Amina Aziz is an author and journalist. She studied Islamic Studies in Hamburg, Damascus and Tehran, specialising in Islamist political regimes in the MENA region. As a research assistant at various institutions, she has worked on jihadism. As a journalist, she frequently addresses the topic of Islamism. We spoke to her about the glorification of Islamist ideology, decolonialism and anti-Muslim racism.
Belltower.News: In recent years, you have criticised the lack of solidarity among Muslims with Iranian women and queers who are fighting against Islamist and patriarchal terror and risking their lives every day in the process. How do you explain this lack of solidarity?
Amina Aziz: Some people have a defensive attitude towards Muslims. They say: Just because I’m Muslim doesn’t mean I’m Islamist. That is true. But you don’t demand someone distances themselves because they are Muslim, but because you are against Islamism, as a person, as a democrat or as a left-winger. The question of distancing must also be addressed to the right people. For example, there are Muslims who comment on current affairs on social media. They are called upon to distance themselves in the long term. Regarding the left: it’s also got something to do with the fact that Iran has a reputation among some on the left for being anti-imperialist, which is of course nonsense. Iran in particular is acting in an imperialist and reactionary manner with its “export of the revolution” and its proxy wars and interventions in other countries.
The whole world is watching the escalations in the Middle East. What influence does Iran have in the Palestinian territories?
Iran finances and organises Hamas and Hezbollah and has a say in their strategies. The Islamic Republic thrives on the suffering of the Palestinians because otherwise it has largely lost its legitimacy. There is a reason why Hamas has attacked now. In Israel, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets against the Israeli government. Many of them were against the settlement policy, against the occupation. Hamas has disrupted this process. Not without reason.
What do you mean by that?
When Khomeini founded the Islamic Republic, he misused the suffering of the Palestinians to legitimise his own portrayal as a decolonial fighter, and this is still happening today. When we say we have to emancipate ourselves from Islamist ideologies, it’s not because someone is Muslim, but because we realise that this is being misused for an ideology that is not emancipatory, that will not bring liberation. That’s why it discredits anyone who claims that these organisations can bring liberation. But that also has a lot to do with how they present themselves.
After the massacre of thousands of Israeli civilians on October 7th, it was partly feminists and activists who see themselves as left-wing and progressive who openly started blaming the victims, while political prisoners from Iran, for example, clearly showed solidarity with Israelis. How can we explain this glorification of Islamist violence?
The reception of what happened is skewed. It’s understood as a “decolonial liberation struggle”, as if decolonisation is not against all forms of colonisation, including Islamism and Arab nationalism, which bring displacement, death and suffering for other local minorities. This isn’t something that can be described as emancipatory. We cannot simply ignore the suffering of Jews, Yezidis, Kurds and others. Again, the lack of condemnation of Hamas is justified with thinkers like Frantz Fanon. But that isn’t correct. Fanon speaks specifically of opposing antagonistic forces. That is not the case here. It shows that people haven’t dealt with Islamism as an ideology to the extent that they recognise it as a colonial force. Apparently, the left also lacks the ability to formulate its own goals in this context. What does “Free Palestine” stand for, for example? That’s completely unclear. Islamists shout it just as much as supposed leftists.
In its beginnings, the Muslim Brotherhood at least saw itself as a movement against Western colonialism and capitalism. At the same time, as you say, Islamist movements provide misanthropic and authoritarian answers to modern crisis phenomena.
Yes, Islamist movements emerged in the era of colonialism and neo-colonialism; some countries were partly under the control of Western powers, especially in terms of their resources. The British and others sought to violently assert their interests in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 and from which Hamas emerged decades later, right up until the 1950s. It was easy to present themselves as decolonial fighters. Yet Islamism is the opposite of decolonisation, because the aim is to impose Islam as a state religion, which always goes hand in hand with violence, coercion, expulsion and oppression. Islamism does not bring liberation to anyone and itself contains a colonialist claim to power.
Islamism also means the oppression of queer people…
Yes, if queer people are fleeing from Islamism, then movements and structures should speak out against it and stand up for the equality of all genders etc., which is not happening. The assumption that what Hamas did on October 7th has anything to do with a “liberation strike” and that people are therefore making common cause with Islamists is an antisemitic glorification.
Historically, the ideology of the National Socialists has met with great enthusiasm and sympathy from Islamist movements. Is there a connection between Nazis and Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas?
