Posted on October 14, 2004

Reactions Escalate In Islam Debate

Copenhagen Post, Oct. 13

Writers, critics and politicians in this country report increasingly aggressive reactions from Islamic fundamentalist circles in the national debate on Islam.

One week ago, an instructor at Copenhagen University’s Carsten Niebuhr Institute was beaten after he read excerpts of the Koran aloud.

On Friday, Iranian-born columnist and social worker Masoum Moradi received a death threat in the mail at his home on the island of Funen, after making a negative reference to the prophet Muhammad in an editorial for daily newspaper Fyens Stiftstidende.

“Some people feel I crossed a boundary about what can permissibly be said about Muhammad. I questioned him, and that shook the very foundations of Islam as a religion. These people are trying to scare me into keeping my opinions to myself, but they’re not going to win,” Moradi told daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The incident was reported to police.

The death threat was written on a word processor and phrased in Arabic. The letter accused Moradi of being a lackey for “Zionists and crusaders,” therefore deserving of death.

“I’d like to raise the bar for what can be openly discussed. In the same way that people discussed Christianity, I think we ought to be able to talk about the prophet Muhammad as a historical personage, and create a forum for debate in which people can speak freely,” said Masoum Moradi.

Moradi told Jyllands-Posten that some refugee and immigrant groups had begun to participate more actively in Danish society than previously.

“These groups used to be more isolated because of their fundamentalism. But now they’re starting to read local newspapers and take a more active role in the public debate,” said Moradi.

Radical Liberal MP Naser Khader told the newspaper that he had also noticed how well-informed extremist Muslim groups were becoming.

“The image of these groups has changed quite a bit over the past two to three years, and the methods have become much more aggressive. I used to experience aggressive behavior when I was at political meetings, but now it’s moved into the private sphere. I can be confronted with it when I’m out with my children,” said Khader, who declined to elaborate on his negative encounters.

Copenhagen Council integration consultant and city councilman Manu Sareen told Jyllands-Posten that he had also received threats from extremist Muslim groups.

“These people aren’t stupid, and it really challenges our popular image of thugs being responsible for these threats and attacks. Many Muslim fundamentalists are very well-educated, and know perfectly well where to go for information — as well as who’s who in the national debate,” said Sareen, adding:

“There’s an organisation of more fundamentalist Muslims in Denmark that we haven’t seen before. This is doubtless due to the increased polarisation of Danish society. When Danes and Muslims distance from each other, each side finds new allies. One way of bonding with new allies is to find new enemies — for example, anyone who doesn’t interpret Islam in the same way that you do. It’s an unfortunate trend that doesn’t benefit anyone at all.”

According to Professor Torben Ruberg Rasmussen of the University of Southern Denmark’s Center for Middle East Studies, the dramatic reactions may be due to a new generation of Muslims who approach their religious convictions differently.

“For the new generation, religion is a self-chosen project. So they don’t just take offense on behalf of the prophet — they take things very personally. The problem is that many Muslims have a hard time understanding that all values are open to discussion in the Danish public arena. Nothing’s sacred — and anyone who has an idea that certain issues are untouchable is bound to clash with someone at some point,” said Rasmussen.