Denmark: Former Islamist "spokeswoman", Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, runs for Danish Parliament

World Politics Review
Controversial Danish public figure now campaigning to become a Member of Parliament.
Asmaa Abdol-Hamid has made clear what she thinks of the Danish soldiers stationed in Iraq: They are occupying Iraq exactly like the Nazis occupied Denmark in the Second World War. Those who fight against them are, consequently, not terrorists, but freedom fighters, and their combat is absolutely justified.
Abdol Hamid, who only appears in public with head and hair carefully veiled, is a candidate on the unified list formed by Socialists and Greens for the upcoming Danish Parliamentary elections. Her remarks in late July had immediate and wide-ranging consequences: The conservative politician Rasmus Jarlov filed charges against her for treason. Since then, the debate has been raging in Denmark over whether she has in fact broken the law or Jarlov is simply a "Nazi" who does not want immigrants to enjoy the right to free expression.

This is not the first time Abdol-Hamid has made headlines. Two years ago, she demonstratively refused to shake hands with male colleagues in the municipal assembly of the city of Odense. Contrary to some media reports, however, Abdol-Hamid is not a television announcer by profession, but rather a social worker. In Spring 2006, she was hired by the Danish television network DR2 to co-host an eight-part series on the Mohammed cartoon controversy with the atheistic journalist Adam Holm. She had come to the network's attention as the spokeswoman of the radical Islamic associations that filed charges against Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that first published the cartoons.

Abdol-Hamid's party colleagues were likewise mistaken when they sought to explain her refusal to shake hands by the Muslim custom that forbids a woman from being touched by any men other than her husband. It may well be that Abdol-Hamid follows this precept, but she also strictly avoids physical contact with non-Muslim women. As a consequence, the Danish author Lars Hedegaard has described her as a "fundamentalist with a strong belief in a totalitarian social order and an advocate of strict Apartheid between pure and impure persons." The Socialists and Greens, on the contrary, celebrate Abdol-Hamid as an engaged opponent of xenophobia and a pioneer of multiculturalism.

In interviews, Abdol-Hamid likes to present herself as a confident young woman who freely chose to adopt the veil and whose fundamentalist convictions spring from her profound Muslim faith. Details on her family background are only to be found on her Web site and remain sketchy. The then five-year-old Asmaa arrived in Denmark in 1986 with her mother and five siblings, all of them enjoying the status of "Palestinian refugees." Her father, who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, followed some months later, after being released from prison in the United Arab Emirates. The father had moved to the U.A.E. with his Saudi-born wife, but, as Abdol-Hamid explains on her Web site, he there "ran into problems with the secret service and was arrested and tortured." The reasons for his arrest remain unclear. Abdol-Hamid alludes to them with a nebulous "and all this just because he was a stateless Palestinian."

On her own account, as a young girl Asmaa wanted to be allowed to wear the veil. After finishing high school, she trained to be a social worker, completing her studies in 2004. One year later, she became known around the world as the front woman for the Danish Muslim protests against the Mohammed cartoons. In this capacity, she worked closely with fundamentalist organizations. Among them were to be found people like the -- since deceased - Islamist preacher Abu Laban, who made no secret of his sympathies for Jihadism, or Ahmed Akari, the spokesman for the European Committee for Honoring the Prophet.

Abdol-Hamid has never explained how she became the spokeswoman for the protests in the first place or if she had already had contact with the 11 Islamic associations. The latter -- some of whose aims are incompatible with the Danish constitution -- were able to generalize their protests to the whole Islamic world via their good contacts to Pakistan. Whenever the question of the associations comes up, Abdol-Hamid prefers to present herself as a naïve idealist. When, in April 2006, she was asked by Jyllands-Posten about her relationship to the fundamentalist organization Minhaj-ul-Quran (The Way of the Quran), she responded, "Until just recently, I had no idea what kind of organization that is." As it happens, Minhaj-ul-Quran, which calls for the introduction of the Shariah in Denmark, was one of the 11 associations. Abdol-Hamid has not said what she thinks of its aims.

In an interview she recently gave to the newspaper B.T., however, she expanded upon her own political ideas: "I support the struggle of the Iraqi popular movement against the occupying powers. Like everyone else, the Iraqis have the right to live in a country where they govern themselves." Asked whether she would take her distance from the armed struggle, she responded: "I am not against armed struggle. It is a matter of resistance and resistance is justified." Earlier, in a June interview with the socialist paper Socialistisk Arbejderavis, she explained: "Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon are occupied by foreign troops. Denmark is part of the occupying power in Iraq and is 100 percent obedient to Bush and the U.S.A. This is another reason why we have to get rid of the Fogh [Rasmussen] government. Moreover, we need to support the struggle of the Iraqis against the occupiers."

In response to her remarks, Naser Khader, the founder of the New Alliance party, described Abdol-Hamid as a "confused young woman" who talks so much nonsense and contradicts herself so constantly that one "gets completely dizzy." That the Iraqi government was elected in free elections and is recognized by the United Nations apparently escaped her attention, Khader pointed out, concluding that Abdol-Hamid is not to be taken seriously politically.

Asmaa Abdol-Hamid does not appear to care about such criticisms. She says she is likewise "completely unworried" about the treason charges against her. After all, she did not call for anyone to kill her Danish compatriots stationed in Iraq.

By: Elke Wittich

22 August 2007

Elke Wittich is a freelance journalist who lives and works in Berlin. The above article first appeared in the Berlin-based weekly Jungle World. The English translation is by John Rosenthal.