- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2006

Denmark is determined to rebuild ties to its own Muslim population and to the greater Islamic world — and may look to the United States as a model, Danish Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen said yesterday.

Denmark found itself at the center of a global firestorm after a local newspaper last fall printed a series of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.

After other European newspapers reprinted the cartoons, angry demonstrations — some violent — erupted across the Islamic world — and several Danish diplomatic posts and businesses were targeted in the outburst.

“I think we can learn from the United States, on matters such as integration and assimilation of our minority communities,” Mr. Petersen told a forum sponsored by the Pakistan chapter of the Universal Peace Foundation and the Ambassadors for Peace Foundation held at The Washington Times.

“I think we in Denmark and in Europe generally have to become more aware of religious sensibilities. We are interested in building bridges, not burning them,” he said.

The government of center-right Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has turned aside demands from some Muslim leaders for an official apology for the cartoons, saying freedom of expression and a free press are bulwarks of Danish democracy.

But Mr. Petersen said Danish officials also have looked for ways to use the crisis to improve relations with the country’s Muslim minority and with Islamic states.

A major conference Friday in Copenhagen brought together Muslim and Christian scholars, many of whom urged the West and Islam to come together to foster understanding and rebuild ties damaged in the cartoon controversy.

At yesterday’s forum, Mr. Petersen said moderates on both sides of the global debate had to “transcend” the temptation to paint the cartoon uproar as a stark choice between pure freedom of expression and respect for religion.

“Democracy is the basis of the discussion, but for us Danes, the dialogue must be based on mutual respect,” he said. “There can never be any doubt about that.”

The diplomat said Danes traditionally have enjoyed frank debate, questioning authority and a reputation for tolerance, but conceded that his small country was still reeling from the fact that it was at the center of a worldwide controversy.

“We Danes tend to see our country as a role model,” he said. “We never could have imagined that we would see Danish embassies burning.

“We never wanted this; we never asked for it,” he added. “Some Danes do not understand the reaction, and so we get worried, we get disturbed, we get overwhelmed.”

Mr. Petersen said most Muslims in Denmark are being accepted into society, although some still resist learning the language and accepting all of the country’s traditional political values.

He said countries across Europe are increasingly working with religious leaders, scholars, private groups and other governments on how best to accommodate sizable Muslim populations now in Europe. He said many on the continent are looking to the American model for ideas.

“Look at any European country today, and I would say they have not been as successful as the United States in this matter,” he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide