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'Controversy helped Europe understand Islam'

By a staff reporter / 27 February 2006

DUBAI — The massive protests in the Muslim world against the Danish cartoons have helped Denmark, as also Europe, have a better understanding of, and respect for, Islam, said the Danish Consul in Dubai, Thomas Bay, yesterday.

“We have to solve this matter through dialogue; the outcome of this controversy is that it facilitated a deeper dialogue', he told your favourite No. 1 newspaper Khaleej Times.

“We Europeans have realised that we can say anything to Muslims and they do not feel bad as long as we don't touch upon the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). This is the lesson we learned from this cartoon issue. The importance of the Prophet in the minds and hearts of Muslims must be fully understood', he said.

He said that in Denmark, Muslims formed the second largest population. 'We have about six to eight Members of Parliament  (MPs) drawn from Danish Muslims. This shows how much importance we give to each other and how we get along with each other'.

'The cartoon's subject matter was never an official line. It was printed by a privately-owned newspaper. In Denmark, if you make fun of Jesus, nobody will care. Yet, if you try and imagine of some cartoon published in this region portraying the Danish king or queen in a bad light... then we will react. We, thus, understand the sentiments behind the cartoon controversy. What's important is not to get stuck at this point, but to move forward', Bay said.

Said he,  'If somebody tells something, and if they are out of your control, what can you do? Under our constitution, there is freedom for the press. It is not possible for the prime minister to apologise. Nor can people apologise for what they have not done, and for what somebody else (in their midst) have done'.

The Danish diplomat made it clear that, however, 'We will not change our constitution (to exert controls over the media)'.

'It is extremely important for us to explain to the people here that, back in our country, there is a huge respect for Islam. We are known as a tolerant people. We have nothing against the faith of Islam. Unfortunately, one single daily published this silly cartoon...', added Bay.

Khaleej Times pointed out that freedom of expression does not mean hurting others' sentiments.

'I fully agree with you. That is exactly the key. The editor of the Danish daily had not anticipated the outcome of his action, (like  the burning of flag, embassy, and killing of hundreds in protests in the Muslim world). Yet, he has the freedom of speech. However, now, I am sure they (the newspaper) are not very proud of what they have done', the Danish head of mission said. 

'You can also turn around and say, this had a positive impact on Islam. The realization has come that you have to respect Islam, and the prophet. Now Europe is more aware of this aspect. There is positive thinking in this respect...and people will now be more careful (about hurting others' feelings). People have now been more careful', he observed.

'Unfortunately', he added, 'we were the ones to start the fire, and we were hit badly'.

'I would like us all to get out of this situation...have a dialogue with you, with those in the UAE. Our prime minister has gone on a personal level and apologized. But, as PM, under the constitution, he can't apologise over this matter. This is difficult for a man in the Gulf to understand because your systems are different', the diplomat said.

He said, 'I understand the feelings and reaction from many Muslims. I need, too, to express my feelings in this respect. I must make it clear that Danish companies have nothing to do with this cartoon publication, and yet they are at the receiving end now, as their products are being boycotted in parts of the Muslim world. Our companies have lots of goods being marketed in the Gulf region, and they have lots of employees on their payrolls in this region, including large numbers of Muslims'.

The Danish head of mission pointed out that there was a similar instance in the past, in his country, when the people there protested against a nuclear testing by the French that was feared to have had a bad impact on Denmark. 'We wanted to retaliate to the French by boycotting French wine, but the problem was that when we went to super markets, the wine was very much there. But, here, super markets pulled out all Danish products'.

'I am thinking about people who are affected by the boycott here; many of them are employed by our firms, and many Muslims among them too, during the past 15 years, and with this boycott they will all be affected...it is unfair at a personal level', he noted, adding that 'they cannot be taken to task for what a Danish newspaper has done', Bay said.

He said, 'The newspaper has inserted advertisements in the Arab media and the English media, expressing its apology over what had happened. They have done what you have asked them to do. So let us get back to normal. It, I feel, is a shame to turn this protest into a policy against Denmark. The fact is that those cartoons were subsequently published in many other countries, in Germany, in Italy...

Khaleej Times pointed out to him that those were published by way of telling the readers as to what the controversy was all about.

'We are a small country. We are the easy target. We are not getting any political support. That is the fact', the diplomat felt.

'Afterall, what have you got to gain from targeting a country like Denmark? We are small and yet are targeted politically. It was, after all, a deed by a private newspaper...not a smear campaign against anyone by our government...and yet, many have started burning our flag...and we are financially hurt too'.

He said, 'We are very supportive of Muslims. Therefore, it is time for us to move on. The newspaper has apologised...it is important for me to remark that this was an isolated incident.

The Danish diplomat said, 'We have to find out how we can move on. We have Muslim politicians...we have quite a few Muslim Members of Parliament. Let us get around...let us not focus on this single incident'.

 

 
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