(Copenhagen) - You have to hand it to them: Few men in recent history have been more successful in creating mayhem than the small group of Denmark-based imams who turned the appearance of cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper into a world event. In a recent Egyptian opinion poll of nations seen as most hostile, Denmark registered third, right behind the United States and Israel, an impressive score for a small Nordic country that is normally known for its pacifism and humanitarian efforts.
Pretending to be on a mission to create understanding and dialogue, the imams set out from Denmark for the Middle East last December, where they spread false rumors of the Koran being burned on the streets of Copenhagen and otherwise did their best to incite violence against their host nation, resulting in attacks on embassies, trade boycotts, and flag burnings. They were later caught on hidden camera by a French documentary filmmaker, bragging about their exploits.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, this band of bearded brothers have continued to enjoy great success at getting their names into the headlines; their activities have been followed with particular interest by the Jyllands-Posten, the paper that originally published the cartoons and has had to live under a strict security regimen ever since. As always, there is an element of Monty Pythonesque farce in these imams posturing as holy warriors while being welfare-state spongers, and constantly tripping up in their own lies. Farce, that is, if it were not so deadly serious.
First a bit of good news: As reported in the Jyllands-Posten, Sheikh Raed Hlayhel, who has been in Denmark since 2000 and was the prime instigator behind the cartoon protest, recently announced that he had had it with Denmark and was leaving to settle down in his hometown of Tripoli in Lebanon. "And I am not coming back," he fumed, as if depriving the country of some tremendous cultural asset.
As a commentator noted, Hlayhel has not exactly been a model of successful integration. Having received his religious training in Medina in Saudi Arabia--where he imbibed pure, unadulterated Wahhabism--Hlayhel applied for asylum in Denmark and was at first denied. But as his young son suffers from spina bifida, and the Danish authorities felt the boy could not get the proper treatment in Lebanon, he was allowed in on humanitarian grounds.
Hlayhel thus did not have Danish citizenship and did not speak a word of Danish. But in Denmark's fundamentalist parallel society, Arabic will do just fine, especially when you preach jihad. The center of Hlayhel's activities was the Grimhøjvej mosque in the small town of Brabrand in Jutland, which has been closely monitored by Danish intelligence.
Among the users of the mosque were Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane, the so-called Guantánamo Dane--a holy warrior of Danish/Algerian parentage who was caught by American troops in Afghanistan--and Abu Rached, who has been identified by Spanish prosecutors as one of al Qaeda's main operatives in Europe.
What prompted Hlayhel's decision to pull up his tent pegs? He lost his lawsuit against the Jyllands-Posten for having printed the cartoons. And in matters like these, family considerations are clearly secondary. About his invalid son, who was receiving free care from the Danish national health system, Hlayhel stated, "His Muslim identity is more important than his treatment. I think all Muslims should live in a Muslim country. Farewell Denmark."
But before the Danes get too relieved, intelligence experts cited in the Jyllands-Posten warned that the sheikh can still make mischief from the Middle East. In his last prayer in Denmark, Hlayhel denounced the pope, warned against repetitions of the cartoons, and threatened retaliation: "We are people who love death and will sacrifice ourselves before Allah's feet. Do not repeat the tragedy, or else it will become a tragedy for you and the whole world."
Meanwhile, Hlayhel's fellow demagogue Ahmed Abu Laban, a Palestinian refugee who came to Denmark in 1984 and who is also not a Danish citizen, has written a book about the traveling imams' achievements entitled The Jyllands-Posten Crisis, which has come out so far only in Arabic and has been published in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm.
Laban rails against a new group in Denmark called the Democratic Muslims, which was created in the wake of the cartoon crisis and whose leader, Naser Khader, he describes as "a rat" and "an apostate." This, according to a scholar cited in the Jyllands-Posten, amounts to a death threat, as in the fundamentalist view apostasy is a capital crime. Democratic Muslims are further characterized in the book as "such nice people, clean shaven, very clever, who are ready to have sex in the park, whenever they feel like it." The phrase "sex in the park" is common Arab code for homosexuality, which in sharia law also merits a death sentence.
Laban's name has been linked to Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric who in 1993 was behind the first bombing of the World Trade Center; to Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the planners of 9/11; and to Mohammed al-Fizazi, who was responsible for the 2003 Casablanca bombing. Laban at one point also claimed knowledge of an imminent terror operation on Danish soil.
His purpose with the book is to strengthen his own claims to leadership in the highly competitive world of extremist imams. Laban has also threatened in the past to leave Denmark, but, alas, thought better of it.
Downy bearded youth was also represented in the traveling cartoon road show in the person of 28-year-old Ahmed Akkari, who makes up for his tiny stature and squeaky voice with his great persistence. Akkari was born in Lebanon but has obtained Danish citizenship and is fluent in Danish. Among his political prognostications is that the leader of the Democratic Muslims would be blown up, should he ever become a government minister.
Most Danes were of the impression that Akkari had left the country last year to settle with his girlfriend in Lebanon, as he, too, felt insufficiently appreciated in Denmark. But lo and behold, when Denmark arranged for an evacuation of 5,000 people during this summer's war in Lebanon, who was among the rescued but Akkari, his girlfriend, and his little daughter. The Jyllands-Posten carried a telling photograph from the rescue operation with Akkari seen against the Danish flag gently wafting in the breeze--the very flag that he and his friends had caused to be burned all over the Middle East.
Predictably, Akkari found fault with the caliber of the Danish rescue mission. In the Extra Bladet, a Danish tabloid, he stated indignantly, "You should write about the horrible plane the Danish Foreign Ministry first wanted to send us home in. It was Jordanian and so old that it was life threatening."
In letters to the editor, Danes wondered the obvious: Why would a man who has so much to complain about want to return? They were also astounded by the number of Danish resident aliens found in Lebanon during the evacuation. There were calls to investigate how many were actually living in Lebanon while claiming unemployment benefits in Denmark. Predictably, the Danish liberal press deemed such questions crass and insensitive towards people who had been so massively traumatized by Israeli bombardments, but the issue will be debated in parliament in December.
Finally, the Danes have learned that Abu Bashar, a Syrian cleric living in the regional capital of Odense and working as a prison chaplain, has been fired after complaints from inmates at Nyborg State Prison that he was inciting hatred of Denmark, and after his statement in an article in the Fyens Stiftstidende that "Denmark is the next terror target."
Bashar's claim to fame stems from the cartoon crisis, when he showed a photograph of a man in a pig's mask on BBC television, and afterwards slipped it in among the material being presented by the touring imams in the Middle East, though it had nothing to do with the cartoons. It turned out to be a photo of a French comedian in a pig-calling contest. Bashar later claimed that he was misinterpreted and that the photo had been sent to him anonymously, showing how Muslims were insulted in Denmark. His forked tongue has severely damaged his credibility here.
To no one's surprise, Bashar claimed that his firing from his prison job was political. However, as a man who did not hold grudges, he was willing to forget the incident, if he could have his job back part-time, with disability pay. His knee was troubling him something awful. Sorry, no go.
The question remains why the Danish government puts up with these scoundrels and does not simply boot them out. France has rid itself of more than 20 extremist imams, as has Germany, while Spain and Italy each have deported four, and Holland three. Denmark so far has kicked none out. Surely, enough is enough.
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