Sunday, March 30, 2008

Caricaturing Danish Muslims

In These Times, March 28, 2008

By Jacob Wheeler

Asmaa Abdol-Hamid lost her bid for parliament last year after the right-wing Danish People’s Party targeted her for refusing to remove her hijab or shake hands with men.

In early 2006, violence across the Islamic world rocked the quaint Scandinavian country of Denmark after one of its major newspapers, Jyllands-Posten, published inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad months earlier. The images enraged many Muslims, some of whom burned Danish flags and embassies to protest the caricatures of their prophet, which Islam forbids from being depicted at all.

One of the 12 caricatures of Muhammad depicted a man with a bomb under his turban—a move presumably designed to provoke debate about Islam’s relationship with the West.

Few understand this clash of cultures as well as Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Danish immigrant born in the United Arab Emirates to Palestinian parents. The 26-year-old social worker from Odense (the city where writer Hans Christian Anderson was born) ran for parliament last year with the leftist Red-Green Alliance party, but came up short after the right-wing Danish People’s Party launched a smear campaign against her. The reason? Abdol-Hamid wears a hijab and she chooses not to shake hands with men—even in parliament.

Denmark is home to 5.4 million people, nearly 200,000 of whom are first- or second-generation Muslim immigrants. Though Denmark prides itself as a tolerant and open nation—with a welfare state, socialized medicine and once welcoming immigration policies—many of the country’s religious minorities see things differently.

In These Times spoke with Asmaa Abdol-Hamid just days after the infamous caricatures were reprinted in more than a dozen Danish newspapers, following reports of renewed death threats against the illustrator of the bomb-in-the-turban cartoon, Kurt Vestergaard.

What are the biggest challenges that minorities face in Denmark today?

The biggest challenge for Danish Muslims is to be viewed as equal citizens. What I experienced following the cartoon crisis and the worldwide reactions to them is that young Muslims in Denmark are afraid something awful will happen to them. They are just waiting for their turn, and that’s truly scary.

But Muslims in Denmark are Danish citizens. They will live here for the rest of their lives and raise their children here. We have to teach people that they are equal.

Too many people believe that you can’t be a Dane and a Muslim at the same time, especially the Danish People’s Party. But today, many Danes are connected to Islam. Their religion isn’t a barrier to them being good citizens in the Danish community. So we have to view Denmark today in a different light.

Continued . . .

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