Friday, November 7, 2008

Naser Khader speaking the voice of reason

Kalmar - Sweden. Few people have been close to the controversy surrounding the Danish caricature crisis as Naser Khader has been, in terms of voicing rational opinions rather than ones filled with hatred and hormonal behavior. But to know the man one must listen to his own words as to who he is: “I was born in Damascus, Syria. My father is Palestinian and my mother Syrian. The first six years of my life we moved from place to place. We lived in Palestine for a couple of years, another couple of years in Jordan and when I started school we moved to Syria, where we lived with my grandparents in a village six kilometers from Damascus.” Khader continues that “at the end of the 1950s my father had for political reasons sought refuge in Syria where he met my mother through her brother. At the end of the 1960s, and unable to settle in Syria, he read in the papers that labour was needed in Europe, and he went to West Germany to try his luck. There he met other Palestinians who lived in Denmark and he went with them to Denmark.” The trip is far more than over, because the Khader family continued their nomadic routes and “in August 1974 my mother and my four siblings (three brothers and one sister) and I arrived in Denmark. My father had rented an apartment in Istedgade on Vesterbro in Copenhagen ╨ a very ╘interesting╒ part of town in the 1970╒s. Two days after his arrival in Denmark my father had a job but after working for 8 hours in a factory, he was too tired to go to school and learn Danish.” But these hurdles did not stop Naser Khader from pursuing his studies and even going to university and earning a master’s degree in political sciences. He got active in the Danish political life and he is now on his third term in the national parliament. He was a member of the Folketing (Parliament) for The Center Party in Copenhagen grether constituency from November 2007, and in Eastern Copenhagen constituency, from July 10th 2007 to November 13th 2007. He eventually became part of the outside parliamentary groups (independent), from May 9th to July 10th 2007. His third term was as being member for the Social Liberal Party in Eastern Copenhagen constituency, from November 20th 2001 till May 9th 2007. Khader is very familiar with the many entangled agendas that were part of the Danish cartoon crisis, everyone from the newspaper that first published them, to Danish imams, to ex-Egpytian embassador Mona Samir, had their own schedule surrounding the issue. But to go back to the words of Flemming Rose, of Jyllandposten, in an essay he published in the Washington Post on February 19th, 2006, he says that “I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that we Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out. The idea wasn't to provoke gratuitously -- and we certainly didn't intend to trigger violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter.” Rose continues by saying: “We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.” Rose touches the heart of the issue by saying: “One cartoon -- depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban -- has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name.” Khader himself says that he found the cartoons “funny” and his devout Moslem mother “who will go to Mecca on a pilgrimage in December 2008” found them of bad taste but dismissed them with a shrug. “I knew that one with the turban was going to stir reactions, but I thought they were going to be of the same kind that happened when Martin Scorsese did the Last Temptation of Christ. Whereby people belonging to offended Christian religion simply sat outside movie theatres and actually advised people not to watch the movie.” Khader continues, “little did I foresee what was going to happen and that 410 people were going to be killed worldwide because of this and when the Danish embassy in Syria was attacked this is when I drew the line and thought that I had to do something.” When Khader does “something”, he does not do it by halves. In the meantime he had presented his resignation from his party whereby the leader of the party condemned the cartoons and Khader even knew she was meeting secretly with the Imams to gain their political support. “Enough was enough.” After quitting the party, Khader decided to establish some sort of moderate Moslem front, “I called an Egyptian scientist and told him about the project and the guy told me that he was too far from politics to be do it, but I told him that now was the time to act, to prove that Moslems are not homogeneous, that there are different voices inside the community.” The declaration of the newly founded “Moderate Moslem” Network passed on February 4th 2006 is nothing short of inspiring: “We declare, today, that now is the time for dialogue, rather than digging trenches. We call on the Moslem countries, the Danish imams and the government to enter into dialogue, to settle this conflict, so that we may again meet on a friendly footing, and ensure that exchange of views and experiences across cultural, religious and geographic boundaries can continue. As Moslems, we are the proof that Islam and democracy are not incompatible. It is our hope that our example here in Denmark will make Moslems around the world react and follow our lead. Only by uniting, can we change the fundamentalist picture of Islam that the many extremists have drawn with violence.” The network grew to accommodate 2,000 people and 18,000 Danish supporters in a matter of two months. Khader later managed the almost impossible task of creating a new party in Denmark. Just for the record since 1970, only three new parties were created due to the complex process of obtaining not just the signatures, but the full records of 20,000 individuals. For Khader to have been able to do so is nothing short of heroic or even miraculous, but this is how driven he was. According to the Copenhagen Post Online Khader says that: “Many people would like to have a centrist government but they don't want a red cabinet, just as little as they want to see the Danish People's Party have so much influence on Danish politics.” He said the party would be a centrist party with an aim toward undermining the influence the nationalist Danish People's Party - who shook Danish politics with its arrival 10 years ago - has on the Liberal-Conservative government. Khader said the party will also seek to improve the integration of immigrants, strengthen Denmark's position within the EU and