Bassam Tibi (picture) is a Syrian-born Muslim who moved to Germany, acquired German citizenship and became a professor of political science/international relations. He floated the concept of Euro-Islam, arguing that to become authentically European, Muslims in Europe had reform their understanding of their religion, abandoning concepts like sharia and the jihad. Now, in thisÂ interview he gave to the Austrian newspaperÂ Kleine Zeitung (my translation) he seems to admit that this was a forlorn hope.
Mr Tibi, when you look at the revolutions in North Africa, what predominates, concern or joy?
TIBI: In English they would say it’s a mixed bag: hope and concern. The hope lies in the fact that large parts of the Arab population are on the streets, articulating their unhappiness without fear. My concern, however, is that the islamists, for example in Egypt, are already preparing to take power in the name of democratisation. The islamist movements are the only ones that know what they want. During the time of repression, they were the only opposition, working in the background and with their power bases in Europe: in Germany, Britain and the Scandinavian countries.
In Austria too?
In Austria too. The Muslim Brotherhood have a massive presence and lots of power. They were protected by the constitution here.
Is it not possible to create a democratic state with the Muslim Brotherhood?
They are playing a double game: outwardly the talk is liberal and democratic; in their own circle they are intent on a Sharia state. But Sharia and democracy go together like oil and water. Although in a democracy undemocratic movements need to be integrated, one shouldn’t hand power over to them. We are seeing that now in Turkey.
Turkey is formally a democratic country, where the government is democratically elected, but the governing party, the AKP, is not a democratic party, but rather an Islamist one that rules the country as in a one-party state. 163 Turkish journalists are in prison without due legal process. Whoever criticises the Prime Minister Recep Erdogan today will be arrested tomorrow. The AKP are implementing a creeping islamisation of the country using formally democratic means.
At the same time Turkey is forging a new axis with Iran.
Politically Turkey is becoming a regional power and it is important to have a connection with Iran. Turkey remains a member of NATO, and still wants to become a member of the EU. At the same time it is slowly drifting from the western alliance and building itself up as a regional power in the Middle East, one that is partly anti-western.
Would the EU be well-advised to offer Turkey the prospect of entry in order to prevent this alliance?
That is an incredibly naÃ¯ve belief in Europe. People say that if Turkey would become a member of the European Union, Turkey would be democratised. But the EU is not a democratisation club. You fulfil the acceptance criteria or you don’t. Greece, too, became a member of the European single currency on the basis of falsified facts. And the EU doesn’t make the Greek economy better. That’s how it is with Turkey in relation to democracy. After the Wikileaks revelations we know this: Turkey’s foreign minister said privately we want to become a member of the EU the better to be able to spread Islam throughout Europe.
Are you completely against Turkey’s EU accession?
In 1998 I spoke out in favour of the accession. At that time the country was still not yet under Islamist rule. I still don’t say no but we need to observe very clearly what is happening there. If Turkey continues to be characterised by this tendency towards Islamism, Europeans should close the door. I don’t want a country controlled by islamists to break the EU like a Trojan horse.
President Abdullah GÃ¼l was in Austria on a state visit, and visited an islamist student union of all things. Is there something behind that?
Yes. When he was still foreign minister, GÃ¼l asked the German federal government to remove the Islamist movement “Milli GÃ¶rÃ¼s” from the list of anti-constitutional and undemocratic movements. The German authorities pointed out to him that in a democracy, public authorities work independently. GÃ¼l didn’t understand that. When the former US President Bill Clinton had problems in the Lewinsky affair, the Syrian president asked the American ambassador why Clinton didn’t just have the prosecutor arrested. That’s exactly how GÃ¼l thinks.
20 years ago you invoked a Euro-Islam, a secular Islam that separates itself from the Sharia. Since then, have European Muslims come closer to this ideal?
I have supporters. Last year in Germany they founded a movement: the Association of European Democratic Muslims. I am not a one-man movement, but I have to say candidly that the islamists in Europe, also here in Austria, are stronger than we are. They have more money, more resources. The deceased interior minister Liese Prokop invited me to a dialogue with the former leader of the Muslim religious community. He explained that the association had come to the conclusion that my model had to be emphatically rejected. I said: “If you don’t want to have a European Islam, then you are not for integration.” I stood up and left in protest. You can’t have a serious discussion with these people.