A new centrist party is emerging in Danish politics.
The New Alliance party is the result of the softening of extremes on both right and left in Danish politics. This is remarkable enough in the country where the Muhammad cartoon wars erupted - a country moreover criticized by the Council of Europe for promoting intolerance and xenophobia. But what is most remarkable about the new party, is the driving force behind it - a Muslim named Naser Khader.
I say Khader is a Muslim advisedly. He describes himself as a man of faith who is “not religious". He also is eager for people to know that he is a “fanatical democrat". He brought refreshing realism to the subject of the Muhammad cartoons with the terse observation - “If you don't like them, don't buy the newspaper".
This is a politician who isn't afraid to speak his mind. He is unimpressed with George Bush's outreach efforts, and has characterized the Commander-in-Chief as “too much of a Muslim" - a President more interested in defending religion than freedom of speech.
Khader was born in Syria in 1963. Son of a Palestinian father and Syrian mother. When the family moved to Denmark he attended the Rysensteen Gymnasium. He holds a degree in political science. As a member of the leftist party, Radikale Venstre, Khader made a name for himself, in large part due to the negotiating skills he displayed when mediating between enraged Muslims and the Danish government during the cartoon wars.
His recent decision to leave Radikale Venstre was prompted by his conviction that the party had drifted too far to the left. Prior to his exit he got into a spat with the party leader, Marianne Jelved and party spokesperson Elsebeth Gerner Nielson over the issue of the wearing of head scarves in parliament. Khader objects to the practice and when Gerner Nielson went on TV wearing one to make her point, it helped to cement his decision to leave.
The New Alliance has done surprisingly well in a short period of time. It boasts 18,000 new members and is standing in third place behind more established parties. Some are even speculating that the party might be able to attract 16% to 20% of the vote.
Khader, center-right on most issues, is no friend of high taxes and is keen on reining in social security. He would also like to see the immigration laws relaxed.
Some of his appeal has to do with the disenchantment many Danes feel with the image their country has been acquiring as a hotbed of xenophobia. The hard core nationalist views represented by the Danish People's Party (DPP), aren't representative of broad based Danish opinion. The New Alliance has room to grow.
Khader is a staunch and uncompromising democrat. The principles he advocated to Democratic Muslims in Denmark, have been dubbed by him the “ten democratic commandments" and appear on his personal web site.
Predictably there are those Danes who have difficulty welcoming a politician of Arab Muslim background as one of their own. This is ironical in a sense because Khader is as Danish as they come. A profile in Der Spiegel mentions his blonde wife and summer home in Seeland, with the Danish flag fluttering at the door.
Those Danes concerned that Khader may have a hidden agenda as far as his Muslim roots are concerned have little to fear. During the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon furor, an imam named Ahmed Akkari threatened Khader with death. The threat was in response to Khader's well known views in support of the integration of Muslims. Khader has also been vocal on the subject of sharia law, and even went so far as to recommend that those European Muslims who want to live under sharia should go live in Saudi Arabia.
When a convert to Christianity was placed on trial in Afghanistan, Khader urged that Danish troops should rescue the man and that the Danish government should offer him asylum. In his opinion sharia law has to be fought wherever it exists.
Naser Khader represents a new generation of Europeans and a new centrist realism that breaks the stalemate between polarized positions to right and left. As more courageous politicians of Khader's stripe step forward and assume political roles, it will help to embolden moderate Muslims who are seeking a platform that realistically addresses their aspirations. For too long Muslim immigrant communities have been the pawns of hard line advocates - the so-called representatives of Islam, who claimed to speak for them.
Aidan Maconachy resides in Ontario, Canada. He has a BA Hons and a BEd. He taught in the UK and Canada, and has been a contributor to a variety of magazines and newspapers over the years. You can visit his blog at http://aidanmaconachyblog.blogspot.com/