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February 13, 2006
The Traveling Imams

CQ reader Peter A in Denmark sends a translation of a new Jyllands-Posten article that delves into the origins of the Cartoon Wars that have raged around the world for the past two weeks. The true reasons for the manufactured outrage turn out to have more connection to other Danish actions than just the cartoons. The proper context shows that the Muslims in Denmark and elsewhere have much more of an agenda than simply protecting the Prophet from satire and their religious sensibilities from criticism. Be sure to read it all.


They said they would send delegations on a tour of the world to convince Moslem countries to participate in a "defense" of the prophet Muhammed. Instead it turned into an attack. The Danes were described as "infidels", who would neither recognize Islam or allow Mosques to be erected. Since, the battle cry "Death to Denmark" has sounded in many cities in the Middle East. Most of the persons who participated in the tour are Danish Citizens. Even so, they believe they did the right thing when they became The Travelling Imams.

By Orla Borg and Lars Nørgaard Pedersen

The evening of Novemer 18, 2005 was when they finally decided. All Danish channels were showing a smiling Anders Fogh Rasmussen opening the doors of Marienborg [ED:Downing Street No 10 in Denmark] to the Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

To the Imams and other representatives of Moslem organizations, who for several weeks had been protesting the Muhammed cartoons in the Jyllands-Posten, it felt like a kick to the face:

So, the Prime Minister welcomed her - this /woman/ who had written the manuscript for "Submission Part 1", a film highly critical of Islam. But the ambassadors of 11 Moslem countries who had asked so pleadingly to meet him regarding the caricatures of the prophet Muhammed, were not granted an audience.

This was the straw that broke the camel's back.

The inflamed Danish Moslems who had organized in the network "Moslems for the Prophet in the Media" decided to enter phase two: The international phase with travelling delegations to the Middle East, since their first strategy - national actions within the borders of Denmark - had led them nowhere.

Since October 2, 2005 - two days after the publication of the drawings - they had tried to make the Jyllands-Posten and the Danish government apologize for the drawings and ensure that there would be no repetitions. They had collected 17000 signatures. They had organized a demonstration numbering more than 3000 on Rådhuspladsen in Copenhagen. They had written to the Ministry of Culture from which they had not even received an answer. And lastly 11 ambassadors had co-authored a letter asking to meet the Prime Minister to discuss the matter.

All in vain.


The 27 organizations called for an emergency meeting where it was decided to put together delegations who would "visit the Islamic World in order to inform them of the danger inherent in the situation and convince them to join
in the defense and the support of our prophet," as the published mission statement of the delegations had it.

But this defensive action evolved into an attack on Denmark - with the connivance of the diplomats of Moslem countries in Denmark.

In the middle of November representatives of the Moslem organizations first met the Moslem ambassadors in Copenhagen. Mona Omar, the Ambassador of Egypt - who was later elected spokesman of the 11 ambassadors - in November received a handful of representatives of the Moslem organizations. They presented to her the plan of sending delegations to the Middle East. The embassy approved of the idea and arranged for them to meet in Cairo
Muhammed Shaaban, an advisor to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, former Ambassador and a member of the board of the Danish-Egyptian institute for Dialogue in Cairo. The Egyptian embassy also helped with visas and provided contact to the League of Arab States in Cairo.

Two main delegations were sent in the first round. The first delegation of five landed in Egypt on December 3, 2005 and returned December 11, 2005. The second delegation comprising four Danish Moslems travelled to Lebanon December 17, 2005 and returned to Denmark December 31, 2005. During that time, Imam Ahmed Akkari from the Lebanon delegation visited Syria to present their case to Grand Mufti Ahmed Badr-Eddine Hassoun. Furthermore a smaller delegation travelled to Turkey while individuals visited Sudan, Morocco and Algeria.

The fact that the two main delegations were sent to Lebanon and Egypt, Imam Ahmed Akkari ascribes to several factors: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports 'The Arab Initiative', designed to improve cooperation in the
Middle East, and specifically on Lebanon. Furthermore they noted that Lebanon, in spite of civil war, had diverse religious communities, which might increase the likeliness of their being understood. And when Nicholas Sarkozy specifically had visited the Grand Mufti Muhammed Said Tantawi in Cairo during the debate over hijabs - headscarves - in France, it had made a great impression on them. And finally, several of the members of the delegation descend from the two countries: The businessman Ahmed Harby and Nour-Edin Fattah of the first
delegation are of Egyptian descent while Raed Hlayhel and Ahmed Akkari of the second delegation are of Lebanese descent.


According to Ahmed Akkari, one of the goals of the delegations was to avoid "a new Van Gogh-case" - referring to the Dutch director who was murdered by an Islamist extremist in 2004. "The trip to Egypt was needed to create a response to be used in Denmark," Ahmed Akkari says.

The delegations brought stacks of a document 43 pages long containing pages of text and photos. The document contained the 12 cartoons from the Jyllands-Posten, 10 cartoons from the Weekendavisen and 4 derogatory photos, which according to the Moslems had been sent anonymously to Moslems in Denmark.

The delegation to Egypt achieved a great impact. It was headed by Abu Bashar of The Community of Islam and amongst the leaders were also leaders of Pakistani and Turkish organizations. During the meeting with the League of Arab States, which took place on December 11, 2005, the Danish Imam Abu Bashar showed the photo depicting the prophet as a pig.

Alaa Roushdy, the first secretary of Amr Moussa, participated in the meeting. The two Danish-Moslem representatives described the pig photo. They also talked about an announced movie critical of Islam, to be produced by Denmark, says Alaa Roushdy. The alleged movie was later to be one of many untrue
rumours to circulate in the Middle East.

