Mohammed Abbas: anti-Islamic provocations fuel mistrust

The posters depicting the controversial Danish caricature of the prophet Mohammed in Brno, photo: CTK

In the past couple of weeks two incidents have threatened to disturb the peaceful coexistence between Czechs and the country’s Muslim community, centred mainly in the Moravian city of Brno. First, the city was plastered overnight with posters depicting the controversial Danish caricature of the prophet Mohammed which sparked violent protests across the Muslim world. And then last week the ultra-right National Party placed the controversial anti-Qur’an film Fitna by the rightwing Dutch MP Geert Wilders on its web page.

The posters depicting the controversial Danish caricature of the prophet Mohammed in Brno, photo: CTK
The interior minister ordered the posters torn down and the matter investigated, and politicians loudly denounced the actions of the National Party as ignorant and foolhardy. Nevertheless some Muslims say they are feeling the pressure. How much damage have these incidents done? I asked Mohammed Abbas a Muslim from Sudan, who has been living in the Czech Republic since 1988 for his opinion.

“Yes, it is doing damage. But it is a very small group of people, maybe even one or two people who are trying to provoke in this way. And that can happen in any society, unfortunately. It gives Muslims the feeling that they are attacked and it makes Czechs fear the Muslims because they expect a reaction. Which is very, very sad.”

How do Muslims fare in the Czech Republic. How do Czechs act towards you? Do you have friends in this country? How do people in the street behave?

“I think that generally Czech people are indifferent to the religion or cultural background of others. Most people are very friendly. But sometimes they are afraid because of things that they read in the papers or hear on television. Unfortunately, many reports about the Muslim world are not based on the truth. We hear a lot about the fight against terrorism but at the end of the day in many countries nobody is prosecuted and when a case does come to court nobody is found guilty. So I think that often it is a case of virtual reality. This fear of Islam and Muslims is something that is not based on truth.”

But there are extremists among Muslims…

“Yes, but the things happening in the Islamic world can lead to nothing but extremism. When the Muslims see what is happening in Iraq, two million people killed in a war which has no meaning…when you see what is happening in Palestine...you know people in England are angry because 50 people died in the metro and what do you expect from Muslims who see two million dead in Iraq and killing and suffering in the Gaza Strip every day, killing in Afghanistan. This foreign policy can lead to nothing but violence and anger – but that is not to say that Muslims in Europe will go and kill innocent people. They won’t because Islam forbids that.”

Has the kind of publicity you mentioned made Muslims close ranks in this country? Do you feel isolated?

“I do not feel that. No, I don’t think so. I am very happy with the way that Czech politicians reacted to the mentioned incidents – the prime minister, the foreign minister and the interior minister. For the first time we feel support, which is very good and is something we have not felt in a long time. And I think that if Danish politicians had behaved in a similar manner then things would have been different. Part of the problem of the Mohammed caricatures in Denmark was the arrogance of Danish politicians. They weren’t willing to talk to Muslims about the problem, they refused even to meet. So I would give Czech politicians high marks for how they dealt with the problem. I would say that it has made many Muslims here feel better.”