Political Scientist Hamed Abdel-Samad 'Islam Is Like a Drug'
Part 2: 'The Hatred of the West Hasn't Gone Away'
SPIEGEL: But isn't Islamism in retreat, despite -- or perhaps because of -- all the attacks al-Qaida has committed? Osama bin Laden is no longer the hero of the Arab street.
Abdel-Samad: The hatred of the West hasn't gone away. In fact, it's even grown in some places. And most of the violence is directed against Muslims, as is the case in Iraq and Somalia.
SPIEGEL: Former US President George W. Bush made his reservations about Islam clear to the Muslims of the world. In Iraq and Guantanamo, Americans humiliated Muslim prisoners and sometimes mocked their religion. A pastor in Florida even recently said he was going to burn the Koran.
Abdel-Samad: Everything you're saying is correct.
SPIEGEL: To this day, the Muslim world is sharply critical -- justifiably so, to a certain extent -- of the fact that Washington, with its pro-Israel policies, applies a double standard in the Middle East.
Abdel-Samad: But that's no justification for violence.
SPIEGEL: Of course not. But why do you insist that there is a causal relationship between terrorism and Islam? Why don't you attribute it to the miserable living conditions and lack of opportunities for which Arab dictators, who are often close allies of the West, are responsible?
Abdel-Samad: Because the terrorists invoke religion. And because poverty is not the cause of terror.
SPIEGEL: That's odd. We don't condemn Christianity because splinter groups in Northern Ireland commit murder in the name of their religion. We don't take Judaism to task when a terrorist in Hebron slaughters Muslims in the tomb of Abraham and invokes Yahweh. But with Islam
Abdel-Samad: it's a different story. Because violence has allied itself with the culture.
SPIEGEL: That's what you claim.
Abdel-Samad: And because the perpetrators invoke the Koran more often than not. That's why we urgently need heretics who, ignoring taboos, question everything about this religion.
SPIEGEL: You make it seem as if your religion weren't changing. The American news magazine Time praised Islam's "quiet revolution" in a cover story. And the reformers you call for do exist. One of them is the Iranian thinker Abdolkarim Soroush, who recognizes many paths to the true faith, and another is the recently deceased Egyptian theologian Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd.
Abdel-Samad: I knew Abu Zayd well, and I respected him. You know that radical judges declared him to be divorced from his wife because of his liberal views, and that he had to flee Egypt and go to the Netherlands. But those kinds of thinkers are the exception. Most so-called reformers of Islam remind me of the band on the Titanic, which kept on playing even as the ship was sinking, so as to give the passengers the illusion of normalcy. The underlying problems are not addressed.
SPIEGEL: And what are they?
Abdel-Samad: Questioning the Koran itself. Although debates are now being initiated, they are never brought to a conclusion. Reformers and conservatives alike continue to be obsessed by the holy book. Sometimes I ask myself who needs the Koran today. Could it be that our faith has a birth defect? Did it become successful too soon, and is that why government and military responsibilities became intermingled with religion? How could Islam have reached such heights in the Middle Ages, and why did almost everything go wrong after that?
SPIEGEL: What does the Koran mean to you?
Abdel-Samad: I still reach for it often. It is my education, my childhood.
SPIEGEL: Talk about your Egyptian homeland.
Abdel-Samad: I was born in a small village on the Nile, as the third of five children. My father was the imam and the supreme keeper of the faith there, and he deliberately gave me an especially holy name: "The Thankful Slave of God." Under his tutelage, I soon learned the Koran by heart. It was a sheltered time, and yet I often saw my father strike my mother, who would kneel in front of him without complaining.
SPIEGEL: Why did he do it?
Abdel-Samad: Because he was forced to flee from the Israelis when he was a soldier in the Six Day War, and he was never able to get over that experience. Because most men in the village hit their wives. Because the religion didn't expressly forbid it. It was the way things were.
SPIEGEL: You were abused as a child.
Abdel-Samad: I must have been four at the time. Paralyzed by fear, I recited the Koran for hours at night. I was abused again at 11, this time by a horde of young men. In accordance with our tradition, it was unthinkable to tell my father or anyone else.
SPIEGEL: You hold Islam partly responsible for those crimes?
Abdel-Samad: Yes, as it is experienced today. Suppressed sexuality, living in extremely cramped quarters in a closed society and enslavement to authority were causal factors.
SPIEGEL: Those are exactly the same phenomena for which Catholic institutions have been known.
Abdel-Samad: Perhaps. My father, at any rate, wanted me to become an Islamic scholar. But I had decided to study English and French, and for days I prepared myself, with great trepidation, for the confrontation. He accepted my wishes, but it seemed to me that he was filled with despair. At the university in Cairo, I flirted ideologically with the Marxists and the Muslim Brotherhood. I shouted anti-Semitic slogans at demonstrations. Because everyone was doing it.
SPIEGEL: What brought you to Germany?
Abdel-Samad: I wanted to get away from all the constraints. I had worked as a tour guide for a while, during which time I met a German woman who invited me (to come to Germany). But I had by no means overcome my fears and my lack of direction. When I was standing in front of an official at the airport in Frankfurt in 1995, I imagined that he hesitated before stamping my passport. I thought that his eyes were telling me: Here we go, just another camel whisperer who wants to take advantage of our prosperity.
SPIEGEL: Did you integrate swiftly into German society?
Abdel-Samad: Not at all. Germany seemed alien to me, like a complicated machine with no operating manual. I eventually married my girlfriend, a rebellious, leftist teacher who was 18 years older than me. But it wasn't out of love. She did it for tax reasons and I did it for the German passport.
- Part 1: 'Islam Is Like a Drug'
- Part 2: 'The Hatred of the West Hasn't Gone Away'
- Part 3: 'I Overindulged in the Fruits of the West'