The common denominator is antisemitism. After the Hamas attack, it was neo-Nazis who wanted to take to the streets against Israel and Jews. In Germany, al-Quds Day took place for years until it was banned. In Iran, neo-Nazis are regularly invited to take part.
After acts of Islamist violence, people are quick to say that it has nothing to do with Islam. How do you see that?
Of course, Islamist violence has something to do with Islam because it feeds off it. Evangelical ideology also has something to do with Christianity. It is important to differentiate between Islamists who pursue this violent ideology and, of course, by no means all Muslims. That is why not all Muslims have to distance themselves from it, just as not all Christians have to distance themselves from evangelicals.
Doesn’t the pressure to justify also reproduce racism?
The call to distance oneself can certainly be racist if it is directed specifically at Muslims or Arabs in a generalised way over and over again, because they then rightly say that they have nothing to do with it. And at the same time, we all have something to do with it. We all have the task of ensuring that Jewish people feel safe in Germany. If you want to show that Islamism has nothing to do with “Islam” or yourself, then it must be visible in your work that you maintain a distance to it. At the same time, it shouldn’t be underestimated that the fight against antisemitism is untrustworthy if the problem is constantly outsourced to racialised people. Racist policies are currently being implemented and an image of Muslims is being spread that justifies their deportation and discrimination.
But in your opinion, a clear stance against Islamism is still often lacking?
Not everyone has to take a stance, but those who are active, who are in the spotlight, have to distinguish themselves from Islamists and other antisemites through their words and actions. Some would rather resist calls to distance themselves than formulate their own left-wing guidelines and goals that show that they are not antisemitic. Islamist narratives are also used when the suffering of one side is constantly emphasised.
In what way?
Since Islamism benefits from the digital age, it thrives on images of this suffering. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t see it. It is important that we know what is actually happening in Gaza, for example. But there is an imbalance in the dissemination of how Jewish and Israeli people feel in this situation, what they are experiencing. That is also antisemitic. It is true that it is difficult to express pro-Palestinian views in Germany, as we have seen from the blanket bans on demonstrations. And it is also true that Palestinians and Lebanese, for example, are not listened to enough. At the same time, no pro-Palestinian movement is showing what it is actually doing to combat antisemitism so that all Jewish people feel safe here.
There is definitely resistance against Hamas in Gaza, why is that so rarely visible here?
The reporting is undifferentiated. When I talk to young people in Germany about this, they are usually not even aware that Palestinians have taken to the streets against Hamas. It’s mostly English-language media that report on it. The fact that this doesn’t happen in Germany is also due to a kind of racist reporting on the region that doesn’t want to see any differentiation. As a result, people are sometimes homogenised as terrorists or terror sympathisers, which is racist.
Muslims were also victims of Hamas in the massacre on October 7th. In general, Muslims are among the most threatened by Islamist violence. Why is this trivialised or ignored?
If it doesn’t fit in with your own ideology, you just leave it out. It’s a shame that the left or other pro-Palestinian groups don’t refer to emancipatory movements on the ground and see how they deal with it. There are collaborations between Palestinian/Muslim and Jewish/Israeli women, for example, that take a critical look at terms such as “apartheid state”. Morocco, for example, has a strong feminist movement, similar to Lebanon. What’s the position here? There’s virtually none at all. Of course, Islamists and Arab nationalists don’t want this to be widely publicised because it could bring back memories of the Arab revolution of 2011/2012. When it comes to downplaying it, you have to look closely at the reasons: Some believe that any means against the policy of occupation are right, without realising the consequences. We are all more or less socialised to be antisemitic and it’s not as if much knowledge about this is taught in schools. But we can demand differentiation from activists.
As you have already mentioned, the current political situation was quickly used to fuel anti-Muslim agitation and stir up racist resentment.
We have seen at the very latest through the coronavirus demonstrations that Germany has little issue with white German Nazis chanting antisemitic slogans on the streets. Of course, this also serves racist policies if you can justify deporting people or not accepting them in the first place. As a leftist or democrat, you can’t fall for that either. Antisemitism has a very long tradition in Germany and externalising it does not benefit the fight against antisemitism, but is dangerous, as it serves the racism and populism of right-wing movements in Germany and Europe and does not do justice to the fight against antisemitism in its entirety. There is a complete imbalance in the acceptance of antisemitism and this can only be justified by racism.