The controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who’s been threatened and attacked several times since he drew “Muhammad as a Roundabout dog” a couple of year ago, was attacked during a lecture at Uppsala University Tuesday, May 11. Vilks had been invited to Uppsala University to talk about “Art and the freedom of speech.” About ten minutes in to his lecture he showed the video “Allah hu Gaybar” by Iranian artist Sooreh Hera.
In the video naked men appears in Muhammad-masks. This was too much for a young man in the audience who rushed forth and reportedly gave Vilks a “head butt” before he was overpowered by body guards and police. Some teens in the audience began fighting, while others were shouting “Allahu Akbar.” One policeman is said to have been injured. Three men between 16 and 18 years old were arrested.
There are also reports of Muslims expressing anger against the attackers, trying to stop them from interrupting Vilks. Muslim bloggers and spokespersons have expressed their disappointment with the young men behind the attack.
Two days later someone hacked Vilks homepage and left a message where he promised to kill the artist. Earlier this year a group in the UK – amongst them an American woman called Jihad Jane – was revealed by police planning to kill Vilks.
Minister of Justice, Lars Barfod, has put forward a bill which will increase the penalty from two to four years of imprisonment for people who force other persons to wear the niqab or burqa. In a hearing the bill has been met with severe criticism from the Association of Danish Judges, the Association of Danish Defense Attorneys as well as the Danish Police Union. To date the existing law has not been used to convict anyone of forcing other people to wear the niqab or burqa and in the hearing about the bill the Association of Danish Judges says the bill is of “purely political character”, the Association of Defense Attorneys finds the bill “motivated by a wish to demonstrate distance to foreign cultures” given that “there seem to no unbiased reasons for regulating the jurisdiction by law”. The Danish Police Union has also misgivings about the bill because it will “force the police to focus on a specific section of the population which will probably increase the risk of confrontations” the Police Union says.
Another point of criticism of the bill is that it forbids witnesses in courts to wear clothing that covers the face. The purpose is that the court has to be certain of the identity of a witness but the Association of Danish Judges finds the formulation of the bill problematic: “In today’s courts it is more often sunglasses and caps the judges must ask witnesses not to wear rather than it is burqas or niqabs”. In the hearing about the bill the Association of Danish Judges has sarcastically questioned whether sunglasses can be termed as clothing. The Ministry of Justice has taken this comment into account in the formulation of the bill that has been put forward.
So far the Minister of Justice has not given any argument for the bill other than that it is a follow-up on the government’s burqa-commission which published its report two months ago. The commission found that only three women in Denmark wear burqa.
Leading experts on terrorism think Denmark is developing into a nesting box for Islamic extremists. On a Danish conference on terrorism Ghaffar Hussain, leader of the Quilliam Outreach and Training Unit, said that the feeling of being an outsider and not being part of the society is extensive among young Muslims in Denmark. This makes it easy to recruit young Danish Muslims to terrorism. The Israeli terror expert Jonathan Fine and Stephen Tankel from the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College said that the Muhammad Cartoon Crisis has placed Denmark high on the terrorists list of targets. Also the Swedish terror expert Magnus Ranstorp points out that Denmark is an attractive target among terrorist groups. “An attack on Denmark would mean money and prestige for a terrorist group” Ranstorp says.
The head of the secret service, Jakob Scharf, says there is a need for understanding the motivational factors that leads to radicalizing. He says the feeling of being marginalized is a very important motivational factor towards radicalization and that Denmark therefore has to focus on including young Muslims to a greater extent.
Representatives from the secret intelligence service (PET) have participated in a conference with Somali imams, which moderate Somalis are accusing of sympathizing with Al-Shabaab. Members of Danish People’s Party have questioned whether the secret service should engage with extremist Muslims. Minister of Justice, Lars Barfod, approves that the Secret Intelligence Service (PET) is in dialogue with extremist groups. He says that one of the secret service’s tasks is to prevent radicalization and that this is attained by talking with groups which have ‘controversial points of views’. Barfod says: “I’m confident that the secret service is able to make sure that the dialogue with different persons and groups doesn’t legitimize certain religious or political points of view”.
More and more Danes choose to convert to Islam. Researchers have previously estimated the number of Danish converts to Islam as 2,800. This number is now increasing.
The Danish imam Abdul Wahid Pedersen who leads ‘The Danish Centre for Islam’ confirms the tendency. He says he talked to about 70 Danes last year who wanted to convert to Islam. Representatives from the organization ‘The Islamic Society in Denmark’ say they talk to many Danes each week who want to learn more about Islam because they are considering converting.
Abdul Wahid Pedersen estimates that one third are converting because they are marrying a Muslim, some are converting because of spiritual quests or because they grew up with Muslim friends. “A few are converting as a reaction to the very harsh public debate on Muslims in Denmark” Wahid Pedersen says. This is being confirmed by PhD Kate Østergaard who has done a survey of Danish converts. The survey shows that many converts have Muslim friends and grew up with Muslims. Another explanation could be that Islam is being seen as having a set of values which is also to be found among left wing sympathizers. “In some left wing settings Islam is seen as a religion of justice, which emphasizes equality and accept all races” Østergaard says. Like Wahid Pedersen Østergaard thinks that the polarized Danish debate on Muslims and Islam are attracting some people who want to learn more about Islam to find out whether the religion is as bad as it often seems in the public debate. “The bigger the focus is on Islam in the media the bigger the tendency is of Danes converting to Islam” Kate Østergaard says.
A Roundtable By The Network On Comparative Research On Islam And Muslims In Europe (NOCRIME)
Session 1: The Social Building of Muslim Communities in Europe: Internal Factors
Opening remarks and Introduction by Jean Baubérot, President of EPHE (Sorbonne) and Director of GSRL (CNRS-EPHE) and Jean-Paul Willaime, EPHE, Associate Director of GSRL (CNRS-EPHE).
CHAIR : Dr Martin Van Bruinessen, Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World [ISIM] Leiden.
Jorgen Baek Simonsen, Copenhague University , “Social Networks of Muslims in Denmark and Interactions with the Muslim World”
Nico Landman, Utrecht University, “Social and Religious variety of the Muslim Presence in the Netherlands”
Sean McLoughlin, Leeds University, “British-Muslims Today: National Recognition, Local Polarisation?”
Gema Martin-Munoz, University Autonoma of Madrid, “Cultural and Religious Dimensions of the Moroccan Immigration in Spain”
Ottavia Schmidt di Frieberg, University of Trieste, “Transnational Networks of Muslim Migrants in Italy”
Discussion led by Pierre-Jean Luizard, GSRL (CNRS-EPHE) and Hocine Benkheira, GSRL (CNRS-EPHE)
Session 2: The Building of Muslim Communities in Europe: External Constraints
CHAIR: Jean-Paul Willaime, EPHE, Associate Director of GSRL (CNRS-EPHE)
Jocelyne Cesari, GSRL (CNRS-EPHE) and Harvard University, “New forms of Muslim Leadership in France”
Chantal Saint-Blancat, University of Padova, “Social Construction of Islam in the Italian Public Sphere”
Valerie Amiraux, CURAPP/CNRS and European University Institute, “The Production of Discourses on Islam in Western Europe”
DISCUSSION of the Session and General Discussion led by Tariq Ramadan, University of Fribourg and Olivier Roy, CNRS.