This interview is part of a booklet containing interviews with more or less famous people from all walks of life in Austria. It was published by Die Presse sometime in early 2009 and was never available online.
In the excerpt below, Shaker Assem is interviewed by Peter Babutzky:
Shaker Assem, 44, was born in Cairo to a Muslim Egyptian father and a Catholic Austrian mother. Following his father’s death he moved to Austria at the age of 16. He finished high school and studied engineering at the University of Vienna, after which he taught at a technical high school. “This was my most enjoyable job,” he says of his time as a teacher. Still, he decided to move to Germany where he became a media spokesperson for Hizb-ut-Tahrir.- - - - - - - - -
Every religion is in opposition to democracy
Shaker Assem is the media spokesperson for the Islamic liberation party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. This radical party of Islamists boasts 20,000 members worldwide. In this interview Assem speaks about “legitimate” suicide attacks, homosexuality being a crime, and why a woman cannot be the leader of a state.
In one of your speeches you said the the incest tragedy of Amstetten [where a father held his daughter captive in a dungeon and fathered seven children with her] would not be possible in a truly Islamic state. Why?
Extramarital sexual relations are considered a heavy crime. The rape of a family member is mind-blowing to a devout Muslim. All of this starts with the fear of God. If humans are convinced that God is constantly watching them and will be held accountable, then this is already a deterrence. Of course there are also crimes in an Islamic state, but that is why we have laws.
In your Islamic state homosexuality would also be considered a “crime” which could lead to the death penalty.
It depends on how this homosexuality is lived. But it is a crime and can be punished by the death penalty.
Your constitution states that a marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims is not permitted. Are you against love?
No, I am not. Islam permits Muslim men to marry Jewish and Christian women. I myself am the product of such a relationship. But a marriage between a Muslim and Hindu would not be possible.
The Quran says so. It is not possible.
Do you never doubt the Quran?
No. My beliefs are rational. I approached the study of the Quran in a rational way, and the rational pieces of evidence convinced me of its accuracy.
What do you actually think is so terrible about the democratic system?
The point is not whether it so terrible or not. The secular, capitalistic world order did not lead humans out of poverty, but increased it.
Your mother is Austrian, you have been living in Austria for 28 years. What is your relationship with this country? Is this country your home?
Yes, you could say that. But even if I reject the secular rule of law I have a lot in common with Austria. I have a lot of family and friends here. I feel at home here. I do not feel like a stranger. Austria is a part of me.
But the system is your enemy, right?
Just because I do not identify with the laws here does not automatically mean that Austria is my enemy. I am convinced about another way of life, about the Islamic way of life. But there are also many non-Muslims who are not convinced about Austrian laws.
You also say that Muslims are not allowed to vote here in Austria. Why?
In Austria, Muslims can cast their votes only for secular parties – with a non-Islamic program. It is impossible for Muslims in Austria to be represented by political parties.
According to a recent study, every fifth Muslim religion teacher sees democracy as incompatible with Islam. Do you agree?
That is a mean question. Every religion is in opposition to democracy. The Austrian constitution reads as follows: “The law is made by the People.” Every religion claims that laws are made by God. The Catholic church is also undemocratic. We have to draw the line somewhere.
The Islamic Faith Community in Austria was quite embarrassed by the results of the study and initiated a reform of the curriculum for Islamic religious education. Do you feel represented by the Faith Community?
No. The Faith Community basically represents only the Islamic teachers. It has no say in anything else. Many Islamic associations do not feel represented either.
Your party, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, was banned in 2003.
We were always more popular in Germany, especially among the young people. Back then, former German minister of interior Otto Schily openly declared that he did not want our party to gain more influence.
In your caliphate non-Muslim parties would be banned. Why do you demand something from a Western country that would be prohibited in a Muslim state?
The West always talks about freedom of speech and conscience. What we did is measure Germany by its own standards. As soon as there are new ideas that are uncomfortable for the establishment, the German state rigorously cracks down on them. But Germany also does not have absolute freedom of speech. Every state protects itself from unconstitutional moves.
The official reason for the ban of your party was open Antisemitism. Are you an anti-Semite?
No. There were two flyers that were misinterpreted. It is impossible for a Muslim to be anti-Semitic because it goes against Islam. Please do not forget that Jewish prophets are also prophets for us. One must differentiate between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. We are not against the Jewish faith but very much against Zionism.
On one of these flyers you invoke the fight against Jews by citing a sura from the Quran: “You may kill those who wage war against you, and you may evict them whence they evicted you. The Jews are a lying and deceiving people.” Doesn’t that constitute Antisemitism?
This sura from the Quran is a defensive one. We used this flyer back in 2002 as a a reaction to the attacks by the Israeli army against Jenin. It is a call to Muslims to resist Israeli occupation. It is allowed according to international law for a state to defend itself.
Are suicide attacks legitimate?
Yes, they are legitimate. All of Palestine is a war zone where a different set of laws is in effect. As long as Israelis destroy entire Palestinian residential areas, killing thousands of women and children, Muslims have every right to defend themselves. Compared to the Israelis, the Palestinians have only very crude and primitive weapons with which to defend themselves somehow.
You are denying Israel’s right to exist.
I do not understand that; this doesn’t get into Western people’s heads. Israel is an occupying state. In Palestine there are people who were displaced from all over the world. That is a crime not only according to Islamic but also Christian principles. The Jews suffered great injustice during the Nazi era. No doubt about that. However, considering that the Austrians and and the Germans were a nation of perpetrators, their peoples need to pay the bill.
The Islamic community [i.e. ummah] is very heterogeneous. How can an Islamic caliphate be realized under these circumstances?
We want bring about a change in society through persuasion, but clearly by peaceful means. We want to submit the Islamic ideas to the people and as soon as this idea takes root, the population will call for the establishment of a caliphate.
Do you consider Iran an infidel state?
Of course. Iran is not an Islamic state. Iran considers itself a republic, which is a western concept. There is no concept of republic in Islam. Islam only knows the caliphate where a person can be voted for to become caliph.
But women are not allowed to stand for election to become caliph?
There is a saying from Mohammed that a people cannot be successful if it is led by a woman. A woman can become a judge or a civil servant, but not head of state.
It is often said that Hizb-ut-Tahrir has contacts with Al Qaeda. What is your opinion about the terror attacks in London, Madrid or New York?
We are strongly against terror attacks. There are many differences between us and Al Qaeda, especially concerning methods. The prophet worked towards an Islamic state for a long time. But for the founding of this state he opposed the use of force and did not shed a drop of blood.
There are numerous reports stating that Hizb-ut-Tahrir took part in many attempted coups in Egypt and Jordan. Why did you fail?
Much of this is urban legend. We submit our ideas to the people whether they are civilians, soldiers or officers. As soon as our ideas take root in society and the army, political change will come about naturally. This can definitely come about by peaceful means. Just like it happened with the prophet.