Norway: Liberal Muslims want pro-Westergaard demonstration

Norway: Liberal Muslims want pro-Westergaard demonstration

A group of liberal Muslims in Norway is calling on the Islamic Council of Norway to demonstrate in order to support Muhammed cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

"It wasn't a mistake that the caricatures of Muhammed were printed, and in any case it doesn't justify violence.  Muslims have just a great interest in protecting freedom of expression as all others.  Therefore Muslims should also support Kurt Westergaard," writer Shakil Rehman of the liberal Muslim network LIM (Equality, integration, multiculturalism) told Klassekampen.

Rehman is looking for a response from the Islamic Council of Norway after the attack on Westergaard.  He calls on the Islamic Council to arragne a demonstration to support freedom of speech. If the Islamic Council doesn't rise to the challenge, his network themselves will take the initiative.

"I'm afraid they won't rise to the challenge, because they don't want to lose face in the Muslim world.  But if they support freedom of speech, they should also be able to show that they mean it in practice," says Rehman.

"Muhammed didn't want to be depicted because he didn't want to be worshipped like an idol.  When Muslism think the prophet is insulted by being depicted, then they make him into precisely such an idol.  Therefore there shouldn't be any problem to make a caricature of him.  I will go so far to say that Muslim leaders are unqualified."

Q: Maybe they respond most to the strong connotations of violence?

A: He was also an army chief.  That is one of his worse sides.  We should be able to criticize that.  Muslims shouldn't be so holy that we can't criticize him," says Rehman.

Norweigan-Somali SV politician Hamsa Mohamed was against publishing the Muhammed caricatures in 2005, but now he's changed his mind.

"For me it's completely fine now.  I don't respond as vigorously as before.  Afterward I saw that people responded unnecessarily vigorously from the Muslim side.  Caricatures are drawn all over the world," says Mohammed, who sympathizes with Rehman's liberal view of Islam.

"Many say that the Prophet himself had a lot of tolerance, but that it was his followers who did the opposite of what the Prophet stood for.  I agree with the interpretations.  Many Somalis I speak to are discussing this now, and think that the reaction to the caricatures was an over-reaction," says Mohamed.

He would like to participate in a demonstration for freedom of speech, but he's skeptic about a demonstration with only supports urt Westergaard.  He also thinks that it's important to correct the image created after the tragic incident in Aarhus.

"What happened in Aarhus, made the possibly positive impression that we've succeeded in creating for Muslims change around in minutes.  Even of people become more tolerant, and admit that we've overreacted, one person can destroy for all of us," says Mohamed.

He's just come back from Christmas vacation in Hargeisa in Somalia.  He met there many who were concerened about the rise of the Al-Shabab terror organization.  He thinks it's important to prevent youth from being recruited by such extreme groups.

"We can do that by preventing stigmatization.  The media is also responsible here.  When Somali youth experience stigmatization, there many can think of looking towards communities who think extreme things about the majority society, among them there are those who are violent," says Mohamed.

In 2006 the Anti-racist Center and 43 other organization took the initiative for a big demonstration for freedom of speech and against threats and violence.  This came in response to the riots following the publication of the Muhammed cartoons.  The Islamic Council was invited, but decided not to participate.

The head of the Anti-racist Center, Kari Helene Partapuoli, thinks such a demonstration is a good idea, but is skeptical about the liberal Muslims fronting it.  Partapuoli says it's important to be careful.  If liberal Muslims front the demonstration, what does that say about the other Muslims?  It would be better if the initiative came from "Norwegian Muslims" or "Muslims in Norway".

She thinks that one shouldn't demand of Norwegian Muslims to distance themselves from what one Muslim did in Denmark.  Partapuoli says that it's reasonable to demand that society understand the difference between extremists and common Norwegian Muslims.  A demonstration done in the right way might get the majority to understand this.

General Secretary Shoaib Sultan of the Islamic Council of Norway says they will make a decision about the request for a demonstration for fredom of speech and against violence in the ordinary way, but that there are no plans to support anything.

Sultan says that if the main slogan would be like in 2006 "Respect freedom of speech.  No to violence and threats" then they support it.

Sources: Klassekampen, VG (Norwegian)

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