Copyrighted material


by Sanjay Suri

on February Muslim cartoon protests

(IPS) COPENHAGEN -- Danish Muslims were taken aback by the violence publication of the Prophet Mohammad caricatures triggered around the world. But many say the controversy has prompted new discussion and acceptance of local Muslims.

"A lot of positive things have come out of it," author Rushy Rashid Hojberg told IPS. "Some of the good things that have come out of this crisis is that the debate is out in the open, a lot of Muslims who never joined in the public debate have now come upfront and are saying loudly and clearly that I'm a Muslim, I'm a democrat, I'm a Danish citizen, and my loyalties belong to Denmark."

Was the controversy over the publications of cartoons of Prophet Mohammad a blessing in disguise?

"With so much disaster and explosion around I wouldn't say so, but then again it has made the debate come out in the open," said Hojberg, who is of Pakistani origin and has a Danish husband. "You are discussing more constructively today than you were doing six months ago."

Muslims are beginning to head more into the mainstream of public debate, and many Danes are more accepting of them, said Rushy, who has written two books around issues of cultural acceptance. "There has been a bigger focus on these issues, and the focus is that well, Muslims have their own customs and values, and they should be respected."

Muslims comprise about 2 percent of the population of 5.4 million. But the cartoons controversy has made integration of this minority into the mainstream a new national priority.

"Two months after this crisis, we feel that the Danish people begin to understand us better and we try to do some bridge between the Muslim community and the Danish community," Mahmad Khatib, principal of the Islamic DIA Private School, told IPS. "It is better now and may be much better in the future."

Acceptance is at the heart of the new change -- and an old dilemma.

"We are Danish citizens on one side, and on the other side we are Muslim," Khatib said. "We wanted to find a balance between what is religion and what is citizenship. So it was not easy for the Muslim community here in Denmark."

Khatib pointed out, though, that a new acceptance of Muslims is not universal.

"It depends who you ask," he said. "There are different parties and every party has a view of the Muslims. But generally I think they accept, and this crisis will help us and the Danish Muslims will begin to feel better."

The party that most strongly opposes Muslims is the Danish People's Party, a partner in the ruling coalition. But a new wave of tolerance could be sweeping Denmark.

"Three months ago when this crisis started I heard people saying we don't want any Muslims to be a part of our company," Rushy said. "Today I see it's become trendy to hire Muslims or people with other backgrounds. Because this globalization has come to Denmark now."

Indeed, massive peace demonstrations across Denmark followed the cartoons controversy. The demonstrations calling for a new brotherhood with Muslims were far larger than the relatively small anti-Muslim protests.

"At the moment on one of the national Danish television channels we have a girl with a hijab (Islamic head dress), and that has really created a debate," Rushy said. "But most of the people are saying, well, it's her choice, and she's doing her job and she's doing what she's put up to do."

Inevitably there are objections. "You also have Danish women's groups who are protesting because they see the hijab as suppression of women," Rushy said. "So there are different attitudes towards the hijab thing."

Some of the change has come because some Muslims seem to be turning away from extremist leaders.

"We have extremists here which take most of the focus from the majority," said Zubair Waheed, vice principal of the DIA school. "Basically the politician and the ordinary man on the street focus on those few we have in this country, and don't realize that most of the Muslims live similarly to the rest of the society here in Denmark."

Added Rushy: "I think a lot of Muslims have not been a part of the public debate, but this crisis has made them come up front because they did not feel they were represented properly by the imams or by the other groups who are maybe very well integrated Muslims.

"So the big silent group of Muslims have come upfront now and (are) showing that they have the education, they know the language, they've been here for ages. There is a bigger openness among Muslims now."

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Albion Monitor   May 5, 2006   (

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