You probably don’t know the name Ahmed Akkari, but you surely know his handiwork. In 2005 and 2006, he was one of the primary people responsible for fomenting violence in response to those Muhammad cartoons in a Danish newspaper. He was the one who put together a dossier of those cartoons mixed with other, far worse ones, that was sent around the Middle East. He has now become a humanist and has apologized. The Daily Beast has a pretty remarkable article about him.
Ahmed Akkari is sorry.
In August, he apologized to Naser Khader. He apologized to Kurt Westergaard. He contacted Flemming Rose with an offer of a meeting and apology. He told a Danish newspaper that he owes “the entire nation of Denmark a formal apology.”
“I saw the world in a special way” back then, Akkari told me. “Now it is very clear to me that it’s a big problem that people aren’t allowed to change their minds. It’s something [Islamists] can’t tolerate. I don’t know how they are going to build a society, to have dialogues with other communities, if they are like this.”
When reports of his second thoughts filtered into the media, most writers underscored that while rejecting Islamism, Akkari was nevertheless still a Muslim. But the cartoon experience had so severely—and clearly—fractured Akkari’s faith that, after we spoke, I wondered if religion played any role in his new life.
Indeed, Akkari sounded like a formerly religious man sprinting toward agnosticism. “Actually, I haven’t been so fond of going out and saying anything about [my faith] loudly. Because things in life aren’t that simple. I’m not a practicing religious man as I was at that time … I believe there must be a greater force or power—let’s say God—but I really can’t find him through all these religions.”
It was a stunning—if hesitant and qualified—admission. When I followed up with him by email, I asked if he still attends mosque. “Actually, I haven’t participated in any formal mosque prayers for many years (unfortunately?!), except on one or two very special occasions. So I’m not attending any mosque—primarily because I can’t stand the way preachers use the religious word and [because of] the lack of critical approach from many mosque congregants.” In another email, he wrote of his religious “doubts,” but stressed that “my problem isn’t with ‘God’ but with the representatives of God on earth.”…
There is no simple explanation for why he flipped, but Akkari’s time in Greenland, having emerged from the swamps of Islamism, was crucial. “In Greenland, I had space and time—and I had the public library. I started reading.” It was there, shrouded in Arctic anonymity, that he confronted his own prejudices, reading books of philosophy, history, and sociology, ultimately consuming—but, he admits, not always comprehending—Danish existentialist philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard.
“In 2011 for the first time I read an Islam critic.” It was the work of Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd, an Egyptian scholar exiled from his homeland and forced by an Egyptian court to annul his marriage for the “crime” of apostasy. His writings transformed Akkari. “He made me move further with my break from Islamism,” a system that he now views as “a way of controlling people. You use God, you use metaphysics, and that’s very strong.”
You really should read the whole thing. I felt inspired by it, energized a bit. It gave me hope.