The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Muslims Supporting Anti-Islam Activist

Lars Hedegaard, a Danish polemicist noted for his strong criticisms of Islam and Muslims is now getting a notable show of support—from Muslims in Denmark. A recent attempt on Hedegaard’s life has Copenhagen’s Muslim community taking a stand for freedom of speech:

“They have changed their approach,” said Karen Haekkerup, Denmark’s minister of social affairs and integration. “It is a good sign that the Muslim community is now active in the debate.”

When the news broke on Feb. 5 that Mr. Hedegaard had narrowly escaped an attack on his life, recalled Imran Shah of Copenhagen’s Islamic Society, “we knew that this was something people would try to blame on us. We knew we had to be in the forefront and make clear that political and religious violence is totally unacceptable.”

The Islamic Society even seems to be expressing regret over their role in stoking the violent furor over controversial cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammed. Another Islamic organization, Minhaj ul Quran International, rallied outside of Copenhagen’s city hall to condemn the assassination attempt.

These are extremely encouraging signs, but the issue remains thorny. There are divisions among both native Danes and Denmark’s Muslim immigrant community. Some Danes blame Hedegaard for intentionally provoking violence; others blame the Muslim community for reacting violently. In the country’s Muslim community, some believe Hedegaard crosses lines he shouldn’t; others believe that, no matter how much they detest his actions, he has the right to do so.

So there are no clear, community-based lines of thinking regarding Hedegaard’s right to publish his “stew of anti-Muslim bile and conspiracy-laden forecasts of a coming civil war,” as the NYT report describes it. Nonetheless, an organized portion of Denmark’s Muslim community seems to be moving in the direction of accepting free speech in all its varied, if ugly forms. That’s a movement we’d like to see grow.

[The original version of this post conflated Lars Hedegaard, the newspaper editor and polemicist, with Kurt Westergaard, creator of a controversial cartoon. Via Meadia regrets the error.]

Published on February 28, 2013 1:44 pm