Imagine profiling a moderate Muslim in Copenhagen for the expressed purpose of understanding the life and outlook of a secular Muslim and failing to ask a question about religion. Well, Jeffrey Fleishman's Los Angeles Times piece on Sunday comes close to accomplishing that feat. Issues of religion come up incidentally as if they were minor matters to be brushed aside in a quest to portray the subject as absolutely secular. Aside from this minor complaint, I thought Fleishman's piece was pleasantly informing and included appropriate background information to paint a picture filled with contrasts:
Ever since he left the laundry-draped alleys of his Syrian village and glimpsed the red-light district of Copenhagen, Naser Khader's life has been a curious, and sometimes dangerous, navigation between Islam and the West.
A man with "democracy" tattooed in Arabic on his arm, the Danish lawmaker epitomizes Europe's struggle to integrate moderate Islam into secular democracy. The Danes view him as the ideal Muslim, a multilingual author with European sensibilities for tolerance. Islamists regard him as a traitor, a factory worker's son who bartered his identity for a bit of Western acceptance.
It is sensitive cultural and political terrain, but Khader's convictions are anything but opaque. This was apparent early this year when he condemned violent Muslim protests against a Danish newspaper's publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Khader argued that the worldwide demonstrations were orchestrated by radical clerics to aggravate tensions between East and West.
Only much further into the article do we learn that Khader's father was a Marxist, and we learn in the last paragraph that he rediscovered his faith five years before he died. The positioning of this information is a nice touch, but the effect is unconvincing.
In highlighting Khader as The Moderate Muslim of Denmark, Fleishman gives us picture of one end of the continuum of Islamic thought. Pretty much everyone else mentioned in the piece are avowed Islamists bent on eliminating the likes of Khader. But then Khader tells us that out of 100 to 120 imams in Denmark, only 5 or 6 are the radical types. While I recognize that the Muslims in Denmark are becoming more radical, the number of radicals compared to secularists would be interesting to know.
We also learn that Khader is fairly un-Muslim, at least in a traditional sense, in his ways. To what degree is his moderate-secular viewpoint due to a crisis of faith? Or can a Muslim genuinely consider himself and be accepted as a "good Muslim," to borrow a term, if he does not attend prayers?:
Khader has tried to become a unifying voice; his politics spring from a childhood of trying to fit in and succeed. But his unapologetic political message, praised by secular Europeans, has irritated conservative Muslims. They consider him a man who has drifted too far to the other side, marrying a native Dane, not attending Friday prayers, sipping beer and attending soccer games in a jersey that resembles the Danish flag.
"Naser Khader is irrelevant to Muslims in this country," said Ahmed abu Laban, an outspoken Islamic leader in Copenhagen. "His role is to keep bombarding Muslims and Muslim values. He represents that strain of thought in Europe that's too cowardly to face legitimate Muslims. So they get people like Khader to act as a human shield and to spit in our face."
David Trads, a political analyst who has written a book on Islam in Denmark, said:
"Many are saying that Khader's like an Uncle Tom. That's not a fair criticism, but he wants to make sure everyone in Denmark understands that there's a very serious situation with the Islamists. He wants also to build a bridge between moderate Muslims and Danes."
Trads provides some good information and helps the American reader understand, with the "Uncle Tom" reference, some of what Khader is up against, but where are the voices of those "Islamists" in the article? They're referred to, but can we have a quote from a radical Imam? Or is there a reason we can't?
Overall the article is a refreshing look at one perspective in the war of ideas in Islam. But it should be the makings of a series. Placing these types of religion stories on American's kitchen tables and local news websites is critical for creating a more informed citizenry.