Feminist, socialist, devout Muslim: woman who shocks Denmark

Reply Wed 23 May, 2007 10:48 am
Feminist, socialist, devout Muslim: woman who has thrown Denmark into turmoil

Parliamentary candidate, 25, finds herself at centre of Europe-wide controversy

Ian Traynor in Odense, Denmark
Wednesday May 16, 2007
The Guardian

Danish parliamentary candidate Asmaa Abdol-Hamid. Photograph: Kristian Brasen/AFP

In the land that launched the cartoons war between Islam and the west, Asmaa Abdol-Hamid finds herself on the frontline, gearing up for a new battle.

The 25-year-old social worker, student and town councillor describes herself as a feminist, a democrat, and a socialist. She has gay friends, opposes the death penalty, supports abortion rights, and could not care less what goes on in other people's bedrooms. In short, a tolerant Scandinavian and European.

She is also a Palestinian and a devout Muslim who insists on wearing a headscarf, who refuses, on religious grounds, to shake hands with males, and who is bidding fair to be the first Muslim woman ever to enter the Folketing, the Danish parliament in Copenhagen.

For the extreme right, the young activist is a political provocateur, an agent of Islamic fundamentalism bent on infiltrating the seat of Danish democracy. To many on the left, Ms Abdol-Hamid is also problematic, personifying through her dress the reactionary repression of women and an illiberal religious agenda that should have no place in her leftwing "red-green" alliance of socialists and environmentalists.

As a result of announcing her parliamentary candidacy earlier this month, the young Muslim and Danish citizen has been thrust to the centre of a debate tormenting Denmark and the rest of western Europe - on the place and values of Islam in modern Europe and the treatment of large Muslim minorities.

Ms Abdol-Hamid is unfazed. "I see more Islam here in Denmark than in Iran or in other places in the Middle East," she says. "It's easier to be a Muslim in Denmark than in Saudi Arabia. I don't feel a stranger here. I'm interested in politics. I want to talk about this society, about political issues. But I'm not in politics because I'm a Muslim."

Her ambition, combined with her insistence on flaunting her religious affiliation, have outraged the Danish political establishment and triggered a new bout of soul-searching almost two years after the publication of cartoons of the Prophet ignited violence and protest across the Islamic world.

"This goes far beyond the extreme right," says Toger Seidenfaden, editor of the Politiken daily newspaper. "Asmaa is insisting on the right to be a religious Muslim and that's provoking broad debate among the public."

The key issue is the headscarf and whether it can be accommodated in parliament. This month Ms Abdol-Hamid gained the candidacy for a safe Copenhagen seat for the leftwing Unity List.

The Danish People's Party or DFP, the far-right movement that unofficially props up the weak centre-right government of the prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is on the warpath. A couple of DFP politicians compared the headscarf to the Nazi swastika. One described the prospective MP as "brainwashed".

"We don't like the idea of her performing as an Islamist in the parliament," says DFP spokesman Kim Eskildsen. "We find it wrong that she'll use the parliament as a tool for Islamism ... We don't consider this woman a Nazi. But the way the headscarf is used is comparable to other totalitarian symbols."

The happiest country in the world, according to one detailed survey of international living standards and public attitudes, Denmark is economically highly successful, with the lowest unemployment in the EU.

For the country's 200,000 Muslims and immigrants, however, that happiness is increasingly somewhere else. By virtue of the DFP's influence on the centre-right government, Denmark has enacted the tightest anti-immigration legislation in Europe in recent years.

Many Danes married to foreigners now commute into Copenhagen every day from the southern Swedish town of Malmo across the bridge linking the two cities because they cannot obtain residence for their spouses at home.

Ms Abdol-Hamid, who shares a one-room council flat with one of her six sisters in the "ghetto" of Vollsmose, in the town of Odense, says her political mission is to fight for this underclass.

"This is such a rich country. But we have people in Denmark in deep poverty and nobody helps them. For me the welfare system is very close to Islam. But we need to change the government."

But conservative Muslim leaders are also disapproving of her activism.

"Some Muslims don't think it's right for a female to act like this. They go to my father and tell him, get her married, get her married," she laughs. "Others think you can't be Muslim and Danish at the same time. Some of the Muslims and the extreme right are just the same.

