A Danish Muslim who played a central role in inciting the riots that followed the 2005-2006 Muhammad cartoon controversy regrets his involvement in the violence, and says it was the result of a conspiracy between Danish imams, Muslim ambassadors, various Muslim countries, and terrorist Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
“Denmark became a victim and that has been a cause of much agonizing and soul-searching for me ever since,” Danish Muslim activist Ahmed Akkari said in an interview with Freedom House’s Lars Hvidberg in April.
The interview took place just after the release of Akkari’s book, “My Farewell to Islamism,” in which he describes how he became disillusioned with radical Islam and the violence it spawned in his native Denmark.
The 35-year-old former Danish Islamist, who seven years ago traveled the Muslim world fueling the uproar over newspaper caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, announced last summer that he had done an about-face on the issue and said the Jyllands-Posten newspaper had the right to print them.
His unexpected change of heart received praise from pundits and politicians in recent weeks, though some questioned his sincerity. It also disappointed some in the country’s Muslim minority who were deeply offended by the cartoons.
When the Danish daily published 12 caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad on September 30, 2005, including one showing the prophet with a bomb in his turban, the move ignited a series of riots that left dozens dead and the Danish embassies in Beirut and Damascus destroyed.
Muslims all over the world rose up in protest of the caricatures, which were not only derogatory, but forbidden by Islamic law, which bans images of the prophet.
The protests and violence were thought to be spontaneous reactions, even as the ensuing mayhem escalated to the point that it was dubbed the worst international crisis for Denmark since World War II by Danish Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen.
However, according to Akkari, there was nothing spontaneous about the Muslim reaction to the cartoons. On the contrary, it was a calculated response drawn up by Danish imams and various Muslim ambassadors who appealed for help to both influential Muslim states and terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Akkari, who was the spokesman for the Danish Islamist imams who opposed the caricatures, estimated that it was Hamas and Hezbollah that masterminded the destruction of the Danish embassies in Beirut and Damascus.
The spokesman-turned-sketpic has apologized publicly for the role he played in the riots. He has apologized to cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew the controversial turban caricature, and Rasmussen, who opposed the imams during the crisis.
He has also exposed the complicity of some of his former friends and colleagues, who now call him a liar and traitor, in the violence that left between 150 to 200 people dead.
Akkari said the Danish Islamists, while pretending to work toward reconciliation and embracing “nonviolent” forms of protest, actually worked covertly to incite confrontations and yet more violence. He said they relished the violence, even if it reached extreme heights, because to them, it was a manifestation of the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West — as well as a justified response to an “insult” to Islam.
“The fact is that both the working group and the ambassadors wanted the crisis,” Akkari said in April. “We wanted to use it to punish Denmark for the treatment of Muslims and to get better conditions for Islam. The ambassadors used it to market themselves as protectors of the Prophet and the faith in their home countries.”
Akkari blamed Western powers, namely the United States, Britain and NATO, for encouraging the escalation by failing to come out in full support of Denmark from the very first, instead waiting until the embassies were burned down.
“If the US from the beginning had said to Denmark—without reservations ‘we 100 percent support your right of freedom of the press,’ and in that way supported the American tradition of freedom of speech, things might have turned out differently. They could have put much more pressure on the Muslim countries. The Egyptians especially would have reconsidered their actions. What was missing was somebody who could stand his ground and draw the line without reservations,” he said.
Akkari, who was recruited to the ranks of an Islamist organization as a 16-year-old refugee from war-torn Lebanon, said he had been involved with Islamist groups for 15 years before becoming disillusioned with their hypocrisy.
“The one divine path I had preached and tried to find all these years, was an illusion and nothing else. I had spent many years of my life living a lie,” he said.
“At times the consequences can be daunting,” Akkari writes at the end of his book. “Still, I have no regrets. I am doing what my conscience bids me, and perhaps the situation for me and other critics of Islamism illustrates better than anything else, why my message is important. Now, I have to live in hiding. But I do not mind living in hiding, as long as it is as a free man.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.