Islam and Muslims in Denmark: Muslims Take Prophet Cartoons to EU Court
- Muslims Take Prophet Cartoons to EU Court
By Nidal Abu Arif, IOL Correspondent
Fri. Jun. 20, 2008
COPENHAGEN — Danish Muslims are planning to take Denmark's Jyllands-Posten daily to Europe's highest human rights court over the publication of satirical drawings of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
"[Danish] Muslim organizations intend to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights," Muslim leader Mohammed Khalid Samha told IslamOnline.net on Friday, June 20.
The move comes a day after a Danish court rejected a suit by seven Muslim groups against newspaper editors for publishing the offensive cartoons.
"We were quite sure that the Danish judiciary would not be fair to Muslims," said Samha.
The High Court for western Denmark based in Aarhus upheld a court ruling that the Jyllands-Posten editors had not meant to depict Muslims as criminals or terrorists by publishing the cartoons.
It said although one of the cartoons, which depicts a man said to be the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, could have been seen as a representation of the Prophet as a violent man, the cartoon did not break the law.
"It is a known fact that acts of terror have been carried out in the name of Islam and it is not illegal to make satire out of this relationship," the court said.
Thursday's ruling was the fourth by Danish courts to reject legal charges against the daily.
In September 2005, Jyllands-Posten commissioned and printed 12 cartoons including portrayals of the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban and another showing him as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by shrouded women.
The drawings, considered blasphemous under Islam, have triggered massive and sometimes violent demonstrations across the Muslim world and strained the Muslim-West ties.
Denmark's main dailies reprinted last February one of the lampooning cartoons.
Danish Muslim leaders described the court ruling as "disappointing".
"We regret this ruling," Mohammed Namah, media secretary for the Muslim Scandinavian Endowment, told IOL.
"This verdict reaffirms the feeling of many Danish Muslims that they are being threatened, insulted and targeted," added Samha, the Muslim leader.
Bilal Assaad, Chairman of the Islamic Faith Society, one of several plaintiffs, also lamented the court ruling.
"I can't say I'm surprised by the decision, but I'm disappointed," Assaad told Reuters.
"We had hoped that we could put this unfortunate matter behind us and that the High Court would draw the line that establishes the limits of freedom of expression in religious matters."
Denmark has a Muslim minority of nearly 200,000 out of its 5.4 million population.
Following the cartoons crisis, Muslims in Denmark and worldwide took many initiatives to remove widely circulated stereotypes about Islam in the West.
Danish Muslims established the European Committee for Honoring the Prophet, a grouping of 27 Danish Muslim organizations, to raise awareness about the merits and characteristics of the Prophet.
Danish Islamophobia Kills Muslim Teen
By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent
Mon. Mar. 24, 2008
PARIS — Danish Muslims link the racist murder of a Muslim teen last week to an increasing Islamophobic atmosphere fanned by the reprinting of a cartoon satirical of prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
"Deniz Ozgur Uzun was killed because of his dark, Middle Eastern skin," Jihad Abdelalim Alfara, the chairman of the Islamic Council in Denmark, told IslamOnline.net.
Uzun, a 17-year-old Turk attending a technical high school, was distributing newspapers in the Amager district of Copenhagen Wednesday when he was verbally harassed by three Danes, aged 15, 17 and 18.
"They tried to provoke him with racist slur," said Abdel-Hamid Hamdi, head of the Shura Council of the Islamic Council in Denmark.
"He ignored them and went his way before they stopped their car and started assaulting him."
A friend of Uzun, identified by the media as Mohammed, said the three attacked Uzun with a baseball bat and a hammer, leaving him unconscious.
The Muslim teen was put on life support at a hospital in Copenhagen with "severe brain damage" before he was pronounced dead the next day.
The three attackers were captured shortly after the attack and are still in custody.
"These three racist Danes were being sought even before attacking my son," Ali, the father, told local media.
"How could this happen?"
