by Bruce Bawer
At Christmastime last year, I wrote about a vicar in a heavily Muslim part of Oslo who decided that the best way for a group of schoolchildren in her care to celebrate the holidays was to read aloud in church from the Koran.
She’s not alone in her special understanding of her duty as a Christian cleric. The other day came news that Louise Britze Kijne, vicar of Holy Cross Church in Nørrebro – a heavily Muslim neighborhood in Copenhagen – had, with the blessing of her ecclesiastical higher-ups and her own parish council, invited an imam, Abdul Wahid Pedersen, to speak to her congregation on the subject of “peace” just after the wrap-up of the Pentecost Monday worship service.
Originally, Britze Kijne’s idea was to have Pedersen speak during the worship service itself. But she changed her mind. Not because she realized it would a betrayal of her vocation or an affront to her congregants’ beliefs, but because she worried that it might cause controversy. And she didn’t want that.
In Christian belief, of course, Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles after Christ’s ascent into heaven. Needless to say, there’s no Islamic connection here whatever. But Britze Kijne didn’t consider her innovation problematic. “The Bible’s account of the Pentecost shows that we are spiritual beings,” she told the newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad, “and therefore we can understand each other and share the belief in being created in God’s image – across languages and cultures that may otherwise separate us.” She said it was important for Christians and Muslims to “stand shoulder to shoulder” and discuss peace, “especially in this neighborhood that is best known to the public for gang wars and other problems.”
Britze Kijne is right about the prevalence of gang activity in Nørrebro. It’s through the roof. What she omitted to mention, however, is that the violence that has increasingly plagued the streets of Nørrebro has been committed by Muslims and fueled by Islamic teachings about infidels – the teaching, for example, that uncovered women deserve to be raped, and that those who refuse to follow the prophet generally have what’s coming to them.
For folks in Scandinavia, Abdul Wahid Pedersen is a familiar name. A Danish convert to Islam (he was born Reino Arild Pedersen), he runs a private Somali Muslim school and goes on TV a lot to speak about issues related to Islam, immigration, and integration. Many people in Denmark appear to have bought the view of him as a moderate or liberal member of his faith – partly, I suppose, because he’s not some scary-looking, hotheaded foreigner but a relatively mild-mannered native Dane, partly because of his high-profile involvement in various interfaith activities, but mainly because he’s made a cause of presenting the prettiest possible image of Islam to audiences large and small.
It is hardly an exaggeration, indeed, to describe him as carrying out a perpetual one-man promotional tour for Islam. Last year Jens Gregersen and Kit Louise Strand, who write for a website run by Islam critics Ralf Pittelkow and Karen Jespersen, attended a talk Pedersen gave at a church in the little Danish town of Stege. According to their account, he presented his audience with a “sterilized and purified version” of Islam and was clearly at pains to come off as a genial, loving, and (despite his faith) ordinary Danish guy – a far cry, in short, “from the traditional imams of Middle Eastern/Turkish/Pakistani origin.”
Pedersen’s moderate image, however, is a meticulously crafted subterfuge. In reality, he’s a staunch, consistent champion of sharia law who insists that while punishments such as stoning may seem less than humane, mere humans have no right to question the will of Allah. He firmly endorses polygamy, defends female genital mutilation, and supports the death penalty for apostates and adulterers. When Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Copenhagen in 2009 for the UN Climate Conference, Pedersen was one of several leading Danish Muslims who met with him. In the same year, Pedersen walked off a TV interview program in fury after being asked about the practice, popular among some Muslims, of “restoring” the hymens of non-virginal brides before marriage.
In their account of Pedersen’s talk in Stege, Gregersen and Strand noted the consummate skill with which he worked his trusting audience of small-town churchgoers, taking advantage of their “polite and responsive” reception, their utter incapacity to mock or scorn an invited guest, their readiness to paper over any uncomfortable aspects of Islam “with quiet hymns, coffee and homemade cake.” In Stege, Pedersen acknowledged that sharia law will be introduced once Denmark becomes a majority-Muslim country, but he apparently managed to convince his audience that a sharia-run Denmark will be a perfectly livable place for its Christian citizens – a veritable City on a Hill overflowing with mutual respect and understanding. Pedersen slipped up only once during his visit to Stege, responding to a pointed, informed query about the treatment of Christians under sharia by furiously calling the questioner “stupid” – but he quickly collected himself, putting “the big smile on his face again” and resuming what Gregersen and Strand described as his “charm offensive.”
Such criticism of Pedersen is extremely rare. In any case, it plainly hasn’t put a dent in the willingness of credulous church officials to provide him with platforms for his noxious propaganda. Unsurprisingly, Britze Kijne’s invitation to Pedersen enjoyed the full support of her bishop, who told Kristeligt Dagblad that he saw no problem with the idea, calling it a “really nice and welcoming initiative.” Pedersen himself told Kristelig Dagblad: “We must show that we can easily step into each other’s houses and say conciliatory words. As Christians and Muslims we do not have religion in common, but we have faith and longing for God in common. We believe in the same God, but in different ways.”
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