Things didn't go exactly as planned on 5 May 2006 when a number of well known Danish writers and performing artists - and with generous economic backing from the local trade union organisation and private companies - had invited the citizens of Denmark's second city Aarhus to a gigantic celebration of "joy" on the town's main square next to the historic cathedral. Billed as a manifestation of "tolerance, respect and dialogue" the organisers hoped that 12.-15.000 would turn up for an event that was in fact a thinly veiled attempt to gather popular support for a condemnation of Jyllands-Posten's 12 Muhammed cartoons published on 30 September the previous year.
Spokesmen for the event had left little doubt that what they had in mind was a rather one-sided dialogue with all the blame for months of disturbances and recrimination put squarely on non-muslim Danes.
The event's moderator, the popular actress and comedienne Søs Egelind, had made her position very plain: The reputation of the Danes as racists was well deserved, she explained to a reporter for Jyllands-Posten, whose editorial headquarters are located in a suburb of Aarhus. "The Danish debate has become terrible," she continued. "I don't think that the cartoons had anything to do with free speech. Pushed to extremes, we do of course have the right to say and draw what we want, but it is based on a lack of empathy for a very large part of the world and for what religion means to these people. I think it was bad upbringing. It was unloving and not humane" (Jyllands-Posten, Aarhus edition, 5 May 2006).
This statement sums up what has crystallised as the prevalent attitude to the cartoon crisis among Denmark's intellectual, cultural, artistic and media elite: Yes, strictly speaking we do have free speech, but it should not be abused to offend religious people (i.e. muslims - for many decades no bona fide member of the elite has had anything but praise for those who wanted to offend adherents of the country's predominant religion, i.e. Christianity in its Lutheran form). And if the media insist on their right to free speech anyway, it should be condemned as a result of bad upbringing.
The unspoken corollary of this position is of course that Danes who have a different interpretation of free speech ought to be taught proper manners by the elites as their parents have so obviously failed.
Perhaps it was this underlying premise of grown-ups speaking to children that kept the audience well below the organisers' expectations. Even more conspicuous was the near total absence of members of the minorities, which of course tended to keep inter-cultural dialogue at a minimum. Commented one immigrant from Zimbabwe: "Why don't they (people of foreign descent, ed.) turn up on a day like this? Less than 1 pct. here have an immigrant background. ... This event is about talking to each other. Why do they stay away?"
Perhaps because it has become very clear to members of the minorities that all the talk about respect, tolerance, mutual understanding and dialogue is nothing to do with them, but is exclusively directed at the "old" Danes who have to do all the respecting, tolerating and understanding.
After eight months of inter-religious and inter-cultural "dialogue" pursued by an impressive number of both public and private organisations, including the Danish Foreign Ministry, it is eminently clear that there is no dialogue. What we have experienced is a great number of politicians, intellectuals, academics, industrialists, artists, writers, leaders of the Christian church etc. who have roundly condemned their fellow countrymen's behaviour towards the world's 1.3 billion muslims. But not a word of self-criticism has been heard from the Danish imams, from the vociferous spokesmen for the muslim organisations or from the 11 ambassadors from muslim countries who had done their best to inflame anti-Danish passions.
So the result after months of acrimonious national debate over the cartoon affair is that the local muslim strongmen and practically the entire intellectual, cultural and media elite are agreed that all the blame must be put on Jyllands-Posten and those Danes who have not distanced themselves from the newspaper's outrageous behaviour.
Recently this position was emphatically endorsed by Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, Denmark's former foreign minister and former chairman of the Liberal Party (i.e. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's governing party). In a interview with Jyllands-Posten on 28 May, this former top politician rejected the notion that the Danish imams who travelled to a number of muslim countries with images of their prophet that had not been printed in any Danish newspaper had very little responsibility for the ensuing boycotts, flag-burnings, razing of Danish embassies etc. In fact, according to Mr Ellemann-Jensen, the imams have performed a great service in calming things down. As Jyllands-Posten comments in a leading article, this position is very close to that expressed by the leading Danish imam Ahmed Abu Laban, the chairman of the Islamic Faith Community and a prominent member of the imam delegation that went abroad to stir up trouble. He recently bragged that he "could have incited a rebellion. I could have raised hell here in Denmark. I could have made the muslims lash out" (Jyllands-Posten, 11 May, 2006). So the Danes had better be grateful that he chose not to be violent.
Like the German occupation
But the undoubtedly biggest surprise that day in Aarhus was the performance by Denmark's most popular singer and songwriter Kim Larsen, who sang two songs that he had composed for the occasion. One was a celebration of democracy. The other was dedicated to the 12 cartoonists, whose lives are being threatened but whose sad fate has somehow been forgotten in the midst of national self-flagellation and talk of sweet understanding.
