A Fanatic For Wearing a Headscarf?

What constitutes a fanatic these days? Is it the mere fulfillment of an Islamic obligation? Or is it the school of thought one belongs to? An interesting article…

â??COPENHAGEN — Violent protests over Prophet Mohammed cartoons have died down in the Muslim world but in Denmark, where the drawings were first printed, debate over the role of Islam has flared again, this time over a TV talk show host who wears a Muslim headscarf.

Asmaa Abdel Hamid, a 24-year-old Dane of Palestinian origin, is the co-host of an eight-part series on the public DR2 network on the fallout of the cartoons affair that led to violent reactions throughout the Muslim world.

Abdel Hamid’s appearance on television – the first time that a female TV host has worn a headscarf in Denmark – has led to a flurry of negative reactions from viewers and feminist groups; evidence, say experts, that a wide gap still divides Danes and Muslims.

In this week’s episode, Abdel Hamid, together with her atheist Danish co-host Adam Holm, grills a moderate Danish imam. Bright, frank and funny despite her austere looks, she engages in hard talk with her guest to get to the bottom of the crisis that has enveloped Denmark for two months.

“Our aim is to dissect the misunderstandings between Islam and the West in eight shows,” she says after the broadcast of “Adam and Asmaa”, wearing a sky-blue headscarf of the kind that she has worn since she was 14.

In her office, where a bouquet of flowers and a gift from one of her fans stand on a table, she welcomes this reporter. She refuses to shake his hand, placing her hand on her heart. “But don’t think I’m a fanatic, I’m not,” she insists with a warm smile.

Trained as a social worker and known as an ardent defender of Islam, Abdel Hamid’s serene, almost angelic face is in sharp contrast to the angry reactions sparked by her television debut.

“The choice of Asmaa as co-host is an insult to Danish and Muslim women. She sends the message that an honorable woman can’t go out unless she is covered up,” blasts Vibeke Manniche, the head of the Women for Freedom association.

Manniche has started a petition to get the program taken off the air, insisting that DR2 “is a public service channel and it is important that its program hosts be objective and that its shows not be a meeting point for fanatic points of view”.

Another group, the Iranian Women’s Rights movement, has also urged viewers to voice their opposition to Abdel Hamid.

Denmark’s minister for social affairs and gender equality, Eva Kjaer Hansen, has even jumped into the fray: “I want to remind DR that its employees should not serve as missionaries,” she said recently.

DR2 defended its decision this week, saying, “headscarf-wearing women are part of Danish society and we need to accept this fact”.

Abdel Hamid takes the criticism in stride but says that she is disappointed by it.

“I have a hard time understanding it, accepting that just because you wear a headscarf you are labeled a fundamentalist. That’s too simplistic. I have no ties to fanatic circles,” she insists.

She is a member of one of the Muslim organizations that sued Danish daily Jyllands-Posten for publishing the 12 cartoons, considered by Muslims to be blasphemous.

“I want to give a more nuanced image … than that of Muslim women oppressed by the veil. You can still be strong and independent even with a piece of fabric on your head.”

“I thought I would be supported when I accepted this job as host, which shows other Muslim women in Denmark that it is possible to actively participate in society,” she says, adding: “Denmark is in many ways an Islamic society because it’s a society that has a lot of what I believe in.”

While she acknowledges that many “Muslim men in particular would rather see me at home than as the star of a television show”, some of the reactions have been positive.

The movement Feminist Forum has been one of Abdel Hamid’s supporters.

“Her hiring by DR strengthens ethnic and gender equality in Denmark and is a step in the right direction toward a more egalitarian representation in the media sphere,” it said.

Tim Jensen, a religion expert at the University of Southern Denmark, says that the protests confirm that there is “still a wide lack of understanding between a good part of the Danish people and Muslims living in the country, which was brought to light by the cartoons row”.

Yet, he stresses, Abdel Hamid’s appearance on television “is an historic breakthrough because for the first time a Muslim woman, even one wearing a headscarf, is accepted as part of Danish society and she is not necessarily an extremist”.â?


  • Sometimes it’s embarrassing to be danish.

    I’m fairly sure that there are bigger problems with oppression of women in the muslim society than in the rest of Denmark, and its good that people are trying to alter this, but to make the scarf a symbol of oppression seems stupid to me.

    It’s okay to critisize if an extrimst is hired as tv-host, but I dont know what this critic is based upon.

    I’ve just watched both shows that have been sent until now, and I can’t see anything here that should indicate that she should be an extremist. I think they both remain neutral all the way, and that they are doing a great job in interviewing the guests.

  • samaritan, she is a member of one of the organizations that sued. What’s wrong with that? Did they do something illegal? Also all journalists are bias although they claim objectivity. Heck, Fox News’s slogan is “fair and balanced” 😀

    Birger, you’re very right. “but to make the scarf a symbol of oppression seems stupid to me.”…is what I getting at.

  • samaritan, i believe there was looting and burning done in many places in the world so to say “Arab” is a racist remark considering it is a race and not a nationality.

    Note that the other host is an athiest which is not the most objective choice for a show on religion. Mind you no one is questioning her objectivity, they are questioning whether her wearing a headscarf means she is a fanatic as well as supporting supression of women. That is the issue at hand.

    There were two reaction to the cartoons: one was violence and the other was peaceful. The latter organized peaceful protests which took place in many areas in the world (with little media coverage) and the ones within Denmark took action within the framework of the Danish system allowed to them as citizens. Here in Toronto there many instances where I have seen Jewish organizations sue people who they felt wrote or said something anti-semetic. That is their right if they feel slander or racism or bigotry has occurred. This is what severl Danish Muslim organizations did, one of which she was a part of. If you personally do not feel the cartoons were offensive then that’s your problem, millions of people did. In most democratic countries free speech is governed by laws who protect their citizens from being offended as a race, as a religious or as a minority group. The Muslim organizations took action within the framework allowed them. Would you rather she be part of an organization which told its members to burn embassies? I dont know, are you opposed to her being part of an organization that took the civil route?

    rhetorical questions of the hour 😉

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