Economist Previous Latest Erasm us The Erasmus Religion and public policy Latest from all our blogs lslamism in Denmark Cooling passions -"'.1g 16th 2013, 16:02 byB.C. THE glistening white mountains ol Greenland can have a calming effect on the soul. I realised that myself when, in 2007, I was lucky enough to observe religious leaders from many different traditions offer a silent prayer for the planet while standing on the deck of a ship, surrounded by icebergs, near the Greenlandic port of llulissat. And a two-year spell in Greenland, working as a teacher, seems to have cooled the passions ol Ahmed Akkari, a Lebanese-bom migrant to Denmark who helped to spark the global uproar over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper. Seven years ago, he served as spokesman for a group of imams who went round countries like Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, drawing attention to the illustrations. He has recently said he regrets all this activity, and he now feels the publication of the cartoons was a legitimate expression of free speech. When I spoke to him today, he said that his stay in the tiny settlement of Narsaq, on Greenland's southern tip, had been a catalytic experience. "I was feeling frustraled before I went to Greenland, but there my change of mind manifested itself completely," he told me. Atthough he still called himself a IVIJslim, he "found a new way to pray"-•md came to the conclusion thai religion should be seen more as a source of meaning in people's lives, !han as a source of mutually exclusive truths. In some ways, his personal narrative, as he describes tt, is not so uncommon among IVIJslims who migrate to the West. His parents were relativety open-minded Sunni Muslims who enjoyed the cosmopolitan atrnosphere ol Lebanon but were forced to leave by worsening strife. His father had sensed the risk of his son falling among fundamentalists in Denmark's M.islim community, but he hoped the danger would be less in the small city of Aalborg. His father's worries proved well-founded, and (as happens in many diaspora M.islim families). young Ahmed's rebellion look the form ol adopting amore militant style of Islam than his parents. The unusual thing is thai he has reconsidered thai militant view; he has even had a personal reconciliation with Kurt Westergaard, the best-known ol the artists who created the offending cartoons. Mr Westergaard oow considers lvt Akkari to be "sincere, convincing and strong" in his new stance of moderation. The change of heart has been warmly welcomed by free-speech advocates in Denmark and beyond. The very faet that, somewhere in the heat of argument over the limits of individual liberty, M Akkari was inspired to reconsider his views is a sign of the benefils of unrestricted debate; that point was put to me by Jacob Mchangama, a Oanish human-rights lawver who advises Cepos, a liberty-minded think-tank. "The way his militant views were overcome by pen and reason is a reminder that free speech is a pre-condition for peaceful co-existence, to the benefit of people of all fatths and persuasions."
Download PDF fil