For four months The Brussels Journal has been covering the Danish cartoon affair (see links below), while the mainstream media have all but ignored the story. There is good news, however. The firm stand by the Danish government against Muslim extremists seems to be paying off.
Despite pressure by various Muslim countries (including Turkey, Bosnia, Egypt, etc.), by international organisations (including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Union) and by some of Denmark’s own ‘sophisticated’ diplomats, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has courageously refused to limit freedom of expression in connection with the publication of cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. Though most of the cartoons were far from offensive, Islam forbids depicting the Muslim prophet. So far no other European (or for that matter Western) government has spoken out in support of Rasmussen, but this, too, appears to be changing.
Instead of the Danish government surrendering to Muslim radicals, moderate Danish Muslims are now speaking out against the extremists. A group of Muslims in the Danish city of Århus intend to organize a network of Muslims who do not want to be represented by fundamentalist Danish imams or others who preach the Sharia laws and oppression of women. “There is a large group of Muslims in this city who want to live in a secular society and adhere to the principle that religion is an issue between them and God and not something that should involve society,” said Bünyamin Simsek, a city councillor and one of the organizers. Århus witnessed severe riots after the publication of the cartoons in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten last Autumn.
In Copenhagen, too, moderate Muslims are speaking out. Hadi Kahn, an IT consultant and the chairman of the Organization of Pakistani Students in Denmark (OPSA), describes himself as a modern Muslim living in a Western society. He says that he does not feel he is being represented by the Muslim groups. When he goes to the mosque for Friday prayers he says the imam does not say much that is useful for him. “We have no need for imams in Denmark. They do not do anything for us,” he says. According to Mr Kahn the imams are not in touch with Danish society. He says too few of them speak Danish and too few of them are opposed to stoning as a punishment.
Last week, a number of Norwegian papers decided to support Denmark by publishing the controversial cartoons. They, too, have received death threats from Muslim radicals. Nevertheless, the general secretary of the Norwegian Press Association, Per Edgar Kokkvold, has said that he supports the decision by the Norwegian papers to publish the Muhammad cartoons. Muslim organizations in Norway have suggested that the media should be obliged to respect Muhammad and offered to give them some lessons about Islam, but Mr Kokkvold has another suggestion: Perhaps the Islamic Council in Norway should invite its members to a course about freedom of expression. “We have to stand up and fight for freedom of expression every single day. Freedom of expression is not something which comes as an appendix to other human rights, it is the premise for the other rights,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Islamic World Association has condemned the Norwegian papers that published the cartoons. It has asked the Norwegian government to intervene. However, Trond Giske, the Norwegian Minister of Culture and Church Affairs, has reacted with the courage of a Dane. Mr Giske, a Labour politician, came out firmly in defense of freedom of expression. “The government will not take action,” he said. “There is freedom of expression in Norway, also for this type of drawings.” He said that he believes that issues concerning religion should be approached with respect, but stressed that freedom of expression nevertheless comes first.
More on the Danish cartoon case:
Jihad Against Danish Paper, 22 October 2005
Cartoon Case Escalates into International Crisis, 27 October 2005
Out of the Iranian Frying Pan into the Danish Fire, 29 October 2005
Pigs Do Not Fly, 17 November 2005
Dispatch from the Eurabian Front, 9 December 2005
Europe Criticises Copenhagen over Cartoons, 21 December 2005
Cartoon Case: EU and UN Call Denmark to Account, 28 December 2005
Danish Cartoon Affair: Letter from a Muslim, 31 December 2005
Danish Muslims Divided over Cartoon Affair, 8 January 2006
Danish Prime Minister Shocked at Lies, 11 January 2006
Scandinavian Update: Israeli Boycott, Muslim Cartoons, 14 January 2006