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As target of Islamic rage, a stunned Denmark looks inward

COPENHAGEN -- Its embassies are ablaze, its boycotted industries are losing millions of dollars a day -- and Denmark is reeling with dismay.

A nation that prides itself on extensive humanitarian work, and usually gets only cursory media attention, suddenly finds itself denounced as evil. In the furor over publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, Danes are groping for ways to cool the anger and are reassessing their self-image.

''Like many other young people, I traveled the world with a Danish flag on my rucksack. