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We Talked to Denmark's Muslim Leaders about the Copenhagen Shootings

"Some of our friends have asked me if they should be concerned for their safety. Frankly, I don't know what to tell them."

af Polina Bachlakova
16 februar 2015, 4:07pm

Text: Muslims and Jews refuse to be enemies. Photo by Nicole Leblanc.

This past weekend, Denmark was shocked by two shootings that played out over 24 hours in Copenhagen. Even before the gunman's background and history were confirmed, there was speculation that the attacks were politically motivated—as in, radical Islam was immediately pegged as the root of the attack by many. Some politicians have managed to keep the blame more neutral - Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt referred to the cause of the attack as a 'dark ideology' - but unfortunately, other politicians were quick to spout anti-Islamic sentiments in ridiculously accusatory and violent social media updates. In light of this, we thought we'd check in with a few of Denmark's Muslim organizations to hear what they think about the weekend's events.

Oussama El-Saadi. Image via Facebook.

Grimhøjmoskeen

Grimhøjmoskeen's been under media scrutiny last year for openly declaring its support of the Islamic State, calling for the destruction of the Jews and supposedly preaching a very radical version of Islam in general. In fact, it's even been pegged as a 'haven for Danish jihadists'. However, they've recently received cautious praise for warning the youth about traveling to Syria. We talked to their leader, Oussama El-Saadi, to get his perspective on the shootings.

VICE: Do you feel that Muslims are being scapegoated for these attacks?
Oussama El-Saadi: I think that every time something like this happens, people look at Muslims as if it's them doing these acts of terror or violence. The picture has been painted that Muslims are the ones doing these kinds of things.

What are your personal feelings on the supposed motivations of the attack—that it was targeted against a cartoonist for drawing caricatures of Mohammed?
I don't know yet. The politicians have been saying it's a political act and there are many things to come. The shootings happened in two places, so I think we have to wait until the authorities come with their theory. Then, we can look at it and judge.

Are you worried that this will cause more political violence, perhaps against Muslims?
I hope not. I hope that our politicians can differentiate between what is right and what is wrong. Those doing wrong should be taken to court, but the biggest percentage of the Muslim population in Denmark should be able to live normally. One man did something wrong—why should we make this a collective punishment for all Muslims?

We are Danish Muslims living in this country, just like you have American or British Muslims, and we are not against anybody here. The majority are doing well - working, studying - and I hope that we can still live in this way in the future.

Photo by Nicole Leblanc.

Det Islamiske Trossamfund

Det Islamiske Trossamfund is an umbrella organization for many different kinds of Muslims and nationalities in Denmark, providing a range of services for Muslims ranging from weddings to education. We talked to Imran Shah, the organization's spokesperson, to hear his opinion.

VICE: How do you think the attacks will affect Muslim communities in Denmark?
Imran Shah: International human rights organizations have all documented increases in assaults and stigmatization of Muslims in Europe, especially in Denmark. In light of recent events in France, that's something we're quite worried about for Muslims in Denmark.

Do you feel that Muslims are already being scapegoated for these attacks?
No. However, we do need to address those individuals who have instantly judged this as a 'Muslim issue'. We don't know who they are or how many they are, but we have experienced hate crimes where our graves have been vandalized, our mosques stained with pig heads, and Muslim women have had their headscarves ripped off... so we need to send the signal that this shouldn't be tolerated and that politicians should take these cases seriously.

What are your personal feelings on the supposed motivations of the attack—that it was targeted against a cartoonist for drawing caricatures of Mohammed?
Whatever motivation this individual had cannot be justified from any ideological point of view and certainly not the Islamic one. The Quran teaches Muslims that if you take the life of an individual, it's as if you've taken the life of all of mankind. So, there's no justification for this horrible, horrible action.

Are you worried that this will cause more political violence, perhaps against Muslims?
It depends on how the politicians will react to this. We do not want to look back at this as the day when Denmark lost its innocence. We'd like to look back at this as the day when Denmark believed in its principles and stood up against a common threat together. One has to trust the values you've built your own society on and address issues in a reasonable way instead of acting with panic. That won't serve anybody in Danish society.

Photo by Nicole Leblanc.

Dansk Islamisk Center

The Danish Islamic Center is meant to educate all of Danish society about the Muslim religion. A combination of a mosque association and an Islamic info association, it provides a variety of educational services to the Danish public. We talked to their chairman, Fatih Alev, about the events of the weekend.

VICE: How do you think these attacks will affect Muslim communities in Denmark?
Fatih Alev: People are speculating that this will affect their daily routines and lives. Some of our friends have asked me if they should be concerned for their safety. Frankly, I don't know what to tell them.

Do you feel that Muslims are already being scapegoated for these attacks?
No. Both the Prime Minister and the media have been responsible so far in the way they have described what has happened and how we need to act. But of course, we have an upcoming election, so some parties will try to benefit from this incident. That could be something that many Muslims, based on their prior experiences with Danish politics, could be worried about.

Are you worried that this will cause more political violence, perhaps against Muslims?
It's too soon to say. What frightens me is that senior analysts in Denmark are saying that what's happened in France has been replicated here in Copenhagen. Now it isn't just a theory people are talking about: it's been proven that it can happen despite all the police protection—it can be successful if you are ambitious about it. In the eyes of other extreme people, this could inspire them further to implement their ideas.

Qaisar Najeeb on the left. Image via Facebook.

Minhaj-ul-Quran International Denmark

Minhaj-ul-Quran is an International organization which has a Danish chapter that includes four of the main mosques in Copenhagen. It provides religious, cultural and educational services for Muslims. We talked to their spokesperson, Qaisar Najeeb.

VICE: How are you feeling after the shootings in CPH this weekend?
Qaisar Najeeb: I'm really depressed. We thought that these terror attacks taking place all over Europe would never come to Denmark. We thought we had done something here so young people aren't radicalized enough to act like this. Now, people who have agendas to divide religions further apart from each other are going to have very good ground to play on.

How do you think these attacks will affect Muslim communities in Denmark?
I think they will have a hard time. We Muslims have a really bad reputation now: some are more extreme, some are moderate, and the extreme don't want to get on the same bus as the other ones. Therefore, we don't share a voice to condemn these attacks, and that's a very big problem we will have more of now. It's so depressing that we Muslims can't stand together on one platform.

What are your personal feelings on the supposed motivations of the attack—that it was targeted against a cartoonist for drawing caricatures of Mohammed?
Our stance on that point is very clear. There are extremists in all of Europe who use freedom of speech as justification to brainwash people. It's a very tactical thing these terrorists are doing: when they attack conferences specifically discussing freedom of speech, they know that the European public is going to further stress that we need to have Freedom of Speech. And that's the exact point where terrorist groups make their grounds to recruit even more young people and radicalize them.

Are you surprised that an attack like this would happen in Denmark, or does it make sense given the political atmosphere of Europe?
We're surprised but also, we couldn't really do anything. If Denmark had a policy different from the rest of Europe, then we could say, 'ok, we have done something to prevent these attacks'. But when the atmosphere in all of Europe is the same, it's logical that a terror attack could happen here the same way as anywhere else.

Are you worried that this will cause more political violence, perhaps against Muslims?
Exactly. It will be more extremist, with Muslim extremists on one side and all the other Europeans extremists on the other. There are many political parties in Europe who think that Muslims should be thrown out of Europe. Many Danish people who sit at home and have no interaction with Muslims will be brainwashed by these parties, making them even more anti-Muslim.

Our organization's leader has written a really famous fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombings in which he actually describes what we can do to prevent these kinds of terrorist attacks and movements. That book is a gold book for the whole of Europe. We have to make use of these thoughts and make them part of the curriculum in schools, so that from the beginning people have tools to fight against those trying to radicalize them.

Thanks a lot.