A thoughtful message from Denmark

This message below was submitted as a comment on my earlier suggestions about the Danish cartoons. It explains how the events unfolded on the Danish side and reports on positive measures to ensure more cultural understanding. So I thought this comment deserves to be highlighted in a post on its own.


From: Nicolai Steinø, Denmark

After having just seen the shocking images of the burning down of the Danish embassy in Damascus, I had to check Humeid’s weblog in hope of getting a more varied understanding of the arabic discourse on the 12 drawings. Personally, I find it very important to seek behind the stereotypes – particularly in a situation like this. I am therefore happy to see the vivid dicussions which onfold here. And I would like to contribute with some Danish perspectives on the situation.

Humeid’s quoting his childhood school knowledge in fact takes the story back to where it all started. Last year, a Danish writer who was then writing a childrens’ schoolbook entitled ‘The Quran and the Life of Prophet Muhammed’ mentioned to a journalist friend, that he was unable to find an artist who would make the illustrations for the book. As the book was targeted at primary school level, it had to have illustrations, but apparently illustrators were afraid of possible retaliatory measures from fundamentalist islamists.

The journalist thought this was a relevant news story and eventually the newspaper called for cartoonists to depict the prophet Muhammed in defiance of what it proclaimed to be a self-imposed restriction on freedom of speech on behalf of Danish illustrators. As I first learned about the 12 drawings, I was staying in Turkey. I thought my Turkish colleagues might address the subject and therefore I started to look into the story. I was a bit worried, as the newspaper which published the drawings is known for its animosity towards muslim immigrants.

Being away, I couldn’t get hold of an issue of the newspaper, so I was unable to judge the nature of the drawings. I did read about one though, which I liked very much, because it – rather than actually depicting the prophet Muhammed – displayed what I believe was the true reason for the whole event. In the drawing you see a school child with arabic looks named Muhammed pointing to a sentence written in arabic letters on a blackboard. What the editors of the newspaper didn’t realise when they printed the drawing was that this sentence read “The editors of [the newspaper] is a bunch of reactionary provokateurs”. Thus the satire was turned upon the newspaper itself in a very intelligent and a very funny way.

As a corollary to Humeid’s suggestions for responses to the 12 drawings, the 12 cartoonists have in fact set up a fund financed by the royalties generated from the drawings, aiming at inter-cultural exchange between the western and the islamic worlds (of course this has a bizarre irony to it, as the more the drawings wil be displayed, the more royalties they will generate). And an initiative to invite cartoonists from arab countries to Denmark to collaborate and exchange with Danish colleagues has already been arranged.

In my view, publishing the 12 drawings was an overly self-assertive and insensitive measure. However, in the light of all the discussions it has entailed, I think it could potentially lead to something positive. After all, freedom of speech is certainly not just a western concern, as little as taking pride in one’s beliefs is only important in islam.

But of course – as the burning down of the Danish embassy in Damascus so frightingly reminds us – the situation may also be used by those who seek confrontation. In Denmark both right wing extremists and conservative imams have tried to use the situation to their own confrontational ends. But on the other hand it has also led to the formation of a “moderate muslims’ network” in Denmark, and today demonstrations for intercultural understanding have been held across Denmark gathering both immigrant and native Danes.

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7 Responses to “A thoughtful message from Denmark”

  1. iDip Says:

    thank you, it’s good to know how a dane thinks about this issue.

    After all, we agree that freedom of speech is a value we can’t live without.

    But some cartoonist (not all the 12) mis-used it, and so did the muslim demonstraters.

    BTW, what was written in the boy’s cartoon was Persian not Arabic. They do look alike. I would say the same if I’ve been told to read danish or swedish.

  2. Marianne Says:

    As another Dane I would like to add to the reasons why the illustrators feared were afraid of retaliary meassures.

    Many European filmmakers, writers etc. were concerned when Dutch film director Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death by a muslim for making the film Submission. How could anything justify stabbing af man to death for doing his job?

    Approx. 1.5 years ago at universtity a professer in Arabic culture was attacked by 3 young muslims because he during his lectures had been reading from the Quran. The reason for the attack? – The professor was Jewish.
    The professor did not dare to press charges.

    As resent as yesterday a hot dog stand salesman got his hands smashed by attacking young muslim boys. The reason for the attack? The salesman was selling products made of pork.

    These incidents are by no means typical for how the Dansih muslims behave in general – far from it – but it makes many Danes wonder if muslims have the same respect toward other people and others peoples faith in the same manner as they demand for themselves.

    An about the cartoons:
    Making satiric cartoons are a +200-year old tradition in Denmark and has nothing to do with lack of respect for the person og institution being drawn. Far form it. We even make fun of our Queen and the royal family and they are highly respected by all Danes.
    Any one and anything can fun off and critizised and by doing so with islam muslims are being treated like any other gruop – religious or not – in the country.

    Personnally I find some of the cartoons funny and some harmless. But offensive og disrespectful? No. Not at all.

    As for the use of the freedom of speech in Denmark:
    We have laws forbidding hate speech and blasphemy and slander. A part from that anything is allowed.
    To me freedom of speech is as fundamental right far more important than the sentiments of religious people no matter what they believe in. And I would never accept any restriction in my rights to speak freely just because some people have strong feelings of faith.

  3. Nesreen Says:

    Prophet Mohammad were not a killer & Islam never message to kill but I think the most important concept now is how to prove this not to make sure that all of Muslims are killers

    Thank u Ahmad for your wisdom

  4. Ahmed Says:

    For Marianne
    It is very nice from you to hear your opinion. Definitely I agree with you that this is not right what they did. But let us think from their point of view may be the professor was not showing respect to there believes or the sales man were insisting to sell them this pork meat in the matter fact that Muslims do not eat pork meat as I assume you know.
    However you and I do not know the real reasons this was just conclusions from you and me. But what I would like to say that every one of us receive things from their prospective not from the other prospective. As you may hared as well that after the killing of the Dutch artist in the Netherlands more than 5 Mosque were burned, in the matter fact that some of the people from this mosques were against what happened.
    In addition I would like to add my voice to you as you said I would never accept any restriction in my rights to speak freely just because some people have strong feelings of faith. As well these guys you mentioned are doing the same they would like to express them selves no matter you feel offended.
    I really would like to say this will never be the optimal way of freedom.
    I am just saying what ever I am thinking in or my opinion in a news paper or a film to offend other people and create hater-ness between people.
    We are trying to understand each other not to be against each other and these come through respect of each other and leave hater-ness behind.
    Finally I would like to add my voice to all reasonable voices against violence and speech violence.

  5. Leonardo Says:

    danes. hey, let me ask you this, you guys are so loud mouthed over so called ‘freedom of speech’, now tell me if you can “freely’ chooses your childs name or you have to be approved by your gov’t first?

    yah. that’s right. in denmark, you can’t choose your childs name unless its approved by gov’t. how pathetic. ain’t it?


  6. omar Says:

    My brothers in humanity in the friendly state of Denmark ,

    I hesitated a lot before I finally decided to write this letter to you, the reason for my hesitation was this question : “what good will my words do given this huge divide between our cultures, our ways of life and many of our beliefs and values ? ”. I was discouraged by that question and felt that my words would be like those spoken by someone from Mars to someone from Venus, until I remembered this verse from our noble qura’n :

    (O mankind! Lo! We have created you from (a single pair) of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware. 49:13).

    And I remembered that although my brother and I came from the same father and mother still we were different in many ways and sometimes we argued and even fought, but that did not stop either one of us from loving, respecting and supporting the other despite all of our differences and occasional clashes.

    It was that thought that made me decide to write this letter to you and try to appeal to the common values that we all share and cherish and that reside in each and every one of us regardless of color, creed or way of life or any other differences, after all , didn’t we all come from the same source?

    The vast majority of you were surprised (even troubled) by our reaction to the “unfortunate cartoons” that were aimed at our beloved prophet Mohammad (may the peace and prayers of Allah be on him), and your surprise is understandable, because no person – in the history of mankind – enjoyed such love, respect and loyalty from so many people of all walks of life and from every part of the world even 14 centuries after his death, except prophet Mohammad (pbuh). And because few of you – if any – knew him the way we know him, and lived on his legacy the way we do. And sadly enough, we are to blame for not letting you see him with our eyes, and for not sharing his legacy with the rest of you, if not as a prophet of God then at least as a great and compassionate leader, husband , father, statesman, teacher, friend, and most of all a role model even for those who do not believe in his prophet-hood .

