The war on the people of Denmark must stop.
It is one thing to be offended by the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September and it is quite another to hold all Danes responsible for them.
For years, Muslims have complained that they are held collectively to blame for the violent actions of a few, particularly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I am by no means striking equivalence between those attacks and the publication of the cartoons but the vilification of an entire people because of the actions of a few is indeed similar. It is hypocritical for Muslim not to acknowledge that.
News that Denmark had urged its citizens to leave Indonesia on Saturday, warning of “clear and present danger” from Muslim extremists seeking revenge for the cartoons is just the latest shocking chapter in this escalating crisis.
Denmark has withdrawn its diplomats from Indonesia and Iran because of security threats. Those departures followed that of Danish embassy staff in Syria who left on Friday because they felt the security provided by Syrian authorities was inadequate. Who can blame them after their embassy was torched by a mob just a few days earlier?
At the Winter Olympics in Italy, plainclothes guards accompanied the Danish team at the opening ceremony on Friday.
The threats made against Danes are an embarrassment and a shame that must be utterly condemned by the Muslim world.
Us Muslims often call on the rest of the world to respect us and to understand the things we hold sacred. Are we prepared to offer that same respect in return and to open a dialogue with the men and women of Denmark who are watching in horror as events unfold beyond their reach or control?
After I wrote an article calling on Muslims not to overreact and appeared on two Danish news shows, I heard from many such Danes who wrote to share their views with me. I thank them for their frankness and I urge you to hear their words so that we can start to move beyond this escalating crisis that hurts us all.
Jacob, a 32-year-old man who described himself in his first email to me as a “very concerned Dane”, told me of his shock at the violent reaction to the cartoons in the Muslim world but also how he had used the events of the past few weeks to look more closely at issues and to learn.
“I’ve learned a lot more about Islam, the Danes, freedom of speech, the cost of freedom of speech, the political situation in many Arab countries, but most of all I have learned a lot about myself,” Jacob said.
“I’ve been through most human feelings, I think. I’ve been furious, worried, afraid, surprised, hurt and touched almost to tears and now I’m actually kind of hopeful. I’ve taken a lesson, and come out on the other side a more knowledgeable and definitely more tolerant person,” he said.
Since those first emails to me, Jacob has kept me updated on the vigorous debates taking place in his country and has kindly translated into English the essays of a man he calls his hero – Syrian-born Naser Khader, the first immigrant member of the Danish parliament.
Naser has launched a group of moderate Muslim in Denmark to speak out against the exploitation of the cartoon issue by radical Muslims. The group is just the latest example of Muslims living in the West who realize they must speak out and stake a place for themselves in the debates raging in the various countries in which they live so that the radicals are not the only ones who speak for Muslims.
Jacob also told me about a group of young people in his neighbourhood in Copenhagen which recently launched an online initiative called anotherdenmark.org which gives Danes the opportunity to post messages to the Muslim world.
The website includes a letter in Danish, Arabic, and English that explains “There is another Denmark, which hopes for and believes in respect and tolerance between religions and different groups of people”.
“As a Dane I have no responsibility for what a single and privately owned Danish
newspaper chooses to publish. Even so, I strongly condemn the actions of
Jyllands-Posten that have offended Muslims around the world, and I understand the
need for an apology from the newspaper,” said the letter signed by the website’s founders.
I urge readers to visit the site and read the letter for themselves. Since its launch on Thursday, almost 11,000 people had left messages.
Kristine Nedergaard Larsen from Aalborg wrote: “I just want to say sorry for the cartoons, but also that it is not okay that some attack the Danish embassies, we need to respect one another and that is something we both need to think about.”
The Copenhagen Post reported that another site, forsoningnu.dk (reconciliation now), gathered 36,000 electronic signatures in its first four days of existence.
That website’s designer, Hans Hüttel, organized an electronic petition that criticized the cartoons for showing “a serious lack of tact and sensitivity”. However, the campaign encouraged people to “make a distinction between opinions expressed by a Danish newspaper and the opinions of the Danish people as a whole”, the Copenhagen Post said.
I will end with one more message from AnotherDenmark.
Henrik J. Mّller from Tّnder wrote: “Greetings from Denmark. If we want a world in peace we must respect each others cultures and religions. We must also speak against those who do not do that.”
Are we as Muslims ready to do the same?