Cablegate: Embassy Copenhagen
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHCP #0970/01 2881557
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 151557Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY COPENHAGEN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3877
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COPENHAGEN 000970
STATE FOR EUR, EUR/NB, EUR/PPD, NEA, AND INR DOD FOR OSD-POLICY - HURSCH, AND DASD MIKE DORAN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2027 TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER KISL DA
1. (U) Classified by CDA Sandra Kaiser, reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).
2. (C) Summary. Two years after the Mohammed cartoon crisis catapulted him to prominence, Syrian-born Danish member of parliament Naser Khader still fascinates and frustrates. Khader used his post-cartoon crisis fame and considerable personal charisma to launch a pro-democracy Muslim NGO and a new centrist Danish political party. Yet even as he still consistently polls as one of Denmark´s most popular politicians, Khader´s influence is waning. He has long left - some say abandoned - his NGO, and political observers here have scratched their heads as Khader´s new party has squandered considerable political capital on poor execution and a thin policy platform. Friends and foes talk openly of Khader as a smooth but flaky policy dilettante who has mastered the art of political communication but cannot deliver on substance. Devout Danish Muslims keep their distance.
3. (C) Summary continued. Khader also cannot figure out what he wants from the USG. In the aftermath of the cartoon crisis Khader personally has distanced himself from us, at times in unhelpful ways. Khader recently issued a harsh and public personal attack on Ambassador Cain, criticizing the Embassy´s successful efforts to reach out to a broad spectrum of the Muslim community here. Khader has also set his new party on a foreign policy course critical of the USG, particularly in the Middle East. Khader still regularly travels to the U.S. and seeks meetings with USG and private contacts to burnish his image here at home as a policy heavyweight. Khader is, for all his faults, an important politician here who, when he engages constructively, can move the political center in Denmark. His new party, while now diminished in the polls, could still be a kingmaker in a future Danish government. Washington interlocutors should make clear to Khader that he cannot shore up an eroding political base at home by engaging in opportunist attacks on USG personnel and policies in Denmark. We should express to Khader a readiness to engage with him seriously and substantively, provided that he does so with us. End Summary.
Trial by Fire...
4. (C) It is now a little over two years since the Mohammed cartoon crisis exploded and enveloped an unprepared Denmark in an international firestorm of Muslim rage and retribution. The crisis left in its passage a long list of victims, including Danish government credibility in the Islamic world and Danish exports to the Middle East. Another legacy was testy relations between Denmark and its Muslim community and within the Danish Muslim community itself. Only one man seemed to emerge from the Mohammed crisis with integrity and image not only intact but enhanced - Danish Member of Parliament Naser Khader. Khader, a Syrian-born Palestinian whose family emigrated to Denmark in 1974, won the hearts of secular ethnic Danes during and after the crisis by attacking Muslim reaction to the cartoons as overwrought and hypocritical, and by proclaiming Denmark´s free speech laws inviolate, particularly in the face of violent attack. Ethnic Danes saw Khader as the ideal "new Dane," an Arab whose family successfully integrated in Denmark and elevated their son through education and hard work to become a member of Denmark´s political elite.
5. (C) Khader repeatedly castigated Danish Muslims for failure to appreciate and defend the democratic freedoms that he said had given many of them shelter as refugees or asylees. He saved particularly withering attacks for Danish imams who traveled to the Middle East at the height of the crisis and who, as seen from Denmark, added fuel to the cartoon fire by spreading misinformation and rumors about the cartoons and the treatment of Muslims in Denmark. In February 2006, Khader established the NGO "Democratic Muslims," which Khader and co-founders launched as a rallying point for moderate Muslims in the conviction that "we are the proof that Islam and democracy are not incompatible." Khader´s launch of Democratic Muslims met with an outpouring of financial and moral support from ethnic Danes, who joined an associated "Friends of Democratic Muslims" in the tens of thousands. Khader and Democratic Muslims (DM) quickly rose to prominence across Europe as they toured the conference and seminar circuit in the hope that other European Muslims would "react and follow our lead."
Two Promising Projects Wither on the Vine... --------------------------------------------
6. (C) Khader wanted Democratic Muslims as an organization to focus exclusively on promoting integration and democratic values, while other DM co-founders wanted to enlarge DM´s agenda to address other political issues of concern to Muslims (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.). Khader stepped back as these internal conflicts intensified, leaving DM rudderless. Khader also in April/May 2006 largely withdrew from public view after he became the target of threats from within Denmark´s Muslim community, who saw Khader´s secular and democratic agenda as a betrayal of Islam.
7. (C) When Khader re-emerged, however, it was to leave DM and turn his attention back to Parliament, where he fought with other (Social Liberal) party members over the party´s positions on Muslim integration and other domestic issues. Khader, still enjoying significant popularity in the polls, soon emerged as a serious internal threat to his party´s leadership. After a series of increasingly public spats with party leaders in early 2007, Khader announced in May that he was founding Denmark´s first new political party in a decade, New Alliance (NA). Khader´s stated goal in founding NA was to position it to replace the anti-immigrant (and frequently anti-Muslim) Danish People´s Party in any future right-of-center government. New Alliance immediately registered polling support from 12 - 13 percent of Danish voters, putting it in the ranks of those parties that could make or break future governments. Yet over the course of the summer, NA delayed again and again the launch of its party platform and lost valuable momentum. Poll numbers fell, and by the opening of the Parliament in mid-September, NA´s support numbers had fallen to around 5 - 6 percent. Khader again dithered as initial supporters asked for policy positions and threatened to withdraw financial support to the new party. Khader´s party now struggles in the polls, a spent force even before it contests its first election.
Comment: What Does Naser Khader Want? -------------------------------------
8. (C) Khader´s experience with both Democratic Muslims and New Alliance reinforces a view confirmed to us by other parliamentary contacts, that of Khader as a personally charismatic and media-savvy politician who is unable to follow through on his best intentions. One prominent parliamentarian, who has tangled publicly with Khader but also told us he respects Khader´s political instincts, nevertheless described him as "flaky" when it came time to turn ideas into concrete policies. Khader himself seems unperturbed by these increasingly public criticisms, either wrapping himself in a cloak of victimhood or redirecting fire away from himself by attacking others.
9. (C) One of his increasingly preferred diversionary tactics is to attack the USG. Khader rarely pronounced on USG foreign policy during and after the Mohammed cartoon crisis, but as he moved away from DM and toward New Alliance he began issuing frequent criticisms of U.S. Mid-East policy, usually focused on the war in Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A favorite theme following New Alliance´s founding has been Guantanamo and detainee policy. Ambassador Cain has personally reached out to Khader many times over the past year to discuss, among other issues, both those that Khader has criticized us for and to seek common ground with Khader on our very active outreach program to Denmark´s Muslim community. Khader has ignored nearly all our invitations (accepting only one to a reception for a visiting Congressional delegation), but has continued to attack us in the press. Khader issued a particularly severe personal attack on Ambassador Cain on October 12 regarding the Ambassador´s recent Iftar dinner held on October 4. Khader took issue with two guests on our Iftar dinner list, claiming they were Islamic extremists and calling Ambassador Cain a "useful idiot" for hosting them (along with more than 30 others from half a dozen different Danish Muslims organizations). Khader also, in a bizarre event associated with a visit to the U.S. earlier this year, attacked the U.S. public broadcaster PBS for "censoring" him when it delayed publication of a documentary that featured Khader, portraying
the discussion as "the U.S." succumbing to public pressure from Islamic extremists. Khader said he had much to teach U.S. authorities about "the danger of giving in to Islamists."
10. (C) Khader continues to make regular visits to the U.S., and it is worth continuing to reach out to him. Khader remains a popular politician in Denmark who is able to shape the opinions of centrist Danes. We no longer view Khader as a useful contact in promoting Muslim integration in Denmark. He has been so vocal and extreme in his attacks on both observant Muslims and our programs that we alienate more Muslims by working with Khader than by ignoring him. The vast majority of observant Danish Muslims don´t agree with the DM agenda and view Khader as a polarizing figure. Washington audiences, in conversations with Khader, should remind him why the U.S. seeks to engage broadly with Muslims in Europe - even those who do not necessarily agree with us - and the danger of harsh anti-U.S. invective. Unfortunately, for now, Naser Khader is more interested in opportunist posturing than in sincere dialogue and engagement. We welcome the day when he might change that approach.