary Islamist parties and terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.
After defining “fascism” as “a distant cousin of monotheism,” you explain that in the Muslim world, the consensus for Islamists stem from a long tradition of religious obscurantism consolidated through the centuries. Therefore, to whom do you address your work?
I grew up in the faith, but I don’t appeal either to the so-called “community of believers,” nor to Muslims as such. I appeal to the individuals and their consciences. Faced with the threat embodied by those who justify their own horrors and their own domain evoking “the word of God,” the Koran, we must point to the individual thought and efforts to turn things around.
Even those who talk of a possible “reform” in Islam are deceiving themselves: Faith should move into the private life of those who make this choice and stop trying to lay down the law in public life, on institutions and people. Only then, the threat hanging over all of us can really be defeated.
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