The Current and the Former Spokesman of Det Islamisk Trossamfund Express Regret Over Danish Cartoon Controversy
Seven years after playing an important role in igniting outrage over the 12 Danish Cartoons, a key player in Danish Cartoon Controversy has expressed some regret. So has his replacement. Ahmed Akkari, the former spokesman for Det Islamiske Trossamfund (The Islamic Society in Denmark), said in an interview last week that he now regrets traveling to the Middle East to escalate what had been to that point a local issue. He gave that interview to a reporter with Jyllands-Posten the Danish newspaper that had originally published the 12 Danish Cartoons. Akkari’s statement was made shortly after the current spokesman for Det Islamiske Trossamfund, Imran Shah, also expressed regret for the Middle East trip.
Upset over the publishing of the 12 Danish Cartoons and what they deemed as the Danish government’s inadequate response to their demands for actions against the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Ahmed Akkari and others took their case to the Middle East in late 2005. With them was a dossier they put together consisting of the 12 Danish Cartoons and other materials they claimed were representative of the attitudes of Danes towards Muslims, including a photograph of a man donning costume pig ears and pig snout, a cartoon depicting the Prophet as a pedophile, and, a cartoon depicting a dog mounting a Muslim man who is praying. The photograph turned out to have nothing to do with Danish attitudes towards Muslims. It is a photograph of a French man competing in a pig squealing contest. Many people who glanced through the dossier incorrectly assumed that all of these images had been published by Jyllands-Posten. Many more people made the same assumption once these inserted images began appearing in the media. Muslims throughout the Islamic world took great offense to the 12 Danish Cartoons depicting Mohammad, and, the non-Jyllands-Posten images. Demonstrations and riots continued all over the Islamic world for weeks which resulted in the deaths of over 100 people.
The day after Islam critic Lars Hedegaard survived a shooting attack at his Copenhagen home on February 5th, Imran Shah appeared on Denmark Radio P1. Media reports vary as to how many shots were fired. Hedegaard was not struck by the shot (or shots) fired by the gunman. After a brief struggle with Hedegaard, the would-be assassin fled. Shah denounced that attack as “unacceptable … whether it is politically or religiously motivated.” Shah then went on to express his regrets over the Cartoon Controversy. He said, “If we could have foreseen the human and material ramifications of our trip, we never would have gone. We have been a factor in it and we are sorry for the damages caused, particularly because we are very concerned about the safety of Danish society.”
Shortly after Imran Shah’s appearance on Denmark Radio P1 (or DR P1), Ahmed Akkari also expressed his regrets albeit with some reservations. He said he regretted his role, in particular his travels to the Middle East in an effort to internationalize the controversy. But he also said blame ultimately rests with the newspaper for publishing cartoons with the image of Mohammad.
Akkari is no stranger to controversy. In 2000 he was convicted of assaulting an 11-year-old schoolboy, who, according to school officials, accidently knocked the headscarf off of Akkari’s daughter while the two youngsters were roughhousing. At his sentencing Akkari apologized for repeatedly kicking his daughter’s classmate and yanking hard enough on the boy’s ear to make him bleed. In 2006 Akkari was caught on hidden camera making what sounds like a death threat against Naser Khader, a secular Muslim, a free speech advocate, and, then a member of the Danish Parliament with the Social Liberal Party. (Khader later left the Social Liberal Party for the Conservative Party in part he said because the Social Liberals failed to support the free speech rights of the endangered Danish cartoonists.) Akkari at first denied making the threat before eventually apologizing.
Naser Khader is currently a Senior Fellow with the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC. When asked for comment about Akkari’s and Shah’s recent statements, Naser said, “I would like to believe them. But I don’t. They say one thing in Arabic and then another in Danish depending on who they are talking to.” Naser then emphasized just how eager the two men are in getting back into the good graces of Denmark’s decision makers and the general public. “They are now out in the cold,” he noted. “But they have not changed their minds about freedom of speech and freedom of expression. They will, for instance, still say ‘No’ to a Muhammad cartoon."