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A Mutual Suspicion Grows in Denmark

November 12, 2005|Jeffrey Fleishman | Times Staff Writer

COPENHAGEN — Right-wing politicians consider Omar Marzouk a menace. Muslims accuse him of blasphemy for pasting Osama bin Laden's image onto women's underwear. The "only ethnic comedian" in Denmark, as he likes to call himself, Marzouk provokes all sides but senses that audiences are increasingly touchy these days.

"Society is more radical," he says, sitting in a cafe in an autumn dusk. "You have the Al Qaeda movement preaching that Muslims can't exist in Western culture. And in this country you have the Danish People's Party telling Muslims, 'You're different and we can only accept you if you're a Dane.' These voices are actually pulling the same way: toward radicalism."

Hate screeds are rattling against this Scandinavian nation's aura of serenity. A Muslim publisher with suspected ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network was recently jailed for allegedly inciting jihad and distributing videotapes of beheadings. A right-wing radio host reacted by saying that Muslims should be expelled from Western Europe, "or you exterminate the fanatical Muslims, which would mean killing a substantial population of Muslim immigrants."

Such incendiary cases, although exceptional in Denmark, raise fears that if Muslim integration can't succeed in the most liberal of Western nations, it might not be able to flourish in more conservative ones.

With cars burning across France and Islamic radicals going underground in Britain, Europe is reeling from the anger of Muslim communities that for decades have existed as parallel universes. Terrorist bombings and riots have sparked fears on the continent and raised questions about its hallowed ideal of cultural tolerance. Muslims complain that tensions over terrorism have turned them into convenient symbols for conservative politicians pushing anti-immigration policies.

From the Danish Parliament to the immigrant neighborhoods in Norrebro, this city of nut bread and sea winds echoes with suspicion. Liberal freedom-of-speech laws are being challenged by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist Islamic organization recruiting Muslims to battle coalition forces in Iraq that include 530 Danish troops. In a society that prides itself on racial parity, voters have elevated the xenophobic Danish People's Party from the fringes to the country's third most powerful political bloc.

"I believe integrating a large number of Muslims can't be done. It's an illusion," said Martin Henriksen, a 25-year-old legislator for the People's Party. "They don't have the desire to blend in with other people. We've been a Christian country for 1,000 years and we are the oldest monarchy in the world. I want to get married and have a lot of kids who can walk around in a society not influenced by Muslims."

This attitude mirrors growing cultural strains, anxiety over possible terrorist attacks and the Danish People's Party's frequent criticisms of the 200,000 Muslims among the nation's 5.4 million people. The tilt to the right is starkly seen in the number of asylum applications the government has approved: 53% in 2001 and 10% last year.

Across town in a neighborhood of fast-food shawarma stands and veiled women, Fadi Abdul Latif, the spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir in Denmark, accused conservatives of changing the meaning of integration. Whereas it once meant attending Danish schools and speaking the national language, he charged, now it forces Muslims into accepting European values on issues including sexuality and religion.

"This is the Europe of the Middle Ages," said Abdul Latif, a Palestinian born in a Lebanese refugee camp who moved here years ago. "When others want to force their values on Muslims, we must reject this. We neither want to assimilate nor isolate. We want to keep our identity and carry our message of Islam to others. But Europe is using the climate of war and terrorism to force assimilation."

Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate and expel Western influences from Muslim nations. Outlawed in Sweden and Germany, the group faces a possible ban in Britain after the London transit bombings in July. In 2002, Abdul Latif was charged with distributing hate literature that revered suicide bombers as martyrs and quoted a verse from the Koran: "And kill them from wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out." He received a 60-day suspended sentence.

He also circulated a flier in 2004 urging Muslims to "go help your brothers in Fallouja and exterminate your rulers if they block your way." Abdul Latif said in an interview that Hizb ut-Tahrir was rallying fighters in the Middle East, not Europe. The Danish government, whose support of the Bush administration in Iraq has drawn threats from Al Qaeda affiliates, has reopened an investigation into Tahrir.

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