Muslim Who Helped Stir Unrest Over Danish Muhammad Cartoons Finally Apologizes

In September of 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of “blasphemous” cartoons (including the one below) featuring the Islamic prophet Muhammad:

You remember what happened (months) after that. Mass chaos. Violent demonstrations. Death threats against the artists. Death, period.

Ahmed Akkari, 28 at the time, was one of the leaders of that reactionary movement. A New York Times article from 2006 talked about his role in the protests:

Ahmed Akkari, 28, a Lebanese-born Dane, acts as spokesman for the European Committee for Honoring the Prophet, an umbrella group of 27 Danish Muslim organizations to press the Danish government into action over the cartoons.

“Then the case moved to a new stage,” Mr. Akkari recalled. “We decided then that to be heard, it must come from influential people in the Muslim world.”

Not long after his group went to the Muslim leaders, the riots began.

Akkari is 35 now and, in a really amazing twist, he regrets his role in creating this shitstorm:

“I want to be clear today about the trip: It was totally wrong,” Akkari told The Associated Press this week. “At that time, I was so fascinated with this logical force in the Islamic mindset that I could not see the greater picture. I was convinced it was a fight for my faith, Islam.”

He said he’s still a practicing Muslim but started doubting his fundamentalist beliefs after a 2007 trip to Lebanon, where he met Islamist leaders.

“I was shocked. I realized what an oppressive mentality they have,” Akkari said.

In fact, last week, Akkari apologized in person to Kurt Westergaard, who drew the cartoon above.

“I met a man who has converted from being an Islamist to become a humanist who understands the values of our society,” Westergaard said of Akkari. “To me, he is really sincere, convincing and strong in his views.”

Meanwhile, Akkari’s old group hasn’t changed one bit, saying they still find all images of Muhammad offensive and disrespectful.

I’m glad Akkari had a change of heart, but he could do better than just apologizing to the secular press. He, more than anyone else, needs to plant seeds in the minds of other fundamentalist Muslims who see the world as he once did. He needs to make fighting for freedom of speech a lifetime cause since his actions help take away the lives of so many.

Remember: Even beyond those who were directly killed in the rioting, Molly Norris, who began Everybody Draw Muhammad Day in 2010, had to reportedly change her name and go into hiding after she was put on a Muslim radical’s hitlist. Her life still isn’t back to normal.

Akkari played an important role in ruining all these lives. He can’t wipe his hands clean of all this just yet; his work is now just beginning.

(Thanks to Richard 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.

  • TBJ

    “At that time, I was so fascinated with this logical force”
    More like logical farce

    If your logic leads to violence I’m thinking there is something wrong with your maths but perhaps violence was a median result leading to the peaceful solution. To bad people don’t look at the entire equation, see how the beginning is relevant to the ending and just drop the erroneous data in between. There are millions of examples of poor logic to choose from.

    • Machintelligence

      I think it was more of a moral force than a logical one. Given a charitable reading of his apology, he sounds surprised at the violence of the reaction.

  • Pain.Strumpet

    The webcitation link about the homicidal, Islamic organization putting out its hit list shows a dark image. It shows the faces and names of several men, but only the names (not faces) of the two women. Is that because the murderous people can’t abide looking at women at all? How are the assassins supposed to know if they’ve got the right woman?

    Their religious beliefs are so backward that they’re getting in the way of practicing their religious beliefs. That’s got to be worth points in some metagame.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Yep, There have been articles on that image before. It’s because they’d have to show them without veils. Also: Heehee!

    • RetweetLister

      Pain.Strumpet “Their religious beliefs are so backward that they’re getting in the way
      of practicing their religious beliefs. That’s got to be worth points in
      some metagame.”

      That may be one of the most poignant statements made on this topic.

  • Atheist for human rights

    A Muslim who is also a humanist? Impossible! That would mean that Islam is not uniquely evil and inferior to all other religious groups. As we all know from the great teachings of our new atheist leaders (Mehta, Harris, Dawkins) Islam is incompatible with humanism.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Jesus you’re bad at logic and sarcasm. Kinda pissy too.

    • Carmelita Spats

      Mr. Mehta is an atheist leader with a panoply of little nefarious
      teachings tucked inside a shiny-shiny oilskin portfolio? Jumping Jesus
      on a pogo stick!…I thought Mr. Mehta was just a mild mannered math
      teacher, author and vegetarian with too many parent/teacher conferences,
      lesson plan modifications, behavior intervention plans, professional
      development hours, tutoring, homework, and benchmark tests to have the
      time to overthrow Christendom and rattle Mohammed’s girly thighs with
      his atheistic teachings! Being a math teacher by day and a great atheist
      leader by night certainly casts a shadow over one’s life. But then
      again, many atheists go through life with a shadow hanging over them,
      particularly if they live in a building which has long, wide, awnings.
      Glory! I think I need a beer and pork rinds at Busty Burqas.

      • jferris

        Wait, Mr. Mehta is a….gasp…VEGETARIAN! This totally changes my view. Obviously I’ve been tricked into using reason, logic, and science when actually, it was all to make me give up pork. Evil. Very evil…..