About the cartoon affair itself, Kim Larsen had little to say except that he found it a difficult issue. On the fate of the cartoonists, however, he was very clear: "All I can say is that I am angered that Danish cartoonists have to live under police protection. It is the most shameful thing that has happened since Danish men and women had to go underground from 1940 to 1945. That is all I have to say about this issue" (Jyllands-Posten, Aarhus edition, 6 May, 2006).
This was perhaps not the kind of response the organisers of the "joy"-fest had expected, but it was undoubtedly a welcome expression of solidarity for the artists whose lives have been turned upside down and in some cases shattered by the death threats that have been showered on them for several months. Most recently - on 4 May - it was reported (www.bt.dk) that 12 holy warriors from Afghanistan and Pakistan had been recruited to kill the 12 cartoonists and were now on their way to Denmark. The source was the well known Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, who has previously interviewed both bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Even though the story was greeted with some scepticism among Danish terror experts, it must be a strain on the cartoonists to be confronted with news like that.
It is not easy to get any information on the fate of the cartoonists. For obvious reasons they are hard to contact, and they are reluctant to give interviews - not least because they are advised by the security police that are constantly watching over them to be as inconspicuous as possible. But what may be good for security is of course bad for the careers of artists who depend on people contacting them for jobs. According to a number of centrally placed sources that Sappho has spoken to, this has hurt some of cartoonists financially. So in addition to living underground, under constant police protection and in fear of their lives, some of them are also faced with a steep decline in income.
Psychologically most of the cartoonists seem to be holding up tolerably well, but others are clearly feeling the strain - a situation which is of course only aggravated by the fact that most members of the Danish elites are blaming the cartoonists and not their tormentors for their plight. The journalists', writers' and artists' organisations have mostly chosen to keep very quiet about the fate of their 12 colleagues. This may be partly explained by the fact that these organisations - in line with the overwhelming majority of the Danish left - are ideological opponents of Jyllands-Posten and the kind of outspoken and politically incorrect discourse that it stands for. Another reason for their silence may be fright or it may be a result of advice from the security police, The Danish Security Intelligence Service (whose Danish abbreviation is PET).
In any event, whereas writers, artists, journalists and intellectuals are flocking to celebrations of inter-cultural respect and tolerance, none of these powerful and well financed groups has thought of organising events in support of the cartoonists. Nor has it occurred to them to take up a collection of money in aid of their persecuted colleagues. This lack of public support must be enormously encouraging for the imams and the muslim ambassadors who set the affair in motion.
Praise from the police
The imams may also take comfort from the praise lavished on them by the PET. According to police spokesmen some of them have been most helpful in diffusing tensions. On 25 March Jyllands-Posten published an interview with the Service's Chief Criminal Inspector Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen, who had nothing but praise for the behaviour of the Danish imams: "In my judgment they have helped to increase our inner security and maintain calm and have only had a positive influence on the current situation." Mr Bonnichsen continued: "They have preached quiet and order and sent a message to the muslim community not to resort to violence - only democratic methods. They have lots of connections, and the muslims listen." Chief Inspector Bonnichsen also expressed criticism of the way the imams were treated: "The are being demonised, and I have no doubt that they themselves experience it that way. We have to acknowledge that there is a general tendency towards demonisation and polarisation in Danish society."
The same article made it clear that the PET and the imams had begun to co-operate a year and a half before, and that there had been regular meetings between a group of 15 imams and PET's upper echelon. At these meetings there had been discussions of among other things the imams' travels to the Middle East and decisions by the public prosecutor. Chief Inspector Bonnichsen would not reveal the names of the co-operative imams, but Jyllands-Posten had learned that among the participants in the meetings were imams Ahmed Akkari (spokesman for a group of islamic organisations that have taken Jyllands-Posten to court for having offended muslims), Abdul Wahid Pedersen and Abu Basher, but not the leader of the Danish Islamic Faith Community Ahmed Abu Laban. However, Abu Laban's way of thinking should be amply represented by his close ideological ally, the Danish convert to islam Abdul Wahid Pedersen, who is so fundamentalist in his thinking that he has refused to distance himself from the custom of stoning.
Muslim leaders were happy to receive this praise from the Danish police, among them the media spokesman for the Islamic Faith Community Kasem Ahmad. He complained, however, that "people were so prejudiced against the imams and the muslims. The imams have only encouraged civilised protest, never violence" (Jyllands-Posten. 25 March, 2006).
