Danish Muslims despair at portrayal

Copenhagen, Denmark - In the wake of the reprinting in Denmark of one of the 12 cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad, BBC religious affairs correspondent Frances Harrison finds the country's Muslim community dismayed but determined.

"We will keep on working for integration, to build bridges. If you don't know who is Muhammad I am telling you please read about Muhammad," said the imam.

He was leading prayers in a small overcrowded building in Copenhagen used as a mosque - with the faithful forced to pray outdoors in the courtyard on plastic mats in the icy wind.

Danish Muslims have bought land for a purpose-built modern mosque, but they say their application somehow always gets stuck in the planning stage. It is one more grievance.

Space may be cramped, but mosque attendance is high because all the major newspapers have just reprinted one of the controversial cartoons that shows the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.

This was after Danish intelligence said they had uncovered a plot by three Muslims in Denmark to kill one of the cartoonists.

"We were all punished by the printing of those pictures," says the imam in his sermon.

He is angry that none of the men accused of masterminding the plot are being put on trial - the Danish intelligence services say revealing their evidence would compromise their intelligence network.

Instead, they are expelling two of the suspects who do not have Danish citizenship and freeing the third who does.

"How does it make sense that a person who is trying to kill somebody is being arrested, charged, interrogated and then released and yet still we should feel that he's a terrorist?" asks Imran Hussein, who runs Network an advisory body for Muslim organisations in Denmark.

Like many Muslims here he was appalled by the discovery of the plot to kill the cartoonist but now he is more sceptical.

'We despair'

Denmark has about 250,000 Muslims - from Pakistan, Somalia, Turkey, Iraq and many other countries. It is a small figure, but Muslims make up 5% of the population.

A lot of people are afraid of Islam today in Denmark and when they are afraid of Islam it means they are afraid of me too," says Sofian, who was born in Denmark but feels he no longer has a future there.

"When the same thing happens again it's tiring and we despair," says Kamran.

"I am hurt, as I was the first time," says Feisal, who works in marketing and was also born in Denmark. He believes the problem is not Danish society but the media.

"The Danish press should have learned from their previous mistakes and the only thing the Muslims are asking for is respect, nothing else".

Feisal says he cannot understand why the media keeps focusing on the idea that Muslims are trying to take their freedom of speech away from them.

"It's the media who started it this time, so I feel a lot of it is their fault," agrees Kamran, who also thinks there has been some positive dialogue with ordinary Danish people.


At Friday prayers this mistrust of the media is bubbling close to the surface. One furious man comes and tells the people I am interviewing not to trust journalists, calling us animals who twist the truth. The feeling of hurt over the cartoons is slowly transforming into anger.

"I will never feel one hundred percent accepted here in Danish society," says Imran Hussein, who has tried hard at integration, getting involved in local politics.

He says the cartoons were just part of a bigger picture.

"It's just getting worse and worse because the daily spoken language about immigrants and the portrayals of Muslims specifically are getting worse worldwide, so of course that's had an effect in Denmark as well," explains Imran.

"Before it was my clothing was not correct, the food I ate wasn't good enough, the way I expressed myself wasn't good enough - now my Prophet is not good enough. The next would be I am not good enough," he says.

Radical Islamist parties have been quick to channel this sense of alienation.

Hizb ut Tahrir in Denmark organised a protest against the reprinting of the cartoons.

Hundreds of demonstrators marched through the streets of Copenhagen shouting "God is Great!" and "Freedom of Speech is a plague!" Some Danes looked rather surprised.

'Nobody listening'

Meda watched the demonstration with her three-year-old daughter from the windows of a cafe; at first she thought it rather scary - later she realised it was peaceful.

She is against the printing of the cartoons, saying "it was only meant to tease the Muslim people and I don't see any reason for that".

Outside the cafe, under the guidance of Hizb ut Tahrir, Danish Muslims were chanting "Khilafat" - supporting the party's demand for the creation of a caliphate to unite Muslims worldwide.

So far Muslims in Denmark have been talking about discrimination and the need for more respect. But the more they feel nobody is listening to their anger the more susceptible they will be to the message of radical political Islam.