How many Muslims live in Western democracies
Radical Islam and the decline of democracy : "The Muslim countries are sliding ever deeper into the crisis"
Ruud Koopmans is Professor of Sociology and Migration Research at Humboldt University and heads the Migration, Integration and Transnationalization Department at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB).
Professor Koopmans, why do you, as a social scientist, criticize a world religion with almost two billion believers in your new book “The Dilapidated House of Islam”?
I am not Islamophobic, I am critical of Islam. I am not criticizing Islam as a world religion. I criticize the rise of fundamentalism in the Islamic world over the past 40 years. 1979 was a crucial year for the spread of Islamic fundamentalism with the Islamic revolution in Iran, the attack on the great mosque in Mecca and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. It is the reason why the Islamic countries got deeper and deeper into the crisis.
What criteria do you use to determine this crisis?
A very important question is that of democratization. Since the 1960s and 1970s, democracy has made great strides around the world - for example in southern Europe and Latin America. But the number of democracies in the Islamic world has decreased over the same period. Today only two Islamic countries are democracies - Senegal and Tunisia.
What are your other test criteria?
I then examined the human rights situation in Islamic countries, the rights of women, of homosexuals and of religious minorities. In all these areas, the situation in Islamic countries has deteriorated over the past few decades: In international statistics, they are in last place.
What about the history of violence in Islamic countries?
It also plays an important role in my book. I have investigated how wars and civil wars are. The result is: Around three quarters of all wars and civil wars today are fought between or in Islamic countries. Islamist terrorism has increased enormously in the past few decades. Around 85 percent of all victims of terrorists worldwide can be attributed to radical Islamic groups.
You haven't seen any signs of hope?
At least not in the field of business. Successful industrial nations can almost only be found outside the Islamic world. For example, I compared Egypt and South Korea, two countries that had similar economic levels in the early 1970s. South Korea has since caught up with western prosperity, while Egypt is now worse off than most other countries.
Aren't there other reasons for the backwardness of Islamic countries - such as the legacy of colonialism?
I have examined alternative explanations and have come to the conclusion that they are not the cause of the difference between non-Islamic and Islamic countries. The latter were often either not colonized - like Iran or Turkey - or only very briefly - like Syria and Iraq. I was surprised by the results of my own study, which found that many countries that had been colonized for a longer period are now better off than others in terms of human rights and democracy because certain institutions and values have been disseminated. Of course, that doesn't mean that I want to justify colonialism in retrospect.
Fears of Islam are seen by many as irrational. Right?
No. Muslims are most afraid of Islamic fundamentalism because it sows death and ruin. In Western countries, too, certain groups have reason to fear this phenomenon, think of women, people of different faiths and homosexuals in Islamic communities. And the terror of Islamic fundamentalists threatens not only Muslims, but everyone. There is good reason to be afraid.
Do you then consider Islamic fundamentalism to be just as dangerous for democracy as right-wing extremism, for example?
In many Islamic countries it has already undermined or abolished democracy. In western immigration societies, Islamic fundamentalism and right-wing extremism are definitely comparable if one looks at socio-structural conditions and the function of ideology. One must not forget that in a Muslim minority of around four percent of the population in Germany, around 30 percent tend towards fundamentalism. In absolute numbers, of course, that is less than the supporters of right-wing extremism.
How have academia and the public dealt with your findings on Islam so far?
The willingness to recognize the role of religion is unfortunately very low. The lack of interest in the oppression of religious minorities, apostates, women and homosexuals in the Islamic world is staggering. It's one of the main reasons I wrote this book. There is a strong tendency in politics and the media to deny the importance of religion in these problems. This is correct insofar as “Islam” does not exist. But these problems also have a religious dimension that cannot be denied.
Don't you expect that representatives of the extreme right such as AfD politician Björn Höcke will soon use your book as a political weapon?
I can't prevent right-wing extremists using my book as ammunition in political debates. But I am describing real problems. That is why xenophobes or haters of Islam do not need my book first to point out abuses in the Islamic world. They are already doing that now. Anyone who reads my book will notice that it enables a differentiated view of the topic.
Are you basically not advocating similar theses as Thilo Sarrazin, who describes immigration from Islamic countries as a threat to prosperity and the level of education in Germany?
No. Thilo Sarrazin claims that the fundamentalists are right in their interpretation of the Koran if they take the tradition from the 7th century as a direct guide for action in the present day of the 21st century. He claims that the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam is the only possible one and that it represents true Islam. In doing so, he is delivering the same message as the fundamentalists. I, on the other hand, believe in Islam's ability to reform.
Who should drive this reform forward?
There are reform-oriented Muslims in Islamic countries and in Germany. It's not easy for you. In Germany, too, they are fought by the large, established Islamic associations. I mean: These liberal forces deserve much more support from the German public.
They describe the danger that critics of Islam expose themselves to. Don't you fear for your own safety once your theses are widely debated?
I don't see any reason for that. The book was published in the Netherlands last year. It was well received there. I have also had several discussions with imams. I hope that I can initiate a debate in Germany as well. So far I have seen a polarization: some say that the problems of Islamic countries have nothing to do with religion, others consider Islam to be an unchangeable evil. If we can get over it, the message of my book will have arrived.
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