Different Approache to Solve the Danish Cartoon Crisis

Amr Khaled’s efforts to organize venues for dialogue between Muslims and Danes have put him under attack, not from Western critics, but from local religious leaders, who say Khaled’s initiative undermines their own efforts, implying the young preacher has a hidden political agenda.

Last weekend, Cairo demonstrators protested Khaled’s move. Other demonstrations throughout the country called for continuing the boycott of Danish products. These demonstrations have become an almost regular event since anger was re-ignited against Dutch cartoons that have offended Muslims. Boycotting Danish products was shortly added to the list of efforts.

Ahmed Akari, the spokesman of the Copenhagen-based International Committee to Support the Prophet, shed doubt on Khaled’s motives. According to Al-Masry Al-Youm more than 2,000 who prayed at Al-Azhar Mosque on Friday called for a stand against Khaled’s initiative, accusing young preachers and their religious supporters of betraying Islam.

These recent protests represent a stream of thought or an attitude that has shaped the reaction of many towards the issue of the cartoons. An attitude, not necessarily directed towards Khaled but a sort of resent that many have developed towards the Danes in general, has swept the country.

When Khaled organized a press conference to talk with Danish leaders, SMS messages circulated asking people to pray for Khaled because he was facing them. Even those who support Khaled’s initiative have turned the Danes into an enemy.

Later on, the president of the Student Union of the American University in Cairo was quoted in an American magazine expressing a wish to kill the Danish Prime Minister.

Although the quote was topic for criticism in the university, it shows that even a student leader at the most liberal educational venue in the country embraces the same hatred of the Danes for plotting to destroy Islam; the Danish prime minister in question has apologized for the offence but said he could not act against the newspaper because of freedom of speech.

“The Danish government cannot apologize on behalf of a Danish newspaper. Independent media are not edited by the government,” said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, last January.

Most Muslims viewed citing freedom of speech ‌as a poor excuse for not taking actions. Protestors and intellectuals alike have pointed out that there are other laws that ban the offending ethnic groups. The argument was mainly focused on the illegality of challenging the history of the Holocaust, while a parallel law punishing those who offend Muslims does not exist.

Regardless of the debate over freedom of speech, a considerable percentage of the Muslim community took it as excuse to put a human face on the conflict. If the Danes and the Danish government support the cartoons, with no thought of the Muslim standpoint, then they are the enemy. Some also confused the concept of the boycott as a strategy and a pressure point with sentiments of hatred.

But the Danes are not the enemy; we can look to ignorance for that. A millennium has past and information about Muslims has been limited to stereotypes. They are Barbarians who will beat their wives and resort to violence in any conflict. Muslims have not made the effort to change their own image. Collective rejection to this negative picture has been confined to the peripheries amongst those who voiced it; Muslims expressing anger to fellow Muslims.

The enemy is ignorance. For decades, information about Muslims has been limited to stereotypes: barbarians who perhaps beat their wives and resort to violence in any conflict. Muslims have not made significant effort to change the image. Except for some individuals, collective rejection of this negative image was confined to those surrounding those who voiced it; Muslims expressing anger to fellow Muslims.

When this ignorance was manifested in caricatures depicting Prophet Mohamed as a symbol of violence, Muslims started reacting. But part of this reaction was in violent demonstration. Burning the Danish flag and invoking racist slogans with violent innuendo could easily be used as confirmation that the caricaturists were expressing a valid point of view. It is important to note that as the global definition of terrorism is often expanded to include freedom fighters, a counter stream of thought has prevailed in the region. It often confuses struggle against oppression with terrorism, which in turn leads to accepting some forms of terrorist activities.

Many Muslims are also ignorant of the aspects of life of their Western counterparts. Khaled has called for a dialogue between Muslim and Danish youth. His initiative is reminiscent of the videoconferences between Arab and American youth that were organized after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11 and the American-led war on terrorism.

While many, who want a global legislation that make offending religion a punishable crime, have accused Khaled of trying to end protests and undermine the pan-Arab boycott efforts, he firmly refutes the claims. On his official Web site, Khaled is quoted saying he aims to make use of the situation. In one of his recent televised sermons, Khaled referred to how Westerners can not properly identify the Prophet. Denmark did not understand why we are angry. The objecting tone is different from the informing tone, he said.

Youth have picked up on Khaled message more than the older generation. Internet forums show a wide support for the initiative, although some enthusiasts still think of the Danes as the ultimate enemy. Religious hardliners, however, have yet to become convinced of the importance of dialogue, in which each side listens as much as it talks.

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