Their true face
Chief Inspector Bonnichsen's timing, however, left a lot to be desired. Two days before the interview, i.e. on 23 March, the Danish TV channel TV2 and the French France 2 had aired a documentary by the French journalist Mohamed Sifaoui who used a hidden camera to expose at least one of PET's friends among the imams, namely Ahmed Akkari. He was caught saying that if the Social Liberal MP and outspoken critic of Islamic fundamentalism Naser Khader became minister of integration - a desire he had just announced - then perhaps "two men will emerge and blow him and his ministry up."
The documentary had several other good bits such as a comment from the imam, "sheikh" Raed Hlayhel from the notorious Grimhøjvej Mosque on the western outskirts of Aarhus and one of the participants in the rabble rousing imam expedition to the Middle East: "I think the pressure must be kept up in order to ensure a hate effect against the paper (Jyllands-Posten, ed.) A spokesman for Ahmed Abu Laban and Kassem Ahmad's Islamic Faith Community - obviously believing that he was talking to a sympathiser - confirmed that "we are salafists".
Mohamed Sifaoui's conclusion was that "This group of imams have used the cartoons with the aim of forcing the European societies to adopt their laws, rules and doctrines." The TV programme also made it plain for all to see that the imams - and so far not a single Danish imam has distanced himself from this policy - want to cut down any attempt at free speech that criticises their version of islam.
In a subsequent interview with the Danish daily Politiken (28 March, 2006) Mohamed Sifaoui explained: "I have never claimed that Abu Laban or Ahmed Akkari are themselves terrorists - in the sense that they are themselves bombers. They are something much worse: They are the ideologues who furnish young madmen with the necessary excuse, the ideological foundation for carrying out a terrorist act in Denmark." Asked about his reaction to Chief Inspector Bonnichsen's remark that the imams had been a great help, Sifaoui had to smile: "It either means that the Danish imams have succeeded in pulling wool over PET's eyes, and in that case the Intelligence Service is very naive. Or - and this I'm more inclined to believe - PET wants to calm people down even though they know that there is a different truth."
Terror and enemies' lists
That terror is never far from the minds of the imams was subsequently confirmed by spokesman Kasem Ahmad, whose remarks were published in the daily Ekstra Bladet (12 May, 2006). This was after Ahmed Abu Laban had suddenly announced that he had had enough of Denmark and was preparing to move to Gaza (a few days later this promise to the Danish people was just as suddenly retracted), and Kasem Ahmad was livid with rage: "There is a poisonous attitude against muslims in Denmark. Therefore it will not be difficult to find Danish muslims who will quite voluntarily sacrifice themselves in acts of terror here in this country. I am certain that many will volunteer for these tasks."
Asked if The Islamic Faith Community kept a "hate list", Kasem Ahmad confirmed that number one on the list was Minister for Church Affairs Bertel Haarder because he had been the first to support Jyllands-Posten's publication of the Muhammed cartoons and had been leading the war against islam. Number two was Naser Khader. Then came Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen followed by the leader of the Danish People's Party Pia Kjærsgaard, who had done great harm to Danish muslims.
During a Friday prayer on 31 March 2006 in the Grimhøjvej Mosque, the salafist imam Raed Hlayhel presented an even longer enemies' list when he told his flock that the Muhammed Affair had brought a clear separation of the good from the evil. On the evil side were Jyllands-Posten's Chief Editor Carsten Juste, the cartoonists, the printers and even the paper's delivery men. Another evil person was State Prosecutor Henning Fode who had refused to take the paper to court for blasphemy. Mohamed Sifaoui was also on the list as was Naser Khader. The latter, however, was so low that the imams would not even stoop to threatening him.
Recently, however, the constant threats and harrassment of Naser Khader and his family have reached a level where it has become increasingly difficult for this very popular politician to function. So perhaps Naser Khader will be the next European politician of muslim descent to be driven out of politics after the islamists have succeeded in hounding Ayaan Hirsi Ali out of Holland.
Rumours have even surfaced that Jyllands-Posten's by now world famous cultural editor Flemming Rose may be on his way to America because the pressure on him has become unbearable.
One cannot help but being reminded of another exodus from Europe during the 1930s when other free spirits were forced leave Germany.
It goes without saying that no Danish authority has in any way molested any imam for his open or veiled threats against the democratic order or particular individuals.
