Cooling passions

(The Economist) – Ahmed Akkari, who helped spark the global uproar over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, has recently expressed regret and now feels the publication was a legitimate expression of free speech. 

THE glistening white mountains of Greenland can have a calming effect on the soul. I realised that myself when, in 2007, I was lucky enough to observe religious leaders from many different traditions offer a silent prayer for the planet while standing on the deck of a ship, surrounded by icebergs, near the Greenlandic port of Ilulissat.

And a two-year spell in Greenland, working as a teacher, seems to have cooled the passions of Ahmed Akkari, a Lebanese-born migrant to Denmark who helped to spark the global uproar over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper. Seven years ago, he served as spokesman for a group of imams who went round countries like Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, drawing attention to the illustrations.

He has recently said he regrets all this activity, and he now feels the publication of the cartoons was a legitimate expression of free speech. When I spoke to him today, he said that his stay in the tiny settlement of Narsaq, on Greenland’s southern tip, had been a catalytic experience. “I was feeling frustrated before I went to Greenland, but there my change of mind manifested itself completely,” he told me. Although he still called himself a Muslim, he “found a new way to pray”—and came to the conclusion that religion should be seen more as a source of meaning in people’s lives, than as a source of mutually exclusive truths.

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