    • C Peterson

      Who says Islam is uniquely evil? At its roots, it’s certainly less evil than Christianity. The only thing that makes Islam appear especially evil in today’s world is the fact that it is the state religion of several particularly vicious theocracies. No more vicious than a number of Christian theocracies in the past, but reading about something in a history book tends not to affect us the same way reading about in in a newspaper does.

      Of course, while humanism tends to work best when it’s secular, there are humanists within all religions. And religious people who perhaps couldn’t be called humanists, but share many humanist ideals, are common.

      • Atheist for human rights

        Dawkins et al say that quite a bit look at the link I posted below. Where have you been?

        • C Peterson

          You misunderstand Dawkins, et al. Badly.

          • Atheist for human rights

            Dawkins said and I quote, “I haven’t read the Koran but Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today.” Do you not understand how superlatives work in the English language? this is why New Atheists are often – and rightly – compared to religious freaks. You people are so delusional.

            You will go through any mental contortion to delude yourselves into believing your great leaders are near infallible. New Atheists treat Dawkins et al. like they were prophets, and if they say something that is infinitely ignorant it must be because other people have misunderstood them. That is delusion on a religious level.

            • C Peterson

              Yes. Exactly what I said before. Since you provide the quote, I also call into question your reading comprehension. Dawkins isn’t remotely saying that Islam is uniquely evil. Neither is he saying that it is inherently incompatible with humanism.

  • Atheist for human rights
    • kaydenpat

      Great article, although I’m still a Dawkins’ fan. Especially love this sentence:

      “For those brought up all their lives in
      a religious environment, who are strongly emotionally welded to their beliefs,
      their faith is not something that can simply be switched off.”

    • teknojo

      I see what the article is saying and I have thought it on occasion too, Dawkins and some of the others too are border line bigoted towards Islam. If not out rightly so.

      That said, I think in another time and place they would be saying the same things about Christianity or any mainstream religion or philosophy that has in its past condoned ultra violence as a means to a religious end.

      I actually wish that it was not wrong to be bigoted in this way, though I would argue that in MOST cases there is likely a better way to make the point then being belligerent as Dawkins and others sometimes are. But to be belligerent as they have been does not really help in the long run. It simply drives the wedge between the groups in farther. I can see where Dawkins is frustrated at this point and may be giving in to the same hate that is felt by the religious fundamentalists towards him. It is a human nature.

      Sections of Islam are acting in a way that is contrary to continued advancement and freedom of our planetary society and species. ANYTHING that does that should be viewed with disdain and abhorrence, much the way chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are along with child rapists. But being angry and rude about it to others does not help the cause.

  • trj

    I’m glad Akkari had a change of heart, but he could do better than just apologizing to the secular press. He, more than anyone else, needs to plant seeds in the minds of other fundamentalist Muslims…

    I saw some of the discussion between Westergaard and Akkari. Actually, Akkari did recognize that he has a responsibility to rectify the situation, and also that as a Muslim spokesman he is potentially in a position to convince people. Although, he did also immediately say that his influence has waned considerably among his Islamistic crowd, in direct relation to him gradually becoming more moderate, probably to the point where none of his former fellows want to listen to him.

    But maybe he can sway some of the more moderate fence-sitters. Time will tell if he’s able to live up to his responsibility.

    • GentleGiant

      Exactly (haven’t watched the whole discussion, mostly the parts shown on the news). He might also realize that some of the people he used to hang out with are so far gone that nothing he says will change their minds. At that point it’s not rationality they thrive on any more.
      Whether he has ulteriour motives (not necessarily nefarious motives, but maybe political aspirations) is hard to say, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

  • Sam Mulvey

    It’s nice that he’s had a change of heart, I guess.

    I’d like to be more open to when people realize the error of their ways, but people died here. I think the protocol should require something more.

  • Mick

    Expression of regret my arse! He’s a religious control freak, experimenting to see how far he can push public opinion in his favor. Once he gets bored with that idea he’ll try something else. Give it five years and he’ll be talking about changing his religion – anything to stay in the public eye.

  • Ploni Almoni

    Too little too late. How many people died because of those riots!?!

  • GubbaBumpkin

    An apology after only 8 years? That’s not so bad when you consider the Vatican finally apologised to Galileo in 1992.

  • Forrest Cahoon

    The “he regrets his role” link goes to a Yahoo! site, which uses the ironically-named “context advertising” — some words in the story are annoying random links to advertisers. I suggest this link instead:

  • gunnarlangemark

    Westergaard is still protected by the danish equivalent of the FBI, and the newspaper’s employees are still working in a fortress to protect them from aggressors.
    Akkaris slanderous propaganda, based on falsehoods and direct lies – was responsible for the death of several people.
    Granted that it is a suprising turn of events, there is no real reason to just forget and forgive.

  • Jake

    He [Ahmed Akkari] also said:
    “The truth is that there is not a single mosque or Muslim organization in Denmark that is not run by Islamists. As soon as you enter the house of the believers, you are met with Islamism whether you want it or not. As soon as you become a devoted Muslim, you are infected by extremism.”