Thursday February 4th a public school in Copenhagen held a parents’ meeting on bullying. Fathers were excluded from the meeting in an attempt to get more Muslim mothers to attend the meeting, who show low participation in parent meetings, according to a school leader.
The mothers-only meeting is dividing politicians across the political spectrum. The right-wing Danish People’s Party demands the leader of the school be fired while MP’s from the left-wing Socialist People’s Party and the center-situated Danish Social-Liberal Party says gender separated meetings can be a good tool sometimes. The well respected integration consultant in Copenhagen, Manu Sareen, who is a member of the Danish Social-Liberal Party, says gender separated meetings and events aren’t anything new in Denmark. In the 1970’s a lot of women participated in women-only camps and meetings and Sareen has with big success arranged male-only meetings on gender equality for men with another ethnic background than Danish.
Religion sociologist at University of Aarhus, René Dybdal, says that Denmark traditionally has been characterized by a very high tolerance towards other religions’ traditions and practices but since the Muhammad cartoon crisis the debate in Denmark has been very sensitive when it comes to Muslim practices and traditions.
In continuation of the heated debate that followed the controversial statements on Muslim fathers and rape by president of the Danish Free Press Society, Lars Hedegaard, MP for Danish People’s Party, Jesper Langballe, in a feature in a nationwide paper wrote that “of course Hedegaard shouldn’t say that Muslim fathers rape their daughters when the truth is that they kill them (the so called honour killings) – and in addition don’t pay notice to uncles’ rape of their daughters”. Also these statements lead to condemnation of Langballe from all parts of the political spectrum – including the Danish Prime Minister who said that Langballe’s words “are stupid and generalizing”. Leader of the Danish People’s Party, Pia Kjærsgaard, also said that it was stupid of Langballe to write such statements and that they are damaging for the Danish People’s Party.
Several Muslim attendees walked out of a “Terrorism and Communication” conference hosted by the Danish Security and Surveillance Agency.
A local pubic broadcaster notes that Muslim guests, including an imam, decided to leave after Soren Esperson from the Danish People’s Party stood up and said that Islam is one of the world’s problems. Esperson’s comments came after the head of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, Jakob Scharf, opened the conference by saying that Islam cannot be equated with terrorism, and argued that doing so complies with the demands of al-Qaeda’s fear-driven tactics.
On Monday, the New Alliance, under Dutch Parliamentarian Naser Khader, split from the social-liberal party, the Radical Venstre (RV). Khaser is an advocate of free speech and Muslim dialogue. His political maneuver is designed to combat the right-wing Danish People’s Party, which has taken increasingly antagonistic positions against foreigners. Syrian-born Khader gained national attention during last year’s cartoon controversy. He also founded the Association of Democratic Muslims. Through this organization, he urges dialogue within the community and appeals to the Danish people to differentiate between radical Muslims and those with moderate positions.
By Jeffrey Fleishman COPENHAGEN – This diminutive nation with an offbeat sense of humor and a strong self-image of cultural tolerance is not accustomed to having its flag burned, embassies stormed and coat of arms pelted with eggs. But Denmark has become a target for the Muslim world’s outrage at cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad. The scope and intensity of the violence ignited by the caricatures, first printed in September by the country’s right-leaning Jyllands-Posten newspaper and reprinted more recently in other Western publications, have left this country bewildered. “A lot of Danes have problems understanding what is going on and why people in those countries reacted this way,” said Morton Rixen, a philosophy student, looking out his window at a city awhirl in angst and snow. “We’re used to seeing American flags and pictures of George Bush being burned, but we’ve always seen ourselves as a more tolerant nation. We’re in shock to now be in the center of this.” On Wednesday, four people were killed and at least 20 wounded in a fresh round of protests in southern Afghanistan, and demonstrators in the West Bank city of Hebron attacked the offices of international observers, forcing their evacuation. President Bush spoke out about the protest for the first time, saying, “We reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press.” Danes suspect that the furor over the cartoons has been co-opted by the wider anti-Western agenda of Middle East extremism. Yet they believe the media images of fury over the drawings have cracked the veneer of their nation and exacerbated a debate about immigration, freedom of expression, religious tolerance and a vaunted perception of racial harmony often disputed by immigrants. Denmark is a small portrait of Europe’s struggle to integrate a Muslim population that has doubled since the late-1980s and dotted the continent with head scarves and back-alley mosques. The cartoons were sketched in an atmosphere of rising Muslim discontent, a surge in strength for the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, a commitment to keeping Danish troops in Iraq and the arrests here of suspected militants with reported ties to Al Qaeda. Some worry that anti-immigrant political parties are exploiting the burning of Danish embassies in Lebanon, Syria and Iran to promote a xenophobic agenda. “Racism is suddenly popping up in this country,” said Merete Ronnow, a nurse who worked in Danish relief efforts in Lebanon and Afghanistan. “I’m stunned by this. It’s like now Danes can express exactly what they feel. My colleagues are saying, ‘Look, this is how a Muslim acts. This is what a Muslim does.’ ” Recent polls reveal a country of torn emotions and doubt. The Danish People’s Party has gained 3 percentage points, but so has its nemesis, the Radical Left Party. A newspaper headline this week blamed President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for not supporting Denmark through the ordeal. And nearly 80% of Danes believe a terrorist attack looms. “I don’t know what to do. It’s amazing to see the Danish flag being burned,” said Michael Hansen, an engineer. “It’s not fear, it’s more anxiety. There have been terror attacks in the U.S., Spain and in Britain. We are the logical fourth. If they forgot about us, they’ve remembered now.” Hansen’s roommate, Martin Yhlen, said: “The whole cartoon thing was a ridiculous provocation. The newspaper knew before they published it that people would be extremely upset. You do have freedom of speech, but with that comes a moral obligation. It doesn’t benefit integration in Europe. It widens the divide.” Even Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen seems baffled. “We’re seeing ourselves characterized as intolerant people or as enemies of Islam as a religion. That picture is false,” he said Tuesday during a news conference. “We’re facing a growing global crisis that has the potential to escalate beyond the control of governments and other authorities,” he said. “Extremists and radicals who seek a clash of cultures are spreading it.” […]