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An Islamist Becomes a Humanist

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.

Comments

  1. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Well that’s really good.

    A bit late and a lot of damage already done mind you but, well, good on him.

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Seriously not sarcastically meant in my first comment btw.

  3. says

    Damage already done, yes — but hopefully the news of this change of heart might serve to dampen the bigotry and self-righteousness that might otherwise fuel similar violent tantrums in the future.

  4. Pen says

    Well, I’m sure I’m motivated by the fact that I agree with his choice, but kudos for being willing to change his mind and apologise so publicly. I hope it will not be too costly for him.

  5. grumpyoldfart says

    Pompous twit. Deliberately stirs up trouble so that innocent people are murdered and then, when he decides to settle down, brazenly asks for (and expects) to be forgiven. Stick your apology up your arse Akkari.

  6. says

    A bit late and a lot of damage already done mind you but, well, good on him.

    Yeah, it’s not like Westergaard, et al, were fomenting racist bullshit to feed into Danish nativist sentiments against immigrant populations. Murder and violence are not an acceptable response to that at all, but let’s not pretend that the cartoonists were just poor innocents trying to show the silliness of blasphemy laws.

  7. says

    Pompous twit. Deliberately stirs up trouble so that innocent people are murdered and then, when he decides to settle down, brazenly asks for (and expects) to be forgiven. Stick your apology up your arse Akkari.

    So it’s acceptable when white people do it? Although to be fair, I guess mass deportaion is a little more humane than a murder.

  8. freehand says

    grumpyoldfart –

    I take it, then, that you have never been raised from infancy in a community of close-minded religious fanatics, enshrouded in a cocoon of ignorance and hate, with every hesitant doubt confronted with social, personal, and physical threats?

    Every mind rescued from the dark is an ally, and one that can be a source of information on how to help others to escape.

    You seem to be saying that he should not apologize. How then, do you suggest he deal with his past – pretend to be superstitious and hateful still, so it is easier to hate him? Apologizing does not imply a belief that one will be forgiven (despite how it is treated by the stenographers and parrots of our mainstream news). Apologies are sometimes due because they are the right thing to do.

  9. iangould says

    “Sure he THINKS he’s a Muslim but he hasn’t genitally mutilated any women, raped any children or beheaded any infidels so he’s obviously mistaken.”

  10. TxSkeptic says

    It takes a very brave person to make the kind of admission Akkari did. He could have just slinked off into a hole somewhere to stew in his own guilt. To voluntarily and publicly admit how wrong he was is a huge step, and one he should be applauded for.

    For all the hollering and criticizing we can do against the religious nutcakes like his former self, none of it has more than a slim iota of a chance of changing any minds in a fundamentalist community. However, a voice such as his, having seen the problem from deep inside the problem, has an infinitely better chance of influencing the hearts and minds of those he used to believe with.

    We see this of former fundamentalist christians in the atheist community as well. Those that were the most serious about their christianity are often the biggest advocates of their new found atheism, and the most effective at communicating their epiphanies to their former belief-mates.

    It’s back to that age old saying, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

  11. says

    It’s back to that age old saying, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

    Maybe, but Islamism isn’t going to be stopped by people turning their backs on Islam, it’s going to be stop by Muslims turning their backs on Islamic extremism. Ex-Muslims are still a rare breed in a world where there are 1.5 billion Muslims. For every Akkari, we many more who become ex-Islamists and remain to battle for hearts and minds within the Muslim community.

  12. steffp says

    @ tacitus #17

    it’s going to be stop by Muslims turning their backs on Islamic extremism.

    That’s right. But the bandwidth of “respectable” opinion in the umma is rather small, and often biased towards martyrdom. So, if someone who instigated martyr deaths has now severe doubts about it, and revokes his former conviction, it should not go unnoticed. But, as an outsider to the Muslim community, I am rather clueless how to counteract the tendencies towards a traditionalist interpretation. Broadening the legitimate bandwidth seems a good thing.
    After all, the cult of martyrs (those who die during provocative actions promoting their religious denomination) is something practiced by all Abrahamic cults. Dying for one’s convictions (or one’s country or flag) is only too often qualified as automatically heroic, not as a tribalist superstition.

  13. says

    Murder and violence are not an acceptable response to that at all, but let’s not pretend that the cartoonists were just poor innocents trying to show the silliness of blasphemy laws.

    Actually, most of the original “offending” cartoons were published LONG before any violence erupted, many (or most) in small, narrow racist papers that Muslims had very little chance of seeing at all. And when Jillands-Posten compiled and reprinted them, it was for an article DISCUSSING the issue of images of Mohammed, and even then, the violent reaction didn’t come until many months later. So in that case, I’d say those particular cartoonists had no intention of either protesting Islamic laws or provoking violence — they were just a bunch of idiots sharing racist jokes with their racist friends.

  14. says

    <blockqouteBut, as an outsider to the Muslim community, I am rather clueless how to counteract the tendencies towards a traditionalist interpretation. Broadening the legitimate bandwidth seems a good thing.
    Go back a few hundred years and you would have said the same thing about Christianity. It was all pervasive, and people were routinely imprisoned or put to death for apostasy. People were motivated to fight in wars by being told that they were doing God’s work.

    Of course, we don’t want it to take as long as it did with Christianity to break the spell with Islam, but breaking with traditionalist interpretations is precisely what happened in Christianity, and is what will have to happen in Islam. Not least, because there won’t be many ex-Muslims around if it doesn’t.

  15. steffp says

    @ tacitus #20

    Go back a few hundred years and you would have said the same thing about Christianity.

    Exactly.
    But I’m afraid that the idea that “Muslims have to have their own renaissance, reformation, enlightenment and social movements” is a bit Euro-centric. It looks like there must be another path.
    I mean, the renaissance in Europe was sparkled by Greek philosophy text that were deemed pagan by Christian authorities, and were not allowed to be studied, until they found their way from Islamic polymaths to European scholars. But these texts did not have the same explosive effect in an Islamic environment, not after Al-Gazzali. The Reformation was (among others) a rebellion against an openly corrupt religious bureaucracy, which (Sunni) Islam avoided to establish. Might be different in Shia Iran and Iraq. And enlightenment requires unregulated thought, independent from religious authority.
    That’s what I mean with “being clueless”.

  16. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @12. Rutee Katreya

    “..A bit late and a lot of damage already done mind you but, well, good on him. – StevoR

    Yeah, it’s not like Westergaard, et al, were fomenting racist bullshit to feed into Danish nativist sentiments against immigrant populations. Murder and violence are not an acceptable response to that at all, but let’s not pretend that the cartoonists were just poor innocents trying to show the silliness of blasphemy laws.

    So, think victim blaming is okay when *you* do it then eh Ruttee?

    NO. It isn’t.

    No cartoon ever deserves fucking death threats and riots and murders.

    No book, no film, no Quran burnings even *EVER* justify the sort of shit the Islamists keep pulling and its time (long overdue acvtually) you stopped apologising for Islamists and blaming the victims here. Period.

  17. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @19. Raging Bee :

    “they (The cartoonists) were just a bunch of idiots sharing racist jokes with their racist friends.”

    Victim blaming from you too eh?

    See above, same applies again.

    No. Islam ain’t a “race” (which is a rubbish idea anyhow) its an exceptionally nasty political ideology and a death cult founded by a Dark Age child molester, mass murderer and slimeball desert bandit.

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