The delegation also met the presidentially appointed Grand Mufti Muhammed Said Tantawy, who is also the leader of Al Azhar University, one of the world most renowned institutes for higher learning in the Sunni Moslem world.


The Grand Mufti released a statement condemning the cartoons. A fatwa to boycot Danish goods was threatened unless the drawing were withdrawn. And more important: The Egyptian Foreign Minister promised to raise the issue during the coming islamic conference when the 57 countries of the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) was to meet at the end of December. Symbolically, it was to be in Mecca - the home of Muhammed - that things
took a turn.

The second delegation got the Lebanese Foreign Minister, Fawzi Salloukh, to contact his Egyptian counterpart in view of a common response. The third and lesser delegation travelled to Turkey. Led by Zeki Kocer of DMGT - a union of Turkish immigrant organization - it is unknown with whom they met.

In none of the countries visited by the delegations did demonstrators take to the street. But a meeting in Mekka set wheels in motion.

The 57 Moslem countries of the OIC met in the home city of Muhammed in December. The Egyptian Foreign Minister brought the 43 pages from the Danish Delegation. The cartoons of Muhammed circulated in the corridors and became THE topic of conversation during the conference. In the final communiqué, the OIC noted that the 57 countries were worried about the growing hatred against Islam and condemned "the latest incident where the media of some countries have desecrated the holy prophet Muhammed."

Now the case had gained traction.

The end of January saw protests against Denmark erupting volcanically. First came the boycot of Danish products in Saudi-Arabia and Kuwait beginning January 26, 2006 - a boycot which quickly spread to other Islamic countries. After that, the cartoons became the theme of the Friday Sermon everywhere. The same weekend Moslem protesters burned down down the Danish embassy in Syria, attacked the offices of the Danish deputation in Beirut and since then death threats have been made against Danes in several Moslem countries.

Thursday the ninth, the beginning of the Ashura holidays in the Shiite world, the cry went out "Death to Denmark" in Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon.


In Denmark criticism of the delegations has grown. They have been accused of showing false cartoons and spreading disinformation. But the 43 pages the delegations brough with them contained a text that has gone unnoticed so far.

The text labels the Danes as "Infidels"

"Though they are nominally Christian, secularization has submerged them to a degree where to say that they are infidels would not be a lie." Furthermore the text contains to specific disinformations.

* Of the situation of the Moslems in Denmark: "Those of the true faith are opressed in a number of ways, mainly the
Islamic faith is not officially recognized in Denmark."

* Of mosques in Denmark: "Which brings about a series of problems; most significantly permissions to build mosques are not granted and Moslems thus have to reuse old commercial properties and storage facilities as places of worship."

This information is wrong:

* The Ministry of Religion recognizes 19 Islamic denominations in Denmark.

* No Moslems are prevented from building Mosques. That it has not happened is caused by fraternal dissent in the Moslem communities: Agreement can not be reached as to who is to run the Mosque and thus sufficient money has not been raised for the building of a mosque.

The debate about the delegations runs high. Few defend them. Some do, including one of the 11 ambassadors which thePrime Minister declined to meet. The Ambassador wishes to remain anonymous but says: "We encouraged none of the actions the delegations took, nor did they encourage us. They made their own choices and none of the ambassadors participated in any of their meetings. People are now trying to pin it on the delegations but it was already an issue when they left for Egypt."

Alaa Roushdy, First Secretary of the influential leader of The League of Arab States in Cairo defends the delegations too: "I have been following the discussion as to whether the delegations hold responsibility for what is happening in the Middle East. But the truth is that the real reaction came one and a half month after their visit." Roushdy adds that the issue would have exploded under any circumstances once the League of Arab States and the OIC had been informed.

Many criticised the delegations. One of their sharpest detractors is Ben Haddou of Moroccan ancestry, a former City Councillor in Copenhagen for the Centrist Democrats and later the Conservatives. He calls the delegations "half treason" and thinks that the delegations and protests have been staged to attract money from the rich Arab Gulf States. "They are fighting for their own Kingdom in Denmark and their own Mosques. Why does the Community of Islam call press conferences? Why do they so want to go with Danish Industry [ED: Umbrella Organization for Danish employers in the indutrial sector] to the Middle East? Why do they want public servants on the trip? Because it will give them a rubber stamp of approval. If they go to the Middle East with Officials of the Danish State, it will be seen as an official mark of approval and then the flow of money from the Gulf States will
be without end."


The members of the delegations reject the claim that they carry the main responsibility for the attacks on Danish interests. Most members refuse to comment and refer to spokesman Ahmed Akkari. He has no regrets. "We never wanted this development or the violent actions which we have distanced ourselves from" (SIC).

On the matter of whether the delegations haven't achieved the exact opposite of what they set out to do, if the goal of the delegations was to strengthen the Islamic position in Denmark, answers Ahmed Akkari: "We will not accept that it was our responsibility. When Bush goes to the Middle East it often causes new riots, but nobody tells him not to go. We feel stigmatized as second- or third-class citizens."

Do you feel as a second- or third-rate citizen? "I feel that the public discourse in Denmark is harsh towards the
Muslims and that our voice is not heard. That goes for me personally as well."

But you HAVE been heard the last couple of weeks, haven't you? "When finally we do get our say, we are portrayed as villains. We want to be represented properly," says Ahmed Akkari.

He predicts two endgames for the prophet-case: Either Moslems will be properly and fully recognized in Denmark or else portrayal of them as villains will be intensified. "I believe in the former. I am an optimist."


So it isn't just a case of a few supposedly inflammatory cartoons appearing in Jyllands-Posten that set this off. This has been a deliberate provocation by Danish Muslims to inflame Islam against Denmark specifically and the West in general -- and it would have happened eventually even without the cartoons.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 13, 2006 6:14 PM

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