Denmark’s government, angry at local imams accused of whipping up anti-Danish anger in the Middle East over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, said yesterday it would exclude them from talks on ethnic minority integration.
A number of Danish politicians and the media have accused some Muslim leaders of stirring up resentment during a tour of the Middle East in December and January, when the row over cartoons first published last September resurfaced, stoking violent demonstrations.
“I think we have a clear picture today that it’s not the imams we should be placing our trust in if we want integration in Denmark to work,” Immigration Minister Rikke Hvilshoj told the Berlingske Tidende newspaper.
Denmark’s centre-right government has remained in power partly because of crackdowns on immigration. Last year it introduced plans to better integrate ethnic minorities into the country.
The exclusion from that process would apply only to those individuals who took part in the Middle East tour, a government official said.
Imam Abu-Laban, who was among the group of Muslim leaders to travel to the Middle East and has been an interlocutor of the government in integration talks, told Reuters Television he regretted if his criticisms had contributed to the violence.
“If the violence is against the issue of intellectual communication and engagement, then yes I regret it,” he said.
Jyllands-Posten’s 12 cartoons did not stir up interest outside Denmark until January, coinciding with the imams’ trip and their publication outside Denmark, starting in Norway.
Demonstrators have since torched and stoned Danish and Norwegian embassies in the Middle East and attacked targets from other countries where the cartoons were published. Protesters have been killed in demonstrations in Afghanistan and Lebanon.
About 10,000 Danes are expected to cancel trips abroad heeding security advice from the foreign ministry, firms have felt the impact of a Middle East boycott and stocks have fallen.
NATO, the United States, the European Union and Britain have all pledged their support to Denmark.
The editor of Jyllands-Posten has issued a public apology for offending Muslims but defended the paper’s right to publish the cartoons, as part of a debate on self-censorship and Islam.
But a former Danish foreign minister, Uffe Elleman-Jensen, said: “When you admit to committing such a fatal error which up to now has cost six lives you are not up to the job and you should resign.”
Many of the 180,000 Muslims living in Denmark, a country of 5.4 million people, say they have felt growing discrimination since the government of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen began clamping down on immigration a few years ago.
Mr Rasmussen says the aim of the measures – such as limits on the entry of foreigners married to Danes and requirements that they abide by Danish social norms – is to improve integration.
But his minority government relies on the support of the openly anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party, whose leader Pia Kjaersgaard has called for the deportation of any imam who is not a Danish citizen and has whipped up protests.
“The seeds of weeds have come to Denmark – Islamists and liars – who have fuelled the lethal fire through their tour of the Middle East. We will deal with them,” she wrote in her weekly newsletter.
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