The Magazine

'Sex in the Park'

The latest doings of the Danish imams.

Nov 27, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 11 • By HENRIK BERING
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Copenhagen

YOU HAVE TO hand it to them: Few men in recent history have been more successful in creating mayhem than the small group of Denmark-based imams who turned the appearance of cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper into a world event. In a recent Egyptian opinion poll of nations seen as most hostile, Denmark registered third, right behind the United States and Israel, an impressive score for a small Nordic country that is normally known for its pacifism and humanitarian efforts.

Pretending to be on a mission to create understanding and dialogue, the imams set out from Denmark for the Middle East last December, where they spread false rumors of the Koran being burned on the streets of Copenhagen and otherwise did their best to incite violence against their host nation, resulting in attacks on embassies, trade boycotts, and flag burnings. They were later caught on hidden camera by a French documentary filmmaker, bragging about their exploits.

Not ones to rest on their laurels, this band of bearded brothers have continued to enjoy great success at getting their names into the headlines; their activities have been followed with particular interest by the Jyllands-Posten, the paper that originally published the cartoons and has had to live under a strict security regimen ever since. As always, there is an element of Monty Pythonesque farce in these imams posturing as holy warriors while being welfare-state spongers, and constantly tripping up in their own lies. Farce, that is, if it were not so deadly serious.

First a bit of good news: As reported in the Jyllands-Posten, Sheikh Raed Hlayhel, who has been in Denmark since 2000 and was the prime instigator behind the cartoon protest, recently announced that he had had it with Denmark and was leaving to settle down in his hometown of Tripoli in Lebanon. "And I am not coming back," he fumed, as if depriving the country of some tremendous cultural asset.

As a commentator noted, Hlayhel has not exactly been a model of successful integration. Having received his religious training in Medina in Saudi Arabia--where he imbibed pure, unadulterated Wahhabism--Hlayhel applied for asylum in Denmark and was at first denied. But as his young son suffers from spina bifida, and the Danish authorities felt the boy could not get the proper treatment in Lebanon, he was allowed in on humanitarian grounds.

Hlayhel thus did not have Danish citizenship and did not speak a word of Danish. But in Denmark's fundamentalist parallel society, Arabic will do just fine, especially when you preach jihad. The center of Hlayhel's activities was the Grimhøjvej mosque in the small town of Brabrand in Jutland, which has been closely monitored by Danish intelligence.

Among the users of the mosque were Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane, the so-called Guantánamo Dane--a holy warrior of Danish/Algerian parentage who was caught by American troops in Afghanistan--and Abu Rached, who has been identified by Spanish prosecutors as one of al Qaeda's main operatives in Europe.

What prompted Hlayhel's decision to pull up his tent pegs? He lost his lawsuit against the Jyllands-Posten for having printed the cartoons. And in matters like these, family considerations are clearly secondary. About his invalid son, who was receiving free care from the Danish national health system, Hlayhel stated, "His Muslim identity is more important than his treatment. I think all Muslims should live in a Muslim country. Farewell Denmark."

But before the Danes get too relieved, intelligence experts cited in the Jyllands-Posten warned that the sheikh can still make mischief from the Middle East. In his last prayer in Denmark, Hlayhel denounced the pope, warned against repetitions of the cartoons, and threatened retaliation: "We are people who love death and will sacrifice ourselves before Allah's feet. Do not repeat the tragedy, or else it will become a tragedy for you and the whole world."

Meanwhile, Hlayhel's fellow demagogue Ahmed Abu Laban, a Palestinian refugee who came to Denmark in 1984 and who is also not a Danish citizen, has written a book about the traveling imams' achievements entitled The Jyllands-Posten Crisis, which has come out so far only in Arabic and has been published in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm.