Sunday, January 08, 2006

NYTIMES wades into the Danish cartoon controversy.

EU: Calling it a flashpoint in Islam/West culture war. Wait till they get around to that German immigrat test.

"As countries across Europe grapple with how to assimilate their growing Muslim populations in the post-9/11 world, Denmark has become an unlikely flashpoint in the escalating culture wars between Islam and the West. The publication of the cartoons in late September has provoked a fierce national debate over whether Denmark's famously liberal laws on free speech have gone too far. It also has tested the patience of Denmark's 200,000 Muslims. Many of them say the cartoons reflect an intensifying anti-immigrant climate that is stigmatizing minorities and radicalizing young Muslims. In Norrebro, an ethnically mixed neighborhood of Copenhagen where the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is buried and where kebab stands dot the tree-lined streets, Imam Ahmed Abu-Laban, a leader among Denmark's Muslims, bristles at what he calls the "Islam phobia" gripping the country. He asserted that the cartoons had been calculated to incite Muslims because it was well known that in Islam depictions of the prophet were considered blasphemy. "We are being mentally tortured," Imam Ahmed said at his mosque, an anonymous building that looks more like an apartment complex than a house of worship. "The cartoons are an insult against Islam, an attempt by right-wing forces in this country to get a rise out of the Muslim community and so portray us as against Danish values." Mr. Rose, once a journalist in Iran, said he decided to commission the cartoons for Jyllands-Posten when he heard that Danish cartoonists were too scared of Muslim fundamentalists to illustrate a new children's biography of Muhammad. Annoyed at the self-censorship he said had overtaken Europe since the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered last year by a Muslim radical for criticizing Islam's treatment of women, Mr. Rose said he decided to test Denmark's free speech norms. The cartoons were published amid the growth of an anti-immigrant sentiment in Denmark, reflected in the rise of the far-right Danish People's Party. The party, which holds 13 percent of the seats in the Danish Parliament, has helped to push through the toughest anti-immigration rules on the Continent, including a rule preventing Danish citizens age 24 or younger from bringing in spouses from outside Denmark. Soren Krarup, a retired priest and leading voice in the party, said the Muslim response to the cartoons showed that Islam was not compatible with Danish customs. He said Jesus had been satirized in Danish literature and popular culture for centuries - including a recent much-publicized Danish painting of Jesus with an erection - so why not Muhammad? He also argues that Muslims must learn to integrate. "Muslims who come here reject our culture," he said. "Muslim immigration is a way for Muslims to conquer us, just as they have done for the past 1,400 years."
Rose succeeded beyond anything he could dream of happening.
Muslim leaders say that such talk helped create the atmosphere that allowed the cartoons to be published. And they contend that it is alienating the people the Danish People's Party says it wants to assimilate. In a sign that some Muslims are becoming radicalized, Danish counterterrorism officials say more young Danish Muslims are being drawn to Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, which seeks the unification of all Muslim countries under one leader and Shariah, the Islamic legal code. The group, which distributes literature at mosques and on the Internet, is banned in most of the Muslim world, as well as in Russia and Germany. But because its main weapon is ideology rather than explosives, Danish officials say, it is allowed to operate in Denmark under the same permissive rules that allowed the publication of the cartoons. Under Danish law, inciting someone to commit an act of terror is illegal, but spouting vitriol against the West or satirizing Muhammad is not. The State Prosecutor's Office investigated the group in spring 2004 and decided not to ban it because it had not broken the law. The free speech debate and the concerns over Hizb ut-Tahrir swept through Denmark's public schools last month when the imam's 17-year-old son, Taim, was expelled from Vester Borgerdyd School, after teachers overheard him giving sermons calling for the destruction of Israel and assailing Danish democracy during Friday Prayer at the school. The imam said his son became radicalized after being recruited by Hizb ut-Tahrir. He said he opposed his son's sermons and had told his son to leave the house for defying him. But he also criticized the ruling that followed: a committee of mostly Christian rectors banned Friday Prayer at public schools across Denmark. "They are trying to turn Denmark into a banana republic," said Imam Ahmed. "How is it O.K. to publish the cartoons, yet my son is portrayed as an ayatollah?"
I think calling for the destruction of Israel and berating democracy and you admitting he is radicalized helps to flesh out the portrayal. But to blame political talk and cartoons on helping to radicalize young Muslim again goes to the stereotype of Muslims being able to go from normal to jihad fighter in a blink of an eye. They have to be susceptible to these radical teachings and that falls on the Muslim community who is allowing it to happen. You live in the West and it comes with various ways and norms that may not fit in where you came from. Calling for the host country to bend to your needs and wants only ticks off the population and creates the image of you being intolerant, not them.
At Vester Borgerdyd School, where the walls are lined with photographs of smiling students in Muslim dress, the headmistress, Anne Birgitte Rasmussen, said that Taim Abu-Laban had attracted a following and that she had feared his sermons would raise tensions among the school's more moderate Muslims. "The tone of the political debate in this country, the talk about Muslims and immigrants, is making it very difficult for us," she said. Mr. Rose, the editor, said free speech, no matter how radical, should be allowed to flourish, from all varieties of perspectives. "Muslims should be allowed to burn the Danish flag in a public square if that's within the boundaries of the law," he said. "Though I think this would be a strange signal to the Danish people who have hosted them."

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