support a fixed income tax rate of 40 percent in an effort to move people from the welfare system into the job market.” Khader through his Liberal Alliance party gathered 5 seats in the parliamentary elections in Denmark, and even issued “The ten commandments of Democracy” which were first voiced in 2002: “We must all separate politics and religion, and we must never place religion above the laws of democracy. We must all respect that all people have equal rights regardless of sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. No person must ever incite to hatred, and we must never allow hatred to enter our hearts. No person must ever use or encourage violence no matter how frustrated or wronged we feel, or how just our cause. We must all make use of dialogue - always. We must all show respect for the freedom of expression, also of those with whom we disagree the most. No person can claim for themselves or assign to others a place apart, neither as superior persons, as inferior persons or as eternal victims. We must all treat other people’s national and religious symbols as we wish them to treat ours flag-burning and graffiti on churches, mosques and synagogues are insults that hinder dialogue and increase the repression of the other party. We must all mind our manners in public. Public space is not a stage on which to vent one’s aggressions or to spread fear and hate, but should be a forum for visions and arguments, where the best must win support. We must all stand up for our opponent if he or she is subjected to spiteful treatment.” Khader’s fight with extremism is far from over, at the “Religion and Freedom of Expression in the Human Rights Council” which was held in Geneva on Sept. 17th 2008, Khader said in his speech: “World War 3 is here. It is not the war on terror I am referring to, all though that war has the qualifications to be called a World War with terror acts crossing boarders around the world. That war is only a fragment on the real World War. As terrorism the war I am talking about has no physical frontiers? It is a global war on values and it as been going on for quite some time. It is a war between Islamism, the ideology and democratic values? The war has been going on mainly because it is still surprising to the democratic leaders and politicians around the world that it is a war. He then goes on explicitly to say. “What the Islamist do is to lobby their view not just throughout the Islamic world, but now we also se them pushing in the doors in forums that should only allow admission for those with a democratic passport so to speak. Islamist on the march is being met with tolerance and invitations into forums and agendas where they have nothing - and I mean nothing - to contribute with. They will say that their agenda is only pointed at the Islamic world. But that is a lie. Islamist sole goal is to conquer the whole world, not just a bit of it.” Before dramatically emphasizing: “Everything.” He then deadpans: “They are prepared to the teeth to let this fight go on and on, to take bit by bit. And we are making it very easy for them.” Khader goes on to develop the concept that “we act like we got caught in the headlights. Just because an organization like the Organization of the Islamic Conference says that they - and they alone - speak for all the Muslims. Okay we think - that is a lot of Muslims. ╘We cannot ignore a voice like that. Let them speak, we say because we are democrats and think that everybody should have their say. Only in this case we are naive democrats (Naivocrats as I like to call them). We believe them. We do think that OIC (Organization of the Islamic conference) speaks for every Muslim. But they don’t. They don’t speak for me.” What puts Khader out of himself, were the blatant lies that were marketed by the extremists to surround the Danish cartoons. The claimed that there were no schools or mosques were Moslems in Denmark, and instead of the 12 cartoons, they showed people in power 100 derogative photos taken out of context and claimed they were all Danish ridiculing of the Moslem religion. Khader explains that “there are 200,000 people who are part of the Moslem population in Denmark, including 40,000 Turks and 25,000 Palestinians, with 120 mosques with therefore 120 Imams that earn a living from the state, however only 7 of them active during the crisis.” One of the positive outcomes of this crisis was that Danish people discovered that “Muslims are not homogeneous, after the affair more people were hiring Muslims. They realized they were not people to be afraid of, and that many of them had their own stands on the matters. And refusing to sheepishly follow some general guideline.” Khader even boasts that “Islamists’ influence has severely decreased since the crisis. Because now politicians instead of consulting them and seeking their approval on new laws, they tend to talk to open-minded moderate Moslems.” One of the things that got Khader infuriated was that he wanted “to be a full equal in the Danish society. With my rights but also obligations.” He reiterates by saying “I refuse the patronizing attitude whereby we should be nice to the Muslims because they are more delicate and therefore more fragile and emotionally and socially less mature. It is out of this principle that I defend the publications of these cartoons.” Khader also emphasizes that ╥there is no such thing as seeing “the other side” (i.e. the attitude of the Moslem people who were offended by the cartoons) simply because there is “no other side.” “Some people told me that they fled from their countries of origin to be able to express their opinions, so having this censored is worse than in their own countries because this is supposed to be Denmark!” Khader admits however that the workings of the democratic system allow people to boycott the newspaper as a fair retaliation to the disapproval of the publishing of the cartoons. “But why does Arla has to pay the price of that? It is not state owned or anything. Why did people to punish all Danish goods without discrimination?” On the lighter side, Khader says “If this was a game of football, then the score would be 1 for democracy and 0 for extremism.” An Arab proverb says “If it does not get too big, it will never get smaller again.” Which means that sometimes problems have to grow out of proportion to regain their normal size. And speaking of size, Naser Khader is certainly a presence and a voice that is larger than life.
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