The road to Medina
Raed Hlayhel's Friday prayer (which can be read in its entirety on www.jp.dk) has been analysed by research assistant Tina Magaard from the University of Aarhus. Her conclusions are reported in Jyllands-Posten's Aarhus edition (21 May, 2006):
In order to appreciate the kind of language used by Hlayhel it has to be remembered that he is a salafist, i.e. an adherent of the "original islam" as it is imagined to have been practiced at the time of the prophet 1400 years ago and as described in the Koran and the Sunna. Clearly, the imam's ideal is Muhammed's time in Medina after the year 622, when he acquired enough power to act as both political dictator and warlord. From the way Hlayhel speaks about Denmark, Ms Magaard concludes that he considers the country to be in the initial stage on a path that will lead to its subjugation under an Islamic order. Hlayhel characterises his enemies Naser Khader and Mohamed Sifaoui as hypocrites, thereby using exactly the same word as Muhammed did when he first set out in Medina.
Interestingly, the British-American islam scholar Bernard Lewis has reached a similar but even more radical conclusion. As he explained to the German newspaper Die Welt (19 April, 2006), there have always been caricatures of Muhammed in Europe. Some of them - such as the depiction in the Cathedral of Bologna of Muhammed in Dante's Inferno - have been worse than the recent Danish ones. Yet that hasn't affected muslims because insults against the prophet were only punishable where islam ruled. Today, for the first time, islamic judges claim their right to punish Danish non-muslims. "In that case there is only one explanation: They now view Europe as part of the islamic area, the Dar al-Islam. And to them Danes have become dhimmis (non-muslims forced to bow to islamic law, ed.). From a historical perspective they (the dhimmis, ed.) were originally majorities and have then gradually become minorities. Like in today's Europe."
Muhammed's power in Medina was initially based on the so-called Medina Pact (or Medina Constitution) between Muhammed and the city's Jewish and polytheistic tribes. Following the same pattern Raed Hlayhel praises the alliances he believes to have forged with two Danish "tribes", the dairy company Arla (which chose to save its exports to the Arab countries by professing its deep felt appreciation of islamic values) and PET, The Danish Security Intelligence Service.
"What Arla has done is fantastic, for which I thank them. ... What they have done has had the effect of a stab in the loin of the Danish society, which had chosen solidarity with the cartoons and against the muslims."
Hlayhel is equally appreciative of PET, which understands the power of the imams: "The Danes know that I and other scholars are invited to prisons to calm down troublemakers. Therefore it is about time to leave this squabble behind and the others must stop lying. It is about time to say, as the PET chief has courageously said: "the imams have been very co-operative." That must be said even though Danish society will not like the fact that the imams have played a positive role in ruling the situation in Denmark. That is why we must emphasise such words in order to show our rights."
Tina Magaard interprets these rather cryptic observations as follows: "There are some among the non-believers who have understood how to behave in accordance with islamic law: Arla and PET. Just like Muhammed concluded the Medina Pact with some of Medina's original tribes, Raed Hlayhel has now concluded a Denmark Pact with the tribes Arla and PET. The Medina Pact implies that Muhammed, who is a newcomer to Medina, rules the situation on par with his allies, just like Raed Hlayhel describes the relations between the imams and PET. He considers himself as PET's equal. But PET and Arla should not get their hopes up. They may well have entered into a pact, but co-operation will only take place as long as it is to the muslims' advantage. That was the way it was in Medina, and I believe that the same has been the case in Denmark. One would do well to remind PET how terribly wrong things went for Muhammed's allies later on." (They were butchered after Muhammed had decided to violate the pact in 624 - two years after it has been concluded, ed.).
According to Ms Magaard, "the very fact that PET ... is believed to be on the side of the islamic nation, is a signal that Raed Hlayhel thinks that he now has a role in upholding law and order. His reference to conditions in the jails indicates that he thinks he has acquired a policing function. "Salafists consider it a religious duty to work for the transfer of the monopoly on violence to muslim hands. One should not be surprised if Raed Hlayhel would see it as a deep religious insult, when one day the PET is forced to take away the part of the monopoly on power which he believes he has acquired through negotiations. From a salafist perspective it will then be his religious duty to unleash reactions among muslims in Denmark that may force the PET and the Danish society to reconsider."
No wonder that imam Raed Hlayhel regards the Muhammed Affair as a turning point. The reaction by some Danish "tribes" has enabled him to signal to the muslim world that Denmark has entered the first stage in a Medina process and that he has succeeded in forcing the Danes to conclude a Denmark Pact.
As bad as all this sounds, however, it should still be remembered that despite the concerted efforts of the umma, the Danish elites and the largely pro-islamist thought-police departments of such international bodies as the EU, the UN and the Council of Europe, the Danish population is still largely in favour of freedom and free speech although popular support behind Jyllands-Posten's decision to print the cartoons has dropped from 57 pct. half a year ago to 47 pct. according to the latest poll.
The battle isn't lost, but it's getting late in the day.