The Copenhagen Police Department confirmed that one the attackers had been captured with a gun six days before the attack and that the three are known to have criminal records.
Alfara, the Muslim community leader, believes the racist attack is directly linked to an Islamophobic atmosphere in the Scandinavian country fanned by the recent reprinting of the prophet cartoon.
"Was it necessary to have someone killed for people to realize that racism is on the rise in Denmark following the cartoon crisis."
Denmark's main dailies reprinted on Wednesday, February 13, a drawing of a man described as the prophet with a ticking bomb in his turban.
The move has reignited a controversy that first surfaced in 2005 after the mass-circulation Jyllands-Posten commissioned and printed 12 cartoons of the prophet, sending thousands of protesting Muslims into the streets across the world.
For some Muslims the incident unmasked double-standards in dealing with the country's nearly 200,000-strong minority.
"Where are those politicians who always jump on the bandwagon whenever Arabs or Muslims are involved in any similar incident," asked Hamdi.
"Why have not we heard from Justice Minister Lene Espersen who champions more restrictions on Muslims, imams and minority leaders?
"Where is the leader of the right-wing Danish People's Party Pia Kjaersgaard to explain why three blonde-haired Danish teens committed this racist crime?"
Muslim guards protecting Danish church
Jul 25, 2008
Jyllands Posten informs us that Gellerup Church in Aarhus is paying two men, Ali Kauid and Khalid Omari, for protecting the church. The municipality pays part of their wages; the church contributes with approx. DKK 20 per hour.
The reason why the church needs protection is that Gellerup has an unemployment rate of 60%, many residents with post traumatic stress and other problems, and a general lack of opportunities
'When a church finds itself in such conditions, you must accept many things - vandalism, break and entry, and drunkenness,' says Niels Hviid, the vicar.
'Demographics are to blame for the many illegalities,' he says.
'This is about big social problems concentrated in a very small area.'
Dansk Folkeparti is out fishing. They have taken the issue to Minister of Church and Integration, Birthe Rønn Hornbech (V).
'We ask the minister to take a decision in this disturbing matter, including whether it should be the task of the police - and not a private security force - to protect a Christian service in Denmark,' says Jesper Langballe (DF).
'One could suspect that in reality the church is paying for protection, like when Chinese small business owners have to pay the mafia or have their business blown up,' Mr. Langballe goes on.
What did happen was that during the xmas service in 2004 there were powerful explosions and five windows were broken. A female priest was attacked after having stayed the night in the church with a group of youngsters. Church cars have been vandalized (along with all the other cars).
The vicar, Niels Hviid, seems happy with Ali and Khalid:
'They perform a real service and it strengthens our credibility when meeting a congregation and a user group with an ethnically very diverse background,' the vicar says.
How Pakistanis viewed the Danish Embassy bombing
By Irfan Husain
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
When a car bomb devastated the Danish Embassy in Islamabad on June 2, its repercussions were felt more in the West than in Pakistan itself. Over the years, Pakistanis have become so accustomed to terror attacks that they tend to take such atrocities in their stride. And the fact is that by again publishing a sacrilegious cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad after the violent reaction last year, the Danes had not made themselves very popular in the Muslim world.
The most common reaction to the embassy bombing, even among the educated, was: "It's a terrible thing, but why did the Danes insult our Prophet?" The more zealous Pakistanis welcomed the attack with glee, saying, in effect: "Serves the Danes right!" Even when Al-Qaeda accepted responsibility for the attack, there was very little sense of outrage. The fact that all eight of those killed were Muslims and Pakistanis (one of the victims was a Danish citizen of Pakistani origin) seemed to count for very little.
Two days after the attack, a text message zipped from one cell phone to the next across the country, announcing that the boycott of Danish products in the Muslim world had thus far cost the Scandinavian nation $1 billion. No source was given for this information, but the jubilant tone was clear: "Keep it up!" the message concluded.
