COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Fury among Muslims worldwide over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad has led to deadly violence and bitter accusations between the West and the Islamic world. But Niamatullah Basharat sees a silver lining.
"Every Muslim feels hurt by these drawings," the Danish imam said at the small Nusrat Djahan mosque on the outskirts of Copenhagen." But Denmark has talked more about Islam in the last few weeks than it has in the last 10 years, so I hope it will do some good." Many Muslims hope that despite the short-term damage to community relations, the spotlight on religious and ethnic minorities will give them a greater voice in Danish politics.
But so far images of angry Muslim crowds burning the Danish flag and stoning Danish embassies, and a boycott of Danish products in the Middle East, have polarized opinion instead.The cartoonists who produced the images of the Prophet for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten are in hiding and under police protection.
A new poll by A&B Analyze for Web-based newspaper Altinget showed 45 percent of Danes have less sympathy now for Muslims than before the cartoon backlash. Another recent poll showed support for the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party rising. But Muslims say now could be the time to build bridges.
"In the middle of the chaos I still think it will become a positive thing. Danes and Muslims are out now talking, telling each other things that could have been said years ago," said Fathi El-Abed of the Danish Palestinian Friendship Association.
The DPP, whose leader Pia Kjaersgaard has called some Danish Muslims "enemies within" and "weeds", is closing in on the opposition Social Democrats for second place in party rankings, polling 18 percent versus 14.5 percent a month ago. "We enjoy support now because we’ve been very stern in our protection of freedom of speech," said Soren Espersen, the DPP’s foreign policy spokesman. "We’ve been criticized by countries that are not democratic and in a way it’s a compliment to be criticized by some of the most horrific dictatorships in the world." Some voices accuse politicians of inflammatory rhetoric.
"As I see it, if the mainstream stakeholders, politicians and the media don’t distance themselves from Islamophobic rhetoric, we are going to have a very split society," said Mandana Zarrehparvar at Danish Institute for Human Rights.
Unemployment is high among minorities. Soon after Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen came to power, laws were brought in restricting immigrants’ right to asylum and welfare payments.
The number of people granted asylum has dropped by more than 80 percent since 2001, says the Danish Immigration Service. "The legislation indirectly discriminates against ethnic minorities," said Zarrehparvar. Some scholars warn the cartoon furor has dented trust. "I’m afraid the implications are serious," said political science professor Peter Nannestad at the university of Aarhus. "The cartoon row has definitely reduced Danes’ trust in Muslim immigrants and may have diminished immigrants’ trust in Danes."