What are the Danish people like? How would you describe them? How do they deal with immigrants? How do they deal with Muslims? Why are they so proud that they have enacted some of the harshest anti-immigration laws in Europe?
These were some of the many questions I sought to explore as I sat with brothers over cups of coffee during various discussions over three nights I recently spent in Copenhagen, Denmark. Here I was in the land of Jyllands Posten, the newspaper that initially published the disgusting cartoons insulting our Prophet Muhammad (saw).
Most of the Danes I encountered at the airport or in shops and other places were courteous and professional. My first impressions on arrival from London were that this is a very modern, clean and well organised city even compared to London. The streets were wide and noticeably cleaner than most streets in the UK, and unlike the British who now have an obsession with owning their own houses, the streets of Copenhagen mainly had rows upon rows of apartment blocks. If the only measure of a society’s success was how modern, organised and technologically advanced its cities were, Denmark would surely rank as one of the most successful in the world. However, since societies are inhabited by diverse human beings who have to live together, there are other measures that have to be considered when looking at how civilised a society or its ideology is. How does it treat the elderly, minorities and immigrants? How does it foster harmony between people of diverse beliefs and backgrounds? And in this particular case, how does it treat Muslims who are relatively recent phenomenon on these shores? This is a common dilemma facing western societies today.
These were some of the issues I sought to explore as I sat with an eclectic mix of Muslims. People like Suleiman, Chadi, Yunus, Anwar and many others. These young Muslim men came from a wide range of backgrounds. Some were Danish converts, others were of Moroccan, Palestinian, Lebanese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali and other backgrounds, truly a reminder that this is one diverse ummah yet united by la ilaha ilallah Muhammadur rasul Allah. These Muslims were born and raised in Denmark, spoke fluent Danish and were confident Islamic activists.
The hospitality they showed me was truly outstanding and a reminder of the hadith of the Prophet (saw): “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him be generous to his guest.” [Muslim].
I stayed in Norrebro, an ethnically diverse area with a large Muslim population. From visiting different places and discussing with a broad range of Muslims, I started to get a sense of how Muslims were perceived and spoken about by some of the mainstream politicians and some journalists. Some politicians said Islam is the problem, not just something called ‘Islamism’. Another said Norrebro should be wiped out. A politician calling for the destruction of an area in which a section of society lives! When there was gang violence between the Hell’s Angels biker gang and some Muslims which involved random drive by shootings of innocent bystanders, some politician even said the Hell’s Angels were defending Danish values, implying that such violence was acceptable, and the latest debate in Denmark is about patients refusing to be treated by doctors or nurses who wear headscarves (hijab)! How are Muslims expected to feel?
The clear message seems to be that for Muslims to be accepted in such societies, it is not enough to be a law abiding citizen who pays taxes – this is what is required from other citizens – but you have to renounce some of your Islamic values and beliefs.
In short, many of the politicians and sections of the population are unable to deal with the fact that they have a Muslim community which has some distinct and different values and beliefs. Islamic beliefs which instruct us to speak against injustice and occupation of Muslim lands like Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Islamic beliefs which also instruct us to look after our neighbour and respect the elderly even if they are non-Muslims.
Some in Denmark and elsewhere in Europe are in a race to ratchet up a coercive assimilation policy specifically targeted at Muslims. With upcoming elections, harsh rhetoric against Islam and Muslims is proving to be a vote winner and similar attitudes exist in the UK as well.
Don’t western societies, intellectuals and governments proudly preach a belief in ‘pluralism’ as one of the fundamental basis of the secular capitalist way of life? Aren’t they the ones who claim to ‘live and let live’? Why the demand that Muslims must change some of their beliefs or else they will be vilified and attacked? Are these the means to create harmony between different peoples in society or does this just lead to more tensions?
In the way they are forcibly trying to coerce Muslims to reject some of their Islamic values, some in Europe are showing that despite the talk of pluralism and ‘freedom of belief’, they are prepared to contradict there most fundamental values at the drop of a hat and display such intolerance of others especially Muslims . Isn’t this a sign of weakness? This in turn raises fundamental questions about secular liberalism’s ability to live with those who share a different political, intellectual and spiritual outlook such as Islam.
Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain
22nd Dhul Hijjah / 28th November 2010