Friday, November 10, 2006

Muslims don't want Danes to arrest extremists

Gelu Sulugiuc:

Just as Danes were breathing sighs of relief that the wounds caused by cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad were healing, they were re-opened with the arrest of seven Muslims accused of plotting bomb attacks.

Muslims say the arrests two months ago have set back their efforts to integrate into Danish society and they find themselves again forced to defend their allegiance to their adoptive country.

"We have worked in this city for a long time for integration," said Maher El Badawi, a social worker in Odense, the suspects' home town in central Denmark.

"But people are afraid that if even one of them is found guilty, all Muslims will be seen as terrorists."

Before a row erupted earlier this year over the publication by a Danish newspaper of 12 drawings lampooning the Prophet Mohammad, Denmark's 5.4 million people thought of themselves as tolerant and liberal, and generally welcoming towards immigrants.

As Muslims angry at the cartoons set fire to Danish embassies in the Middle East, the small Nordic country found itself at the centre of a clash of cultures between Islam and the West.

"I feel safe and secure living here, but I feel that we no longer have freedom of speech," said Nena Madsen, a museum worker in Odense.

"I'm afraid to talk about things that will be seen as sensitive to other people. Here in Denmark, we like making fun of people, that's our humour. But now we cannot do that any more."

Authorities said the seven held in Odense had collected materials to make explosives for an attack in the Nordic country, which has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The potential target was not revealed but Justice Minister Lene Espersen said the incident was one of the most serious ever in Denmark.

The arrests further strained relations between Muslims and other Danes, who are now struggling to reconcile their tradition of liberalism and tolerance with threats of violence unseen here in two decades.

"Muslims feel that this latest case is just feeding the story about the evil Muslim they say they see vilified on TV every day and that it perpetuates the one-sided image of Muslims in Denmark," said Camilla Elg, a sociologist at Aalborg University. "The Odense story is a relevant one, but Muslims feel like they are under attack."

The Danish arrests followed a plot uncovered in Britain to blow up planes and two unsuccessful train bombings in Germany. In all three cases, law enforcement officials described the suspects as a new generation of young Muslim radicals, some of them born in Europe, who are willing to use violence against their home countries.

Danish Muslims said they feared other people would lump them all together in that category.

"Inside, you are afraid," said Saleh Hassan, whose brother, Said Hassan, is one of those arrested. "I watched when they arrested him and I thought now it's my turn. Just because I am Muslim, I thought they are catching now all Muslims."

Odense, Denmark's third largest city, has about 200,000 residents. Until the raids, it was known internationally only for being the home of Hans Christian Andersen, the 19th century writer of fairy-tales such as "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Clothes".

The Muslim suburb where the accused live, Vollsmose, is a poor neighbourhood with high unemployment and a reputation for crime. People there have tried to improve its image, but the arrests have dealt a blow to those efforts.

"We were shocked when some Muslims were arrested because all the Muslims in Odense where sure they didn't have any terrorism links," said Abu Hassan, an imam at a local mosque. "We know them. They are peaceful people."

Muslims in Odense say the best way to put integration efforts back on track would be the acquittal of those arrested. Two of the accused were released on bail last week, and the community took that as a good sign.

"It makes us happy and it proves we did nothing wrong," said Saleh Hassan.

A judge ruled last week that the other five must remain in custody pending further police investigations.

If they are found guilty, El Badawi said people like him would have a more difficult job.

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