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| Saturday, February 04, 2006

Daily Telegraph Blog Post and Column on the Danish Muhammed Cartoons

        Originally here.

David Rennie has been the Europe Correspondent of The Daily Telegraph since January 2005.  He was previously posted to Sydney, Beijing and Washington DC.  He lives in Brussels with his wife and two young children.

Friday, February 03, 2006
A Danish Muslim activist speaks

Posted at: 12:16

        Last night, for the newspaper edition, I spoke at length to a spokesman for the group of Danish imams and activists who have done more than anyone else to bring the Mohammed cartoon row to international prominence.

        As this blog has reported in the last couple of days, there have been sharp questions in Denmark about the role played by these Danish Muslim delegations that made repeated trips to the Middle East late last year.  There have been still sharper questions about the 43 page dossier on "Danish racism and Islamophobia" they carried with them, in meetings with scholars, officials of the Arab League and senior clerics in Cairo and Beirut.

        The delegations were publicly criticised by the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said he was "speechless" that his fellow countrymen could tour the Arab world "inciting antipathy towards Denmark".

        Above all, there have been serious concerns about three mysterious cartoons that were included in the dossier, in addition to the 12 images that started the row when they were published by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in September.

        The extra cartoons, whose origins remain obscure, included an image of Mohammed with a pig's snout, one of a dog raping a praying Muslim, and one depicting Mohammed as a "Paedophile demon".

        As I report in today's Daily Telegraph, several media organisations, some in the Arab world but also including the BBC and the Australian SBS television network, have mistakenly reported that the pig-snouted cartoon was one of those published in "Jyllands-Posten."

        To an extent, this entire blog is an experiment - as some readers have made very clear, one of the touchstones of the blogosphere is the shared belief that the mainstream media sometimes (often?) does a lousy job of reporting news, at least at anything more than the most superficial level.

        I do not entirely agree - you would not expect me to.  But where does that leave MSM bloggers like me?

        I propose an experiment.  It is clear from blogs worldwide that there is a great interest in knowing more about the cartoon row, and its origins, so bloggers can then subject that information to their own analysis.

        As a staff reporter for a big newspaper, I enjoy certain privileges - one of which is the chance to get people at the heart of stories to speak to me.  I cannot deny that one of the limitations of print media is we then only have room to carry some of what we learn from such interviews.

        So I propose to print here more or less the entire contents of my notebook, after speaking to the spokesman for this Danish Muslim group.  I do not have time to polish it, please feel free to quarry it for your own thoughts.  His name is Ahmed Akkari, he told me he is "about 30", and he told me his side of the story about the three extra cartoons, and gave me his version of the row.

        I do not endorse or condemn what he says by printing it here.  I have spoken to Danish reporters who complain that some of the things Mr Akkari has told them have not always checked out.  In particular, when they asked to meet the Muslims supposedly sent the three extra cartoons as hate mail (see below), he did not agree to the request.

        This is going to be an unusual and long posting.  If readers feel this a worthwhile experiment, or inappropriate for this blog, do let me know.

        Q: I would like to ask you about the delegations that traveled to the Middle East, and the dossier with the cartoons.  I wanted to clarify the origins of the extra three cartoons.

        Amhed Akkari: Actually, these three cartoons weren't in the newspaper, that was written in the dossier that the persons took with them.  The dossier had the 12 newspaper pictures in colour, these three (extra) cartoons came very much later in the dossier.  They were inside, but separated from the newspaper cartoons by a lot of letters, letters that had been sent to the minister of culture and so on.

        [The extras] were in white and black, and there was no address on them.

        Amur Musa [secretary-general of the Arab League, one of the leaders shown the dossier] is not a small child, to think that this is "Jyllands-Posten" when he sees an amateur picture like this one, and neither is the mufti of Egypt, and the others.  They are not people who can be quickly made tense by seeing such a picture.  Neither is the cardinal of the Maronite church in Lebanon, we also visited him and showed him the same dossier.

        The problem is that some Danish newspaper has made a sandstorm about these three, but an expert, several Danish experts, one of them is called Nina Smith, she had this dossier in front of her on television, live in Denmark, and she said there is no manipulation in this dossier, and she had all the cartoons before her.  So it is actually a minor false information that is out there.

        I was with one of the delegation, and I can inform you that we were four or five educated persons with an academic background, it wasn't people who are illiterate or something like that.

        We have given this dossier to all the Danish newspapers, we haven't hidden it, if there was something wrong you should hide it.  Danish television, their journalists told me they could see very clearly it was written in this appendix, what is in the dossier, one, two, three, and it was written very clearly that these were anonymous letters that Muslims got after participating in the debate.

        We have written this in two places, and our lawyer he is called Heverman [?] if you like you can phone him, and he told us: "Your case is very clear, because you have made clear exactly about these cartoons.  We have been accused falsely, and he said it is very easy to make it clear, and you can call him, he's from a big lawyer company here in Copenhagen.

        Q: Were your visits the main reason for the interest in the cartoons?  Why have they suddenly become a big issue?

        A: I think because it was only by now that the average Muslim in the world heard about the cartoons.  If you remember, Pakistan was one of the countries who very quickly responded.  But we haven't been in Pakistan, we haven't sent any dossier, we haven't shown them any pictures.  In Kashmir, they closed their shops, and there were protests.

        I think why there is a strong attention on the case now is there has been the pilgrimage, there has been the Hajj to Mecca, you know the Hajj is where 2.5 million Muslims meet, there are conferences and small talks here and there, and I think that it was just in the Hajj that for example Saudi and other countries may have heard about the case, and thought it was very, very bad, and they began to react.

        We haven't been in Saudi Arabia, we haven't been in Iran or Iraq, or visited any funny, let us say terror cells, or any people of that kind.  We have visited the same mufti [of Egypt] that was visited by the French prime minister a year ago, you remember what he said then?

        This mufti said then he could not interfere in French affairs about the headscarf [law].  This same mufti, we showed him the cartoons of Jyllands-Posten, he reacted and said this is unacceptable.  The same man.

        Q: What do you think about the current reaction in the Muslim world?  Is it excessive, or appropriate?

        A: I think it is natural, actually, because you know Jyllands-Posten has stepped on the feelings of one billion Muslims in the world, by drawing their prophet with a bomb in his head, and by making him ugly and a criminal with one eye.

        You know, we Muslims love Mohammed very much, Muslims [can be] cultural, moderate, fundamental, radical, but everybody goes back to Mohammed, and they say, I am connected with Mohammed.

        The most calm and cultural Muslim cannot accept that I am accused of following a man who has a bomb in his head that is going to blow up in a second, this is what makes the reactions, believe me.

        Here in Denmark we have a debate right now about freedom of speech, we have a debate about drawing Mohammed or not.  But I have seen some history books in the library, where they have some drawings of Mohammed, from Iranian and Persian ancient times.

        Why didn't Muslims protest on those, if the problem was drawings?  The problem was the way he has been drawn, and the negative attitude it leaves in the eyes of the viewer.

        Q: So do you support the right of Western authors to use respectful drawings of Mohammed?

        A: I actually think we should take this debate later.  This has been a debate between Muslim scholars for many hundred years and so on.  Let us just get to a point where we can understand each other, us and this newspaper.  We had two meetings with this newspaper, did you know that?

        I was there, and we told the chief editor very clearly, we said Carsten, please, when you talk about freedom of speech and censorship, because he said to us they were making a test to see if they was any censorship.  We told him please, as well as we are informed, historically, the freedom of speech has been there to stand up to leaders, to dictators, when governments close the mouths of the people.

        But we never understood that you should try to test the freedom of speech on one of the most exhausted, and discriminated against and weak communities in Europe, everybody knows that about the Muslim community.  We have criminal youngsters, we have fanatics, we have social and economic problems, we have a large number of people who are illiterate and have low qualifications.

        Trying to test the freedom of speech against a group like that?  And using the character of someone like Mohammed who is a worldwide character, that is very well respected by many non-Muslims, as a person who had great influence in history.  They can criticise, but to put a bomb in his head, like that, it was very bad.

