Dane regrets sparking cartoon furor

Ahmad Akkari criticized caricatures of Muhammad.
Ahmad Akkari criticized caricatures of Muhammad.

COPENHAGEN — A former Danish Islamist who seven years ago traveled the Muslim world, fueling the uproar over newspaper caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, is back in the headlines in Denmark after doing an about-face on the issue.

Once a leading critic of the Danish cartoons, which sparked fiery protests in Muslim countries, Lebanese-born Ahmad Akkari now says the Jyllands-Posten newspaper had the right to print them.

His unexpected change of heart has received praise from pundits and politicians in recent weeks, though some question his sincerity. It has also disappointed some in the country’s Muslim minority who were deeply offended by the cartoons.


Akkari, now 35, was the spokesman for a group of imams who led the protests against the drawings in Denmark. They traveled to Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria to elicit support, saying the Danish government wouldn’t listen to their concerns.

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Their journeys helped turn the dispute into an international crisis. Dozens were killed in weeks of protests that included violent attacks against Danish missions in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Tiny Denmark found itself on a collision course with the Muslim world, something Akkari now regrets.

‘‘I want to be clear today about the trip: It was totally wrong,’’ Akkari said this week. ‘‘At that time, I was so fascinated with this logical force in the Islamic mind-set that I could not see the greater picture. I was convinced it was a fight for my faith, Islam.’’

He said he is still a practicing Muslim but started doubting his fundamentalist beliefs after a 2007 trip to Lebanon, where he met Islamist leaders.

‘‘I was shocked. I realized what an oppressive mentality they have,’’ Akkari said.


A year later, he moved to Greenland, the desolate Danish Arctic island, where he worked in a school for two years. ‘‘I had plenty of time to read and write. And think,’’ said Akkari, who has shaved off the patchy beard he used to wear.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable ones, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Associated Press