Ex-Danish Imam Ahmed Akkari at Danish Free Press Society Briefing
“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.”
By Bruce Bawer:
He was the main instigator of the wave of Danish Muslim mischief that arose in reaction to the 2005 Muhammad cartoons and that resulted in riots, embassy burnings, an international boycott of Danish products, and over a hundred deaths.
Now, he says, he’s changed his mind – not just about the Muhammad cartoons, but about Islam itself. And about Denmark, too, for which he now professes the deepest affection and gratitude. In an August 22 op-ed for the Danish newspaper Politiken, in a lecture given at the Free Press Society, and in dozens of TV, radio, and print interviews in recent days, Ahmed Akkari has described his ideological journey from passionate jihadist to lover of liberty.
Born in Lebanon in 1978, Akkari was taken by his parents at age six to Denmark, where they were given asylum. His parents picked Denmark, he says, precisely because few immigrants lived there at the time; they figured it was a place where they could live a peaceful and assimilated life far from the turbulence of 1980s Lebanon.
Akkari attended regular Danish schools, where he learned about critical thinking, objective analysis, the scientific method. But then, at age sixteen, he started hanging around a local mosque and listening to “missionaries” who convinced him that they were “in possession of the truth and nothing but the truth.” Soon he was training to become an imam and learning to despise democracy and freedom of speech.
He found work as a teacher at a Muslim school. And then, in 2005 – the same year he was granted Danish citizenship – the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published the Muhammad cartoons. Akkari quickly became the public face and voice of the Muslim protests, stirring up rage among fellow believers not only in Denmark but around the world.
The cartoon riots peaked in 2006. After they died down, Akkari withdraw from public life for a while. He had time to think. And he began, he says, to see the importance of living in a society that makes room for “all lifestyles.”
Later that year, he settled temporarily in Lebanon. When Denmark evacuated Danish citizens from the country after a Hezbollah attack on Israel, Akkari was among them. “Despite the fact that I had done so much damage to Denmark, the country let me in again,” he recalls. “Nobody arrested me at the airport. I was not interrogated and nobody questioned my right to return.” (Mind-blowing, but that’s an article for another day.) This treatment, he says, made an impression on him, and helped lead him down the road to where he is today.
Then, in 2008, he took a teaching job in Greenland. “In the stillness of the polar nights,” writes Ingrid Carlqvist in Dispatch International, summarizing the story he told at the Free Press Society, “the thoughts came to Akkari. He started reading the world’s most important books.” He read world history and Enlightenment philosophers. “There was so much I didn’t know. I read about the freedom fighters who throughout history have tried to prevent religion from curtailing free thought and I realized that Denmark was in fact the oasis my parents had imagined.”
Indeed, Akkari claims that while in Greenland he “prayed to God never to send any Muslims” there because he “was so tired of corrupt imams spreading their totalitarian ideology that I was convinced they would not only melt the ice cap if they came there, but set it on fire.” Radio host Mads Holger and cultural critic Kasper Støvring, to whom Akkari recounted his Greenland sojourn on the air, describe his experience as “an existential crisis,” a “wandering in the desert,” a story “of almost biblical dimensions.”
Then, in 2011, during a visit to Lebanon, Akkari read a controversial book by one Hamid Nasr Abu Zeid that criticized Muslim “religious rhetoric.” Because of his book, Zeid had been declared an apostate and forced to divorce his wife. But Akkari liked what he read.
Eventually, after years of ideological doubt during which, he says, he would take “a step forward and then a step back,” Akkari arrived at a decision: he had changed his mind about Islam. And in late July, a reporter for the Danish newspaper BT persuaded him to go public with it. Since doing so, Akkari has been saying and writing the kinds of things that critics of Islam have been saying and writing for years – and that left-wing, cultural-elite commentators in Denmark and everywhere else have been consistently savaging as lies, lies, lies.
What distinguishes Akkari from some of us, however, is that he embraces – indeed, seems to cling to, as if to a life raft – the distinction, which some of us (myself included) find spurious, between “Islam” and “Islamism.” Islamism, he says, “the Quran and Muhammad’s life as the foundation for rituals, rules, and outlooks.” Islamists “assume that every word in the Koran is the law, and that every source provided by Muhammad is the basis for a law.” Islamists insist, moreover, “that they are in possession of the truth and nothing but the truth.”
To me, this sounds like Islam, pure and simple. If it’s Islamism, then what, in Akkari’s view, is Islam? The answer’s not clear. He does acknowledge that the majority of Muslims are, by his definition, Islamists: Islamist thought, as he puts it, “has infected most ordinary Muslims, who…can not imagine reading texts in other ways without feeling that they’re offending against God.” Yet he is – or wants to be seen as – one of that tiny minority of Muslims who assert that their faith, although rooted in a manual of hate and in the life story of a tyrannical, murderous pedophile, can somehow be turned into something entirely different from what it’s been since its inception.
Differentiating Islam from Islamism is obviously of vital importance to Akkari. Although many Danes, he says, “have interpreted my struggle against Islamism as an attack on Islam,” he insists that they “couldn’t be farther from the truth.” He makes a point of rejecting well-known Islam critics, such as Pia Kjærsgaard, founder of the Danish People’s Party, on the grounds that “Islam is not the real problem, but Islamism is.” For while Islamism, he argues, believes in “established truths” and “demands…a monopoly on the truth,” Islam “can be interpreted in many ways and is therefore compatible with democracy.” Islam, he claims, needs to be “released from the Islamists’ power.” He even envisions an Islam that “accepts…gays and atheists.” Well, I don’t get it (if you free Islam from what he calls Islamism, what’s left?), and I’m not betting on it, but – assuming he means it – good luck to him.
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