        Q: What do you think about threats to Danes, and the death threats to the original cartoonists?

        A: We set out our views very clearly at a press conference two days ago.  I am the spokesman of this group.  The European Committee for Honouring the Prophet.  27 organisations, and I said clearly on behalf of them, we do not accept that any Danish citizen should be hurt, and burning the flag is not anything that makes good.  I am a Danish citizen, we also have some 5,000 Muslims who are ethnic Danish, and the flag is their flag.

        Q: Is the flag your flag?

        A: Yes, and I said for us Muslims that [Rasmussen] is also our prime minister, I haven't made any revolution against him.

        Q: Do you support the consumer boycott?

        A: I was surprised it got so far.  We haven't had any influence on what has happened, so I cannot say any negative or positive thing about it.  I have an understanding of the anger, because we knew, we knew that what the newspaper did will bring this anger.

        I was also surprised it went so far very quickly.  The latest developments are very dangerous.  If some militant group goes to church and does something wrong it can really escalate, and make a danger in the European community.  I am afraid if we do not try to make this case end, and talk to the Arab world in a good way, make the newspapers take their responsibility at the same time, it will perhaps be possible for some average person...

        You know in Denmark we have some right wing extremists, and we have in the Muslim world also average people who maybe do not have a reasonable mind.  Tomorrow [Friday], I am going to speak on one of the largest satellite programmes in the Muslim world, on Orbit.

        I have a message for the Arab world, they cannot say to the Queen in Denmark that she should come and make an apology.  You know, I just laughed and slapped my head [when I heard that demand].  It is not fair, because she has no political powers, and they must understand.

        You know, al-Jazeera, on their news they said 79 per cent of Danes does not want an apology [for the cartoons].  But this was only an opinion poll of 500 Danes, so the message on al-Jazeera is totally wrong, it will give the wrong impression of the Danish population.

        Q: Is there a danger of violence?

        A: For four months, we have been trying to take this conflict in hand politically, through the legal system, so we should not see any case, any scenario like Holland.

        Q: Like the killing of Theo van Gogh?

        A: Yes.  I can tell you, if just one person does anything wrong in Denmark, I think our mosques, our institutions, our women, our girls will be a target for some right-wing extremists here in Denmark.  It isn't in any Muslims' interests that this case will escalate.

        Q: Do you think it will happen?

        A: I am afraid, we had a meeting with the Danish intelligence service two days ago, we came out with a common press release, and other Muslims and imams.  At that meeting, they said that the situation is very, very tense, and they asked that we should participate, to talk to people, we said we would.

        Right now we have an SMS going round between our contacts, telling people not to react to provocations from right-wing extremists, like burning the Koran, but I know some Muslims will not listen to our message.

        If you follow our steps from the beginning, you can see we did not start our movement by traveling to the Middle East, we started in Denmark by contacting several officials and newspapers, and the next step was contacting ambassadors.

        You know, if we really wanted war and to make people angry, we should have traveled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia from the beginning, because the people there react in another way than they do in Egypt or the Lebanon.

        Lebanon there are maybe 20 different religions and ethnic groups.  If we wanted a purely Muslim community we should have chosen Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or Pakistan.

        Our good intentions are very clear, we go to countries that we know can make a good influence, but unfortunately the case has gone out of hand because the newspaper has not accepted that they have to take a responsibility in this case, and they have made a great mistake.

        Q: What do you think about the other European newspapers that have printed the cartoons?

        A: I think they do not know what they are doing, actually, and I do not hope they are going to fulfil the [Samuel] Huntington prophecy of the "Clash of Civilisations".  They are saying, ok, let's clash, we have our values and so on.

        Q: Do you think there will be a clash of civilizations?

        A: I hope not.  I have read the Huntington book, and he has some points, but I hope that what others say will be true.

        Q: I have read you are an imam?

        A: No, I am a spokesman for 27 organisations.  I am a Danish citizen, I have some theological background, but I am educated in sociology and pedagogy.

        Q: Do those include Hizb al-Tahrir?  [a radical Islamic group present in Denmark].

        A: No, they are not with us.  I was very astonished they did not react, but I was afraid that this group, of all groups, would use this chance to do something.  I am really astonished by this reaction.

