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Balanced Dialogue at the Danish newspaper Politiken
The new debate hall at Politiken was full of curious young people eager to debate the Muhammed crisis on Friday the 24th of March when four young Muslims from Next Stop Denmark answered questions from Danish politicians.
More than 200 participated in the Hearing held by Politiken and Next Stop Denmark
29. March 2006
Opening speech by Trine Pertou Mach
In a globalised world where Muslims and Christians are demonised in the media and where the Muhammed-crisis should be seen more as a crisis of politics than religion, dialogue is more important than ever. It is that dialogue that MS and Krogerup Folk high school has wished to focus on by inviting 42 young Muslims to Denmark over the past week and by sending 1001 young Danes to the Middle East over 1001 days under the initiative Next Stop Middle East starting this summer.
The above is the main message in the speech by which Trine Pertou Mach opened the panel discussion. Trine, who is a programme coordinator at MS also emphasized that both the young Danes and the guests have shown openness and a tremendous will and ability to enter into a democratic dialogue despite difference in outlook and religion.
“Under the headline 'The Quest for Co-Existence' we have discussed life values, democracy, love, participation in developing one's own society, music, religion, freedom of expression, and all other freedoms”, Trine tells the many attendants this Friday afternoon.
And before she gives the word to the panel she underlines that:
"The world can't be changed within one week - and not only through dialogue (..) our long-term strategy is to develop programmes for democracy, participation and human rights building, through civil society organisations and actors, only by doing that power structures will be changed”.
Four of the Next Stop Denmark youth answered questions from Danish politicians
Nuanced answers by the four young panel guests
The panel discussion begins: Minister of taxation Kristian Jensen (V) focuses on how the young guests have seen the Danes in relation to the crisis and adds that one of the reasons the crisis has been difficult for the Danish public is that we normally see ourselves as a very tolerant nation.
Hina Akthai who has lived in Denmark as a child, says that she was surprised when the issue came up, as it didn’t match her image of the Danes. Now that she is back in Denmark she has realised that the Muhammed-crisis has nothing to do with the public at large: “They don’t know much about Islam”, she adds. The other guests in the panel agree with her, they have not had a generalised view of the Danes as particularly intolerant.
The four youngsters in the panel are also nuanced in their analysis of the need for freedom of speech in their home countries: “We are social activists not religious preachers”, Essam Hassan from Egypt says. Hina adds: “Democracy is needed in today’s world”.
At the same time the youth are persistent in their emphasis on the needlessness of the insult of drawing the prophet Muhammed.
“Freedom of speech is important, but you need to consider how it is used. Why didn’t Jyllandsposten just write an article?” Hina asks and concludes that:”In that case the focus would have been on ordinary Muslims and not our prophet”.
The Danish politician from the extreme right Mogens Camre has a long input in the debate about Galilee’s fight for recognition of the fact that the world is round as an analogy to the Muhammed-crisis. The message is clear: You need to risk opposition in order to develop. “Why are the Muslim countries the world’s poorest?” he adds rhetorically.
His viewpoints are not meet with much understanding by the majority of the panel: “Your freedom of speech was in opposition to your religion”, Essam explains and Hina continues: “In Islam the first thing you are taught is to think, learn and develop yourself”, countries where these things are suppressed are not “Muslim in essence” she says. That is, Islam is not the reason for national suppression. “You have to distinguish between politics, culture and religion”, she explains and receives great applause from the audience. Kristian Jensen comments on the equation between Islam and poverty and establishes that “those two things have nothing to do with each other”.
The debate continues until the foreign editor of Politiken Michael Jarlner rounds the debate off: “I am sorry but in a few minutes a rock band will start playing next door, so we have to end the dialogue here”, he says and emphasises that agreement is not necessary for a fruitful dialogue.
Before the music begins a few of the young listeners get an extra talk with Mogens Camre. If an enlightening discussion is possible is hard to say but to exchange opinions is obviously interesting even though it is most likely an example of a dialogue that will not end up with agreement.