It is difficult for a Westerner to understand the depth of the anger most practicing Muslims feel about anything that is seen as an insult to their Prophet. In Europe, in particular, religious belief has weakened to the point where stand-up comics regularly poke fun at everybody from Jesus to the Pope. "The Life of Brian," the hilarious 1970s comedy by Monty Python parodying Christ's life and times, remains an iconic film. For a generation brought up in this utterly secular environment where belief is an insignificant aspect of life, Muslim reaction to a few badly drawn cartoons in an unknown Danish newspaper has been absolutely baffling.
While Europe has been growing away from its religious moorings, Islam has been witnessing a resurgence. Younger Muslims are, by and large, much more rigid in their faith than their parents were. At the same time, countries like Pakistan have fewer contacts with the West at the personal level. This growing distance has made it easier for extremists to demonize the West, casting it in the role of Islam's arch-enemy. Thus, each conflict involving Muslims is presented as an anti-Muslim conspiracy, whether it is the Western presence in Afghanistan or Iraq, the oppression of Palestinians or Russian excesses in Chechnya. All form part of the sinister anti-Islam narrative.
In this supercharged atmosphere of paranoia and violence, publication of the cartoons in Denmark is seen as a deliberately provocative act. Muslims would never dream of running similar caricatures of Moses or Jesus, both prophets of Islam, so they cannot imagine why Christians would gratuitously insult the most revered figure in Islam. Even for sophisticated Muslims, freedom of speech does not include this kind of behavior. In a recent conference organized by the Cordoba Initiative and the Malaysian government in Kuala Lumpur, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former head of the Saudi intelligence service and former ambassador to the United States, declared: "I can never accept that freedom of speech is morally right when it offends my faith."
To put things in the Pakistani context, one unfortunate citizen was recently sentenced to death for making remarks that witnesses swore were disrespectful of the Prophet. Under the country's blasphemy laws, anybody guilty of insulting the Prophet Mohammad or desecrating the Quran faces the death penalty. Over the years, this legislation - introduced by then-President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq over 20 years ago - has been used by people to settle scores or grab their neighbors' property. Invariably, the death sentence is converted to a life term on appeal, but in the fanatical environment that prevails in much of rural Pakistan a charge of blasphemy is hard to shake off. Innocent people have been beaten or burned to death by rampaging mobs enraged by rumors that a copy of the Koran had been burned.
Against this backdrop, the bombing of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad makes for a kind of rough justice in the eyes of most Pakistanis. Never mind that Pakistan's image abroad, already at a record low, has taken a further plunge. Never mind that all those killed were Muslims who had nothing to do with the publication of the offending cartoon. Never mind, too, that most Pakistanis have not even seen the cartoon in question. The mere fact that a bomb had destroyed the Danish Embassy was enough to satisfy millions of Pakistanis.
In Parliament, some members from religious parties - their numbers drastically slashed in the recent elections - urged the government to break off diplomatic relations with Denmark. Even columnists who are staunch supporters of freedom of speech argued for anti-blasphemy laws in the West. Sadly, this is not the first cross-cultural misunderstanding between the West and the Islamic world, nor is it likely to be the last.
Irfan Husain writes two columns a week for Dawn, Pakistan's most widely read and influential daily. After a career in the civil service spanning 30 years, he was president of a university in Pakistan for five years. He now divides his time between England and Pakistan. This commentary first appeared at bitterlemons-international.org, an online newsletter.
Muslim headscarf divides, disturbs in Denmark
Jun 26, 2008
COPENHAGEN (AFP) — After years of thinly veiled hostility between Copenhagen and the Muslim world, a beauty pageant and a proposed law have Danes locking horns over one potent symbol of Islam: the headscarf.
When Iraqi-born Huda Falah, 18, won Denmark's first Miss Headscarf competition earlier this month because of "her blue headscarf and her beautiful, irresistible style," many Danes simply smiled, shrugged and moved on.
Others saw the pageant as emblematic of the growing influence of Islam in Denmark and what some perceive as its anti-democratic and woman-hostile spirit.
"The headscarf symbolises that women are inferior to men (and) I don't think this is something we should promote through a beauty competition," Inger Stoejberg, a high-ranking member of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's Liberal Party said in a newspaper interview ahead of the pageant.
Naser Khader, a Muslim member of parliament, agreed, calling instead for a competition for "the best arguments against the headscarf."
A number of Imams meanwhile slammed the pageant as disrespectful to Denmark's 200,000 Muslims, who make up 3.5 percent of the population and the country's second largest religious community after the state-run Lutheran Church.
The fact that the controversy followed on the heels of a nationwide debate over whether judges should be allowed to sit on the bench while wearing the headscarf, or hijab, made it all the more touchy.
"Some Muslims have the feeling they are being pilloried by Danish society," sociologist and Liberal Party MP Eyvind Vesselbo told AFP.
Although Denmark counts no Muslim judges, a court ruling late last year that the headscarf would be permitted on the bench sparked public outcry.
Following a virulent campaign by the far-right, anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DPP) calling the hijab a "symbol of tyranny" that, if allowed inside a courtroom, could usher in Islamic law in Denmark, Justice Minister Lene Espersen proposed a law to overturn the court ruling.
"We have decided to prohibit the wearing of (all) religious or political symbols while exercising the function of a magistrate, because a judge must be neutral and impartial," she said at the end of April.
According to a poll published last month, the bill, which is expected to pass in parliament later this year, received support from 51 percent of the Danes, while 44 percent were opposed to a ban.
The polemic, which echoes a similar debate last year on whether the head-covering scarf should be allowed in parliament, was only the latest example of what many Muslims feel is mounting persecution and alienation under Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's centre-right government.
Although DPP is not part of the coalition it is an important ally that has helped Rasmussen stay in power since 2001.
Under its influence, the government, an unwavering supporter of the US-led "war on terror", has introduced some of Europe's most restrictive immigration laws, which many feel are specifically aimed at curbing new arrivals from Muslim countries.
Copenhagen has also, in the name of freedom of expression, stubbornly refused to apologise for the publication of 12 cartoons satirising the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper in September 2005.
The drawings sparked angry and in some cases deadly protests across the Muslim world in early 2006, with demonstrators torching Danish embassies and flags and boycotting Danish companies.
Another wave of protests came early this year after the most controversial of the drawings, depicting the prophet's head with a turban in the shape of a bomb with a lit fuse, was widely republished.
Not all government ministers agreed with the decision to ban the headscarf and other religious symbols from the courtroom.
Most critical was Integration Minister Birthe Roenn Hornbech, who slammed DPP's campaign on the issue as "fanatically anti-Muslim".
"Without a nuanced debate (we risk) creating many extremists, because the Muslims feel offended," she warned.
Two Lutheran priests also protested the law proposal in an open letter published last week, claiming it violated the freedom of religion accorded by the Danish constitution and was an assault on all people of faith.
"You begin with the judges, and once you've started setting up barriers there is no stopping the process," Torsten Johannessen and Helge Baden Nielsen wrote.
According to sociologist Vesselbo, "the debate for or against the hijab in court has become a debate for or against Muslims," at a time when many Danes feel their country and traditions have come under siege by Islamic extremists. That sense of vulnerability was enhanced earlier this month when a suicide bombing at the Danish embassy in Pakistan killed six people. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was "revenge" for the Prophet Mohammed drawings.
Danish intelligence has also repeatedly warned that Al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants are planning attacks on Danes and Danish interests abroad as well as in Denmark, where integration of the Muslim population is becoming ever more challenging.
The headscarf debate risks "putting back by 10 years" attempts in Denmark to integrate Muslims, Vesselbo warned.
"Muslims feel yet again that they are being trampled on, that they are not welcome, that they are not liked," he said, insisting that delaying integration "goes against the interests of society."