        Q: You are linked to Ahmed Abu Laban?  [a leading Danish imam, accused in the Danish media of saying one thing at home, and another to the Arab world]

        A: No, Abu Laban and his mosque is one of the 27 organisations,.  We also have Turkish communities, and Pakistani groups and so on.

        Q: Do you feel some violence is more likely than not?

        A: It is more likely.  I have actually received threats on my phone.  Also, one of the other leaders of a delegation, some people came to his home and asked his neighbours which was his home.

        It is more likely right now, here and now, any minute that we will hear of violence, unless the police can keep an eye on it, and God protects us.

        Q: Do you think the violence will come from one side, or either side?

        A: I am sure it could come from both sides, because many Europeans are not so well aware about the dangers from right-wing extremists.  They are just as dangerous as Muslim extremists.  But they are very organised, and working under the table, so you cannot see them.

        Q: What is the level of anger among young Muslims you know.  High enough for them to do something stupid?

        A: It is very high.  But not so much in Denmark, I think a lot of the young people [here] have shown us fortunately for four months now that they are not going to do something illegal.  Hopefully they will keep to that.

        Q: But outside Denmark?

        A: You can watch the news, like me.  I have just seen some Iraqi group threatening Denmark, and some Qa'eda group threatening Denmark.  We saw pictures from Gaza some moments ago.

Originally here.

If you get rid of the Danes, you'll have to keep paying the Danegeld

By Charles Moore

(Filed: 04/02/2006)

        It's some time since I visited Palestine, so I may be out of date, but I don't remember seeing many Danish flags on sale there.  Not much demand, I suppose.  I raise the question because, as soon as the row about the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in Jyllands-Posten broke, angry Muslims popped up in Gaza City, and many other places, well supplied with Danish flags ready to burn.  (In doing so, by the way, they offered a mortal insult to the most sacred symbol of my own religion, Christianity, since the Danish flag has a cross on it, but let that pass.)

        Why were those Danish flags to hand?  Who built up the stockpile so that they could be quickly dragged out right across the Muslim world and burnt where television cameras would come and look?  The more you study this story of "spontaneous" Muslim rage, the odder it seems.

        It's some time since I visited Palestine, so I may be out of date, but I don't remember seeing many Danish flags on sale there.  Not much demand, I suppose.  I raise the question because, as soon as the row about the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in Jyllands-Posten broke, angry Muslims popped up in Gaza City, and many other places, well supplied with Danish flags ready to burn.  (In doing so, by the way, they offered a mortal insult to the most sacred symbol of my own religion, Christianity, since the Danish flag has a cross on it, but let that pass.)

        Why were those Danish flags to hand?  Who built up the stockpile so that they could be quickly dragged out right across the Muslim world and burnt where television cameras would come and look?  The more you study this story of "spontaneous" Muslim rage, the odder it seems.

        The complained-of cartoons first appeared in October; they have provoked such fury only now.  As reported in this newspaper yesterday, it turns out that a group of Danish imams circulated the images to brethren in Muslim countries.  When they did so, they included in their package three other, much more offensive cartoons which had not appeared in Jyllands-Posten but were lumped together so that many thought they had.

        It rather looks as if the anger with which all Muslims are said to be burning needed some pretty determined stoking.  Peter Mandelson, who seems to think that his job as European Trade Commissioner entitles him to pronounce on matters of faith and morals, accuses the papers that republished the cartoons of "adding fuel to the flames"; but those flames were lit (literally, as well as figuratively) by well-organised, radical Muslims who wanted other Muslims to get furious.  How this network has operated would make a cracking piece of investigative journalism.

        Now the BBC announces that the head of the International Association of Muslim Scholars has called for an "international day of anger" about the cartoons.  It did not name this scholar, or tell us who he is.  He is Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  According to Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, Qaradawi is like Pope John XXIII for Catholics, "the most progressive force for change" in the Muslim world.

