Radicalisation in Denmark

By Jones, Sian | Renewal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Radicalisation in Denmark


Jones, Sian, Renewal


Denmark is the country consistently ranked 'most equal' and 'happiest' in the world. On 30 September 2005 this sleepy backwater of the European Union was propelled onto the international scene when its main daily newspaper published a number of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed. The most controversial of these caricatures depicted the prophet with a lit fuse in his turban.

In the furore that followed Islamic groups in Denmark demanded an apology, five thousand protesters gathered outside the newspaper's headquarters, and Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen refused to meet a delegation of ambassadors from a number of Muslim-predominant countries. They were pressing for government action against the paper, but Rasmussen insisted that freedom of speech and of the press was a sacrosanct pillar of democracy and therefore not up for discussion. The editor of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper in question, refused to apologise.

An international crisis

The defiance of the editor and Prime Minister did not draw a line under the matter. A delegation of Muslims travelled around the Middle East with a dossier containing the cartoons and other items included as evidence of Denmark's open hostility to the Islamic faith.

The situation worsened considerably in early 2006 when a number of European papers published the cartoons. This led to protests across the Muslim world, some of which escalated into violence, resulting in more than one hundred deaths. Fires were started at the Danish Embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, a number of European buildings were stormed, and Danish, Dutch, Norwegian and German flags were desecrated in Gaza City. While a number of Muslim leaders called for protesters to remain peaceful, others issued death threats, and there was a major boycott of Danish products. Rasmussen described the controversy as Denmark's worst international crisis since World War II.

The so-called 'cartoon crisis'--or the 'Muhammed crisis' as Danes refer to it--certainly put Denmark back on the international political map. The incident was also a touch stone for fears and uncertainties that have been bubbling under the surface across Europe about the impact of large scale immigration and the rise of Islam as a challenger to Christianity in the European public realm.

The cartoon controversy has also made Denmark more vulnerable to jihadist attacks. The Danish security and intelligence service (Politiets Efterretningstjeneste, PET) concluded that the cartoons, along with Denmark's participation in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have contributed to an 'intensified focus on Denmark in Militant extremist circles' (Politiets Efterretningstjeneste, 2008). This is particularly evident from Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri's condemnation of the cartoons in 2006, a message which was repeated by Bin Laden again in March 2008 when the cartoons were reprinted, as well as the June 2008 car bomb at the Danish embassy in Pakistan, which killed one Danish citizen and a number of local Pakistanis.

Declarations from Al Qaeda leadership have filtered down to jihadist group discussions on forums such as al Hisba, which described the cartoons as a 'the crusade against Islam' and discussed whether Denmark should be considered as a primary target. With the internationalisation of the conflict, these calls grew in number. Likewise, a number of jihadis criticised the hypocritical application of the freedom of speech, in particular Abu Qatada when he signed a document, Muslims in British Prisons Concerning Denmark, published by The Islamic Observation Centre in London (Tonnesen, 2006).

These threats have even targeted those involved in the publication of the cartoons. In February of 2008, three men were arrested in Aarhus for an alleged plot to murder the cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard. As a result of the arrests, two Tunisians are to be extradited without trial under new hard-line Danish terrorism laws. …

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