“Islam Is Like a Drug”: Interview with German-Egyptian political scientist Hamed Abdel-Samad

17 September 2010

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Egyptian-German political scientist Hamed Abdel-Samad talks about his childhood as the son of an imam in Egypt, why he thinks Islam is a danger to society and his theories about the inevitable decline of the Muslim world. Despite his own criticism of Islam, he does not find Thilo Sarrazin’s comments helpful for the integration debate, and thinks he is overrated. Abdel-Samad has published a book, predicting the downfall of the Islamic world. Although the number of Muslims is growing, there is stagnation in all Islamic countries and Islam has no convincing answers to the challenges of the 21st century: “It is in intellectual, moral and cultural decline — a doomed religion, without self-awareness and without any options to act”, Abdel-Samad claims.

Is is possible to criticize Islam? Summary of a heated debate in Germany

For a few weeks now, German media have been involved in a heated debate on whether it is possible to Islam and if so, in what way. While some argue for a strong distinction of Islam and Islamism (with only the latter calling for criticism), others hold Islam responsible also for its extremist forms and therefore claim it necessary to criticize the whole of Islam. The first, pro-Islamic position thinks of the other, pro-critique attitude as harshly intolerant, while in return they are accused of being apologetic of suppression and Islamic extremism. Mutual accusations and Nazi-comparisons add to the heat of the debate.

It started in early January 2010, possibly triggered by several events. First, the ongoing discussion on the impact of the Swiss minaret ban, later the attempted murder of caricaturist Kurt Westergaard, but in Germany also the reprint of Henryk Broder’s book “Hurra, wir kapitulieren” (Hooray, we surrender!). Broder, a prominent writer, journalist and very liberalist member of the pro-critique camp, claims that Muslims do not speak out against crimes committed in name of Islam and therefore tolerate and foster extremism. His deliberately provocative writings always stir an emotional debate and did not fail to do so this time.

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, feuilleton chief editor Claudius Seidl strongly argues for distinguishing Islam from Islamism, for not neglecting human rights violations by extreme Islamists, but at the same time recognising the racist potential that the criticism of Islam evidently bears. In the Süddeutsche Zeitung feuilleton, Thomas Steinfeld argues in a similar way against Broder and refers to the intolerant fighters on both sides as “hate preachers”. In the same paper, Wolfgang Benz had warned about right-wing Islam critics who employ the same methods as anti-Semitists in the 19th century. Another article on the pro-Islam side in the tageszeitung by Birgit Rommelspacher is wary of feminist critique that holds a whole religion or culture responsible for suppression, implying a proximity to right-wing and Nazi ideologies, until finally Necla Kelek appears in the debate.

A social scientist and feminist of Turkish background, Necla Kelek is a strong critic of Islam, which she sees as a patriarchal and authoritarian system. Having suffered from this during her childhood, she distanced herself from Islam, while still actively engaging in debates on the topic, also as a Muslim. Her article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a critical account of the criticism of Islam, strongly opposes the previous articles, calls for a criticism of Islam, which she does not regard equal to racism, and vehemently defends “Western values” and liberty as the ultimate resource for all people, including Muslims. Hamed Abdel-Samad claims in Die Welt that criticism of Islam is essential if Muslims are to be taken seriously and especially Muslims themselves must start this debate. Jens Jessen, feuilleton chief editor of Die ZEIT, sums up the main points by asking what was worse, trivialising Islamism or condemning Islam altogether? To what extent could Islam be equated with Islamism? Eventually Jessen calls for a true and analytic understanding of the Islamic religion while not being tolerant of intolerance. On Qantara.de Stefan Weidner provides a summary of the German debate of “Islamkritik” and looks at the role that Muslims play in it.