        Yet if you look up Qaradawi's pronouncements, you find that he sympathises with the judicial killing of homosexuals, and wants the rejection of dialogue with Jews in favour of "the sword and the rifle."  He is very keen on suicide bombing, especially if the people who blow themselves up are children - "we have the children bomb."  This is a man for whom a single "day of anger" is surely little different from the other 364 days of the year.

        Which leads me to question the extreme tenderness with which so many governments and media outlets in the West treat these outbursts of outrage.  It is assumed that Muslims have a common, almost always bristling, view about their faith, which must be respected.  Of course it is right that people's deeply held beliefs should be treated courteously, but it is a great mistake - made out of ignorance - to assume that those who shout the loudest are the most representative.

        This was the error in the case in Luton, where a schoolgirl's desire to wear the jilbab was upheld in the erroneous belief that this is what Islam demands.  In fact, the girl was backed by an extremist group, and most of the other Muslims at the school showed no inclination to dress in full-length gowns like her.  It's as if the Muslim world decided that the views of the Rev Ian Paisley represented the whole of authentic Christianity.

        There is no reason to doubt that Muslims worry very much about depictions of Mohammed.  Like many, chiefly Protestant, Christians, they fear idolatry.  But, as I write, I have beside me a learned book about Islamic art and architecture which shows numerous Muslim paintings from Turkey, Persia, Arabia and so on.  These depict the Prophet preaching, having visions, being fed by his wet nurse, going on his Night-Journey to heaven, etc.  The truth is that in Islam, as in Christianity, not everyone agrees about what is permissible.

        Some of these depictions are in Western museums.  What will the authorities do if the puritan factions within Islam start calling for them to be removed from display (this call has been made, by the way, about a medieval Christian depiction of the Prophet in Bologna)?  Will their feeling of "offence" outweigh the rights of everyone else?

        Obviously, in the case of the Danish pictures, there was no danger of idolatry, since the pictures were unflattering.  The problem, rather, was insult.  But I am a bit confused about why someone like Qaradawi thinks it is insulting to show the Prophet's turban turned into a bomb, as one of the cartoons does.  He never stops telling us that Islam commands its followers to blow other people up.

        If we take fright whenever extreme Muslims complain, we put more power in their hands.  If the Religious Hatred Bill had passed unamended this week, it would have been an open invitation to any Muslim who likes getting angry to try to back his anger with the force of law.  Even in its emasculated state, the Bill will still encourage him, thus stirring the ill-feeling its authors say they want to suppress.

        On the Today programme yesterday, Stewart Lee, author of Jerry Springer: The Opera - in which Jesus appears wearing nappies - let the cat out of the bag.  He suggested that it was fine to offend Christians because they had themselves degraded their iconography; Islam, however, has always been more "conscientious about protecting the brand".

        The implication of the remark is fascinating.  It is that the only people whose feelings artists, newspapers and so on should consider are those who protest violently.  The fact that Christians nowadays do not threaten to blow up art galleries, invade television studios or kill writers and producers does not mean that their tolerance is rewarded by politeness.  It means that they are insulted the more.

        Right now, at the fashionable White Cube Gallery in Hoxton, you can see the latest work of Gilbert and George, mainly devoted, it is reported, to attacks on the Catholic Church.  The show is called Sonofagod Pictures and it features the head of Christ on the Cross replaced with that of a primitive deity.  One picture includes the slogan "God loves F***ing".

        Like most Christians, I find this offensive, but I think I must live with the offence in the interests of freedom.  If I find, however, that people who threaten violence do have the power to suppress what they dislike, why should I bother to defend freedom any more?  Why shouldn't I ring up the Hon Jay Jopling, the proprietor, and tell him that I shall burn down the White Cube Gallery unless he tears Gilbert and George off the walls?  I won't, I promise, but how much longer before some Christians do?  The Islamist example shows that it works.

        There is a great deal of talk about responsible journalism, gratuitous offence, multicultural sensitivities and so on.  Jack Straw gibbers about the irresponsibility of the cartoons, but says nothing against the Muslims threatening death in response to them.  I wish someone would mention the word that dominates Western culture in the face of militant Islam - fear.  And then I wish someone would face it down.
        End of Archived Material

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        And always remember Steve's words of political wisdom:


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