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Denmark Wants To Rehabilitate Islamic Radicals — But Is It Failing?

The Copenhagen terrorist attacks: What do they mean?

The murder of two Danes, one in a cafe where Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was attending a free speech forum, and one at the Copenhagen synagogue, says it all. Islamists draw no distinctions, not even for countries where Muslims have been welcomed. Nor are they driven by “anti-Zionism,” as the left in Denmark and elsewhere claim. This is about killing speech and killing Jews.

The initial provocation, if one can call it that, was the 2005 Mohammed cartoon controversy, in which some radical Muslim leaders around the world called for the deaths of the Danish cartoonists who depicted the Prophet in an unfavorable light, or depicted him at all, contrary to sharia law. In many countries Danes were attacked and Danish businesses destroyed.

But one country in which there were no violent responses was Denmark itself, where a group of moderate imams called for peaceful demonstrations, reminding their followers that as immigrants, they had worked hard to obtain the Danish passport and should not lightly discard it. This latest attack is also an attack on them. They take their citizenship seriously, as a gift that few other countries afford them. To have their co-religionists violate the Danish commitment to free expression and religious tolerance infuriates them both as Muslims and as Danes.

Denmark offers its citizens full participation in the political process. Some accept; some choose terrorism despite the offer.

Most prominent of the first group is former Danish parliamentarian Naser Khader, son of a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother. Khader is a leading proponent of peaceful coexistence between democracy and Islam. In 2005 he established a new movement, Moderate Muslims, later renamed Democratic Muslims. For his efforts, a spokesman for a radical group of Danish imams stated, “If Khader becomes Minister of Integration, it would be likely that someone dispatched two guys to blow him and the Ministry up.” This endorsement of terrorism by a group of radical Muslims saw its realization with Saturday’s attacks.

There are other examples of the Danes’ commitment to integration, not only on its own terms, but also as a bulwark against terrorism.

In recent weeks, they have tried a unique experiment to combat Islamist violence. While other countries are arresting their citizens returning from service in ISIS, Denmark has decided to rehabilitate them, treating them not as criminals or potential terrorists but as wayward youths who deserve a second chance. Many think it naïve; in any case, it is a clear measure of Danish bona-fides with respect to its Muslim citizens, even the radical ones.

But are these initiatives working? The jury is still out — way out. The anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party continues to gain adherents. Jews avoid wearing kippot or Stars of David in public. A government official asked the Danish Zionist Organization to take down its flag because it might enrage other participants — at a festival of diversity! A man with a Middle-Eastern accent approached my wife and me, saying, “You look like Americans and Jews. I hate them both.”

Several weeks ago, a group of pro-Israel, pro-peace Danish Jews and non-Jews and Iranian dissidents had to be driven away in buses from their rally because the police couldn’t guarantee their security, due to increasing threats from young Muslims who were clustering in ever-louder and more violent groups nearby and even driving past in their cars shouting anti-Semitic slogans and waving Hamas flags. An eyewitness filmed several young men shouting “Fucking Jews” at the rally participants.

The policemen who were wounded Saturday guarding the Copenhagen synagogue had not been assigned there recently, as is the case in France. The synagogue has constant protection by police and by private security guards, one of whom was the second fatal victim of the attacks.

I think this is a wake-up call for the Danes. A Jewish friend tells me of the words of a Christian relative who will be attending all subsequent demonstrations: “This is Denmark. This doesn’t happen here.”

My Danish friends, who identify themselves philosophically as social democrats, voting for left-liberal parties, are taking events very seriously. None is pretending that this is anything other that what it seems.

Contrary to common perceptions, Danes have no special like or dislike for Jews. But they do not distinguish among Danes, by religion or ethnicity, and they will not stand for other Danes being attacked.

The Nazis didn’t understand it; neither do the Islamists. Nor do the Islamists understand the depth of Danish commitment to free expression. They’re about to find out.

Jeffry V. Mallow has lived in Denmark, as a guest professor and a Fulbright scholar.

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