    I say this with great pain, the “ offensive cartoons” were a grave mistake, but a mistake that could be blamed on ignorance or even misunderstanding, but what was our excuse as followers of prophet Mohammad (pbuh) for not sharing his life and legacy with our fellow humans everywhere ? That should have been the best way to serve his memory and his noble cause right next to following on his noble footsteps. Given that , I believe we muslims – to some extent – share responsibility for the current turmoil along with those who started the whole mess in the first place.

    But as a believer in the almighty and all-wise Creator – and I know many of you are – I also believe that it is not too late to make things between us even better than it was , and maybe , no not maybe, I am certain that God has intended for this to happen to bring us together and “so that we may know each other” better , to gather around the many universal values and traits that we share as people and learn to respect and appreciate the little differences we have. Let’s turn this “troubling incident “ into an occasion to bridge the unnecessary gap between us, let’s turn it inside out into a new beginning in a new relationship instead of letting it spiral out of control taking with it our last chance of ever “knowing” each other like we are supposed to . And let’s remember that every cloud has a silver lining, and believe me, this cloud is no different, and it’s up to – only – us to find that silver lining and use it to bring us all closer as brothers in humanity and as friends in life, let this be our goal for the next many years.

    As a first step towards achieving that goal, I am tempted to tell you about our beloved prophet mohammad (pbuh) as I know him, unfortunately , I would need thousands of pages and many lifetimes and I would still do him no justice, not only because he is MY prophet, he is, but also because even in the hardest moments in his precious life, he never lost faith in others , not even in his sworn enemies. I will not try to recite his life story to you, neither will i talk about him as one of his followers, I will pick a single great scene from among many great scenes in his honorable life and let you see for yourselves who prophet mohammad (pbuh) really was.

    The scene takes place in the city of Mecca, his birth place, the city prophet mohammad (pbuh) loved more than any place on earth. He has just returned to Mecca 10 years after its people forced him to leave it and migrate to the city of medina. 10 years ago on his way to medina and as he stood on a hill on the outskirts of Mecca , prophet mohammad (pbuh) turned towards Mecca with tears running down his face and said : “Allah knows you are the most beloved city to my heart, and if it wasn’t for your people who forced me to leave you I would have never left”. And now, 10 years later, the prophet returns to his beloved city Mecca a victorious conqueror with an army of 10,000 faithful followers. He entered the city on his camel with his head bowed in humiliation to Allah.

    He returned to the city and its people who tortured, and killed his followers, and who – at one time – starved him and his followers for 3 whole years after which his most beloved wife “khadija” died, its people who tried to kill him many times ,and who finally forced him out of it for 10 years. It was because of all those reasons that when his army was entering the fallen city some muslims said : “today is the day of slaughter “, when the prophet heard that he frowned at the person who said that and said to him : “no! today is the day of mercy”.

    After entering the city which completely surrendered to him, he gathered the Meccans in one place and addressed them all saying : “oh people of Mecca, what do you think I am going to do with you ?”.

    knowing their history with the prophet and remembering all the horrible treatment to which they subjected him and his followers for 13 years, the Meccans had little to hope for, they knew he was going to punish them for what they did ,because that is what they would have done had things gone the other way. But they also knew who Mohammad was, he was the gentle and peaceful man they all called “the honest one”, and maybe that thought alone gave them a glimpse of hope amidst all the desperation they were in and made them reply to his question saying :

    “you are a noble brother and a noble cousin”.

    The prophet looked at them with a smile on his face and said : “go, you are free”.

    I can not help but shiver every time I try to picture that scene in my mind, and I always wondered where does a man get such power to forgive masses of people who has shown him no mercy or understanding, and who hurt him in every way imaginable! Then I remember that he was not just a man, he was prophet Mohammad (pbuh), and I wonder no more.

    With this one scene from the life of the prophet I extend my hand to you as a muslim and as a fellow human being, hoping you would do the same and extend your hands to me across the gap that separates us and then together we can build a new bridge of understanding and respect , a bridge that would – in times of disagreement and misunderstanding- always remind us that we – after all – are but brothers in humanity and friends in life.

  7. aysun Says:

    first ı want to thank omer for hıs wonderfull message that summarize every thıng.ıf we understand mohammed completely,there will be no argument.as a muslım ı read bible to know chrıstıans better and ıf you want to understand us you can read our holy book whıch also give informatıon about saint jesus and hıs mother meryem.and may be you dont know we not only bellıeve mohammed but also jesus as muslims

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