"And there are women in my party who say that anyone who wears the headscarf is oppressed. It's like they think I'm dumb. They're taking away my individuality. We need the right to choose. It's up to us whether or not we wear headscarves.

"They think I'm a woman from the Middle East. No. I'm a Danish Muslim."
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Wed 23 May, 2007 11:46 am
Well, I started a thread with a similar title when that report origianally come out ... with just one response.

Might well be, nimh, your try is better.
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Reply Wed 23 May, 2007 02:56 pm
Really? Damn, I'd have thought this would have gotten hot-button responses.

Perhaps people didnt reply because they couldnt fit her into one of those handy standard categories people think in when it comes to Muslims.
0 Replies
Reply Wed 23 May, 2007 03:00 pm
Well, I read both thread posts. Couldn't think of any particular response.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Wed 23 May, 2007 03:01 pm
ossobuco wrote:
Well, I read both thread posts. Couldn't think of any particular response.

It's the very same report :wink:
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Reply Wed 23 May, 2007 03:32 pm
I know that. I didn't when I opened nimh's thread.
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Finn dAbuzz
Reply Thu 24 May, 2007 03:49 pm
Imagine a Christian or Jewish woman running for office in an "Islamic state."

Imagine a woman proudly announcing in a public display in Riyadh that she was a "Saudi Christian."

Certainly this woman doesn't fit the conventional notion of a muslim, because she is not a conventional muslim. The notion that she is but one of countless muslim liberals is ridiculous.

Obviously liberal muslims exist, but if they number in the millions they are the quietest legion in history.

I don't subscribe to the idea that Islam is at it's core a religion of violence that will inevitably lead to totalitarian rule, but overwhelmingly, its current believers are anything but liberal. For all the fear and loathing of the so-called Religious Right by Liberals in America (and elsewhere) none of its recognized leaders argue that democracy and Christianity are not compatible. It has no splinter groups that are engaged in repetitive and wholesale slaughter of innocents in order to advance its theo-political agenda.

Jews may or may not be unjustly killing Palestinians in neighboring states, but in any case they are not driven to do so by a professed adherence to their faithn and they are not taking a religious war outside of their region.

The last time Buddhists were identified with violence it involved self-immolation.

Hindus in India have their groups that are willing to resort to violence but arguably they are as driven by nationalism as religion, and the fact that very few people ever hear of them is not because the international press is anti-Islam.

That this woman is now facing a Danish backlash is more becuase of the actions of her fellow muslims than any inherent illiberal Danish nature.

She is not the face of modern Islam. I wish that she were, but she simply is not.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 24 May, 2007 04:09 pm
Finn dAbuzz wrote:
That this woman is now facing a Danish backlash is more becuase of the actions of her fellow muslims than any inherent illiberal Danish nature.

She is not the face of modern Islam. I wish that she were, but she simply is not.

You seem to know a lot about the Danish elections and (female) Muslims in Europe.

In yesterday's Politiken:


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Finn dAbuzz
Reply Thu 24 May, 2007 05:31 pm
Unfortunately I can't read the article and therefore cannot comment upon it.

One need not know terribly much about Danish elections and Danish muslims to know that in isolation, this woman would be nothing but a curiosity in Denmark.

Unless you are arguing that Danes are inherently illiberal the reaction to this candidacy must be in response to the larger sphere of modern muslim thought and action. In particular, the Great Cartoon Massacree.

The European Left will continue to minimize the effect of radical Islam on European society and politics, and worse, attribute it soley to intolerance (that greatest of sins to a Liberal) and xenophobia.

Walter you continue to suggest in this forum that Right wing gains in Europe are marginal and fear and resentment of muslim immigrants is overblown. Perhaps you are right, but the mere fact that you live in Europe is hardly the final word. If it were, then the opinions of American liberals and conservatives would be, paradoxically, accurate simply because they live in America. I doubt you are willing to concede that habitation conveys expertise and so you might want to check your reflexive urge to argue it does when it comes to Europe.

Ironically, the tolerance worshipping multi-culturalist European Leftists have set the stage for an unfortunate and extreme reaction to muslim immigration, by emboldening the audacious muslim chauvinist and casting normal nativistic concerns as unpardonable sins.

By restricting the expression of moderate concerns and glorifying the different simply for the sake of its difference, the Left has created a situation akin to tectonic plate shifts. The pent up tension will vent in extremity.
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