Political Scientist Hamed Abdel-Samad 'Islam Is Like a Drug'
Part 3: 'I Overindulged in the Fruits of the West'
SPIEGEL: So it was a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Abdel-Samad: Basically, it was, except that I wasn't prepared for Western freedoms. It was a curse for me at first, and it made me aggressive. I began studying political science in Augsburg. There were temptations everywhere: young women in the student union and beer at the bars. I felt guilty whenever I overindulged in the fruits of the West, which my faith forbade. I felt humiliated and uprooted. For a short time, I joined a group of Islamist students, trying to escape my loneliness in the warm glow of companionship. Others have fallen into the clutches of terrorists that way. I didn't. I did however have hallucinations and cold sweats, and I felt the fear of death.
SPIEGEL: Did you get professional help?
Abdel-Samad: Yes, I checked myself into a psychiatric clinic. I was on the verge of suicide. They transferred me to a closed ward and treated me for borderline personality disorder. It was hell, and the hell was also inside of me. I did everything I could to convince the therapists that I could manage outside again. The doctors trusted me. After I was released, I embarked on my next escape, this time to Japan, where I learned Japanese and got involved with East Asian spirituality. I met the love of my life in Kyoto, a woman who is half-Danish and half-Japanese -- the woman I'm married to today.
SPIEGEL: Could it be that you assign too great a role to religion in your life, that you expect too much of it?
Abdel-Samad: That's for others to judge. I have approached Islam rationally and have read Kant and Spinoza. I've studied the Enlightenment. And I've studied the Reformation, which has failed to materialize in Islam to this day.
SPIEGEL: You criticize Muslims as a group for taking offence quickly and even savoring it. You have accused European liberal leftists of pursuing a "policy of appeasement" toward Islam. Why do you, as an academic, sometimes enjoy being the provocateur in a similar fashion to Sarrazin? Is it the unforgiving nature of the convert?
Abdel-Samad: You have to state your opinions clearly if you want to be heard. There are plenty of apologists for Islam.
SPIEGEL: But the trend here in Germany seems to be going in the other direction. The Islam alarmists dominate public opinion. Muslims are ridiculed on the Internet as "goat fuckers" and "veiled sluts," while the religion is derided as "barbaric."
Abdel-Samad: Which is so beneath contempt that I don't even want to dignify it with a response.
SPIEGEL: But Islam-bashing has become socially acceptable among many German intellectuals. Do you feel comfortable in the company of Islamophobes?
Abdel-Samad: I don't like that expression. A person who has a phobia is someone who harbors fantasies. But the dangers posed by Islamists are real, and many Muslims' unwillingness to integrate in Germany is a serious problem. It isn't my problem when other critics exaggerate and their rhetoric gets out of hand. I can only speak for myself.
SPIEGEL: The respected historian Wolfgang Benz, who has been the director of the Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University of Berlin for many years, is now drawing parallels between anti-Semitic agitators and extreme critics of Islam. According to Benz, they use similar methods to develop their stereotype of the enemy, for example by using deliberately distorted images and hysteria. Is there anything to what he's saying?
Abdel-Samad: You can compare anything with anything else. I don't see a relationship.
SPIEGEL: You are in the process of becoming the model Muslim for conservative politicians in Germany.
Abdel-Samad: What makes you say that?
SPIEGEL: German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, a member of the conservative CDU, has appointed you to the German Islam Conference.
Abdel-Samad: Is that all? Yes, I have attended three meetings so far, and I think it's an interesting panel, one in which Muslims of many different stripes interact and debate in a civil way. It's a plus for Germany.
SPIEGEL: You accuse your fellow Muslims of continuing to search for scapegoats.
Abdel-Samad: Yes, instead of seeking faults within themselves. Perhaps the process I experienced is the process Islam needs as a whole, namely that everyone looks at themselves critically and stops constantly blaming others for their own misery and feeling like a victim. They should also liberate themselves from constraints. Bitterness and finger-pointing only lead to violence, and we have enough of that in the world.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Abdel-Samad, thank you for this interview.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan