After Critic of Islam Escapes Assassination Attempt, Moderate Muslims Come to His Defense

Lars Hedegaard, head of the Danish Free Press Society, was nearly the victim of an assassination attempt a few weeks ago. When the accusations about who tried to kill him began flying, Muslims extremists were at the top of the list. Hedegaard had made many remarks against Islam (many of them admittedly unfair and despicable) and, in a country where a newspaper’s cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammad led to worldwide riots, they weren’t exactly unwarranted accusations.

Lars Hedegaard

Normally, when this sort of thing happens, moderate Muslims are nowhere to be found and the rest of us are left to defend the right to free speech.

Not this time.

Muslim groups in the country, which were often criticized during the cartoon furor for not speaking out against violence and even deliberately fanning the flames, raised their voices to condemn the attack on Mr. Hedegaard and support his right to express his views, no matter how odious.

The Islamic Society, which runs Denmark’s biggest mosque and played an important role in stirring up passions against the cartoons of Muhammad, swiftly condemned the attack on Mr. Hedegaard. It also said it regretted its own role during the uproar over the cartoon, when it sent a delegation to Egypt and Lebanon to sound the alarm over Danish blasphemy, a move that helped turn what had been a little-noticed domestic affair into a bloody international crisis.

“We Muslims have to find a new way of reacting,” said Qaiser Najeeb, a 38-year-old second-generation Dane whose father immigrated from Afghanistan. “Instead of focusing on the real point, we always get aggressive and emotional. This should change. We don’t defend Hedegaard’s views but do defend his right to speak. He can say what he wants.”

That’s an incredible shift in attitude from just a few years ago — and a welcome one at that. If Muslims responded like this all the time, there would be less of an incentive for free speech advocates, cartoonists, and bloggers to lampoon their beliefs. Sure, criticizing bad ideas would (and should) still occur, but deliberate provocation of sensitive beliefs would probably decrease.

The question now is whether that moderate attitude will spread enough so that the extremists who are still out there have no popular support.

(Thanks to Feminerd for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Andrew Hall

    It’s comforting to see Enlightenment values wear away religious knee-jerk reactions.

  • Rain

    Maybe they are slowly realizing that blasphemy is a ridiculous and backward concept. Maybe roses will sprout out of my nose. Maybe frogs will fly if they had wings.

  • AxeGrrl

    Here’s hoping that them setting this example will make it easier for other moderate Muslims to do the same in the future.

  • abb3w

    Seems almost like progress.

  • tim

    maybe it is not too far fetched to see this as progress. Remmber Denmark is a very small country and the Muslim community there must be very small. So you might only be looking a a handful of leaders having a change of heart.

  • Brian Hogg

    I’m confused as to how his statements can be both “unfair and despicable” while at the same time “they weren’t exactly unwarranted accusations.” Doesn’t them being warranted make them fair?

  • 3lemenope

    Different referents. The “them” refers to the remarks, while the “they” refers to Muslim extremists.

    When the accusations about who tried to kill him began flying, Muslims extremists were at the top of the list. Hedegaard had made many remarks against Islam (many of [the remarks against Islam] admittedly unfair and despicable) and, in a country where a newspaper’s cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammad led to worldwide riots, [the accusations against Muslim extremists] weren’t exactly unwarranted accusations.

  • Philbert

    I think the statement is that Hedegaard has said some wrong things about Muslims, but it’s fair to speculate that Muslim extremists are behind the attempts to kill him.

  • Bdole

    Well, if they had wings, they would. The hard part is getting the damn things to stay attached.
    As for your nose: are you mulching? You gotta mulch.

  • Pj Crepeau

    Too bad the Danish Muslims had to play a critical role in inciting homicidal riots before they could be bothered to respect Freedom of Speech. They could have saved the world a lot of trouble had they adopted Enlightenment values sooner.

  • trj

    That’s a rather general categorization of Danish Muslims and a rather inaccurate resumé of the events.

  • Rich Wilson

    I was looking for some evidence to back up “many of them admittedly unfair and despicable” and found:

    Mr. Hedegaard has also fanned wild conspiracy theories and sometimes veered into calumny. At a private gathering at his home in December 2009, he declared that Muslims “rape their own children. It is heard of all the time. Girls in Muslim families are raped by their uncles, their cousins or their fathers.”

    Seems to me that Danish Muslims are wisely learning when not to feed the troll.

  • Mario Strada

    Rape, incest and molestation happen in every culture unfortunately. To say that Muslims are especially guilty of it is indeed odious.

    I grew up blissfully unaware of how rampant this problem is in so many families. Then I married into a family where most of the women, including my wife, had been victim of incest and sexual molestation (not even the frigging poodle escaped from it, but that was brought on by a reaction to a psychotropic drug apparently. But I often wonder what kind of drug they would have to give me to make me literally “screw the pooch”).

    It was a very rude awakening for me and I have learned to see the signs, but above all to recognize the after effects.

    I am sure that in Muslim societies is at least as prevalent as in ours but I would never condone using that to demean a whole culture.

    On the other hand, it’s nice to see Muslims reacting with civility without immediately strapping a vest on and go look for the first camera they can find so they can show everyone how [pissed they really are.

    Could this be a turn around moment?

    Edit: Incidentally, my wife’s family is originally from Denmark. Her father still speaks the language while the grandparents were actually born there. The abuse was practiced on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • chicago dyke

    totally, friend. “let he who is without sin cast the first…” and all that.

    the US, bastion of freedumb and separation of church and state and all that, is rife with sick and twisted religious types. i’m so not gonna get harsh on Danish Muslims who take a first step towards Reason and Tolerance. thank you Muslims! welcome to the 21st century! stay here, and keep evolving.

  • wmdkitty

    Hey, man, it may be baby-steps, but baby-steps are still progress!

  • McAtheist

    From the small acorn the big oak grows, it’s a start