The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The view from Denmark 

Here's a change from me rabbiting on. A young lady from Denmark called Inge wrote to me a couple of times recently. I found her Danish perspective on events so interesting, that with her permission I am reproducing it here.


First a formal presentation:My name is Inge M. Jessen, 25, and I study History at Copenhagen University, Denmark. I have also studied Egyptology for a couple of years and thus have managed to gather a few Muslim friends since Arabic (among other things) was also available at my old department. Now, I have been following this whole deal with the drawings of the Prophet with great interest lately (especially today) and thereby came across your blog. As a student of history I always try to aim for objectivity and stuff, and that's what I also strive for in this case. I think Islam in its essence focuses on peace among men and I have friends here who are able to practice their religion and still be able to function in this society (which usually involves a scary amount of sarcastic remarks etc). I feel kinda sorry for them, for how the general sentiment among Danish people has become rather negative towards immigrants and Muslims. It's a pity because many are good people and just want a normal life here. So when I saw those drawings I (like you) didn't find them particularly funny, just kinda crude...yeah, this is not the rocket science end of satire. I draw myself, so I just started thinking how one could have done it a little better.

I also thought of the time when my Muslim friend, Mona, decorated my hand with henna...and I asked her whether she could write something nice in Arabic on it...and since I knew the term "Mashallah" (what Allah wills) she did this. And how the next day an old Arab man on the bus got pissed off when he saw it and told me in Danish I could hardly understand that it was wrong (I definitely got the word "haram!"). And how when I told Mona about this, she assumed the guy was probably right and told me that I could perhaps put some chlorine on it to bleach it (!! - I didn't think my hand would really like that!). And how I spent a whole paranoid week with long sleeved shirts, trying to hide this accident.

Well...so I understand that Muslims are sensitive about these things...and to be honest, I think it's okay to a degree. Which is why I probably wouldn't see any reason in doing drawings like that myself. But this whole mess...this avalanche that has been triggered...is absurd.The worst thing is (and I've just spent two hours talking to a Saudi friend online, being held responsible for the actions of "my" government) that the Danish success in saving its Jewish population during WWII is now being linked with us being "Jew lovers" (because *of course* there's a Jewish conspiracy behind this)...and then I wind up desperately trying to explain that Arabs are technically also a "semitic" people and thus it's pointless to talk about anti-semitism...Besides, we didn't really *have* any Arabs nor Muslims in Denmark during WWII.I feel it's so unfair because Denmark has always tried to be a diplomatic country and because of its size has been forced to always ally with others and not be too opinionated. And now it sounds like we are crazy people who like putting down other people's religion. I don't understand why we're not allowed to have our freedom of speech. I tried to explain to my friend in Riyadh that Danes would definitely have saved its Muslim population too if it had been the case during the war. We see people as people and are not very focused on which religion they belong to.Unfortunately this will just create a wider gap between the Muslim communities here and the "ethnic Danish" ones (for lack of a better term). I don't want to see my friendly Iraqi grocer get less business because of this stupid deal.Let me praise you for having such a good sense of humour. Your insight on the details of SA society and culture also gave me some new input that were quite useful. I like my Muslim friends and have been to the mosque a couple of times and always liked it and been well received. And want more of that and not hate and ridiculous pride (on both sides).


Damn, this stuff has been on the radio all day *sigh*. The new semester started today, so I went to my department for class. Discussed the issue with a couple of fellow students. I think we are all very surprised of how this has all turned. I have also read what people have written in a couple of online Danish forums, and it seems that what really concerns people is the (albeit subtle) threat to Danish sovereignty - how come "we" should change our customs, our law, according to what is acceptable to Muslims in the Middle East?

A controversial Danish artist made a movie some years ago where he depicted Jesus as sex-crazy young man...and he even got money from the state’s cultural funding. Some people protested, but he could get away with it because of the legislation here. The same legislation that makes it illegal for Danish citizens to burn other countries' flags, yet lets you burn the Danish one without prosecution.We have had to endure Nazis heil’ing in the streets, opinionated politicians comparing Muslims with cancer cells (!) - something that most people (really - most people!) do not agree with, Hizb'ut Tahrir members preaching that democracy cannot be unified with the concepts of Islam or how Muslim armies ought "move to destroy the Jewish entity"...well, there's a lot of stuff you have to accept when you live here, but the cool thing is that if you disagree with something being said, you are allowed to speak up yourself! Other countries have made certain parties, containing Nazis, extreme Muslims etc, illegal. Here the politicians have discussed this matter a lot and have decided to allow all organisations, congregations of people etc, as long as they submit to the law – meaning, that they may not seriously threaten people or use violence. If we allow Nazis how can we then be Jewish minions?If we saved our Jews during WWII because we are controlled by a Jewish lobby, how come the Danish government clearly collaborated with Nazi Germany in many ways also??This serves as an example to show that history and the present are always more complex than we want it to be.

I could write loads of more examples of how different things work here, but I will stop here for now. I know that most Danes laugh when America drops all the “Free World” rhetoric …we are not idealist like that – we are not trying to *save* anyone or convince the rest of the world that we are right. But I think one of the few things we like about where we live is the fact that we can say what we want without fear. Well, until now. Because who will dare to speak, draw, joke…say *anything* about the holy Prophet Muhammad or Islam after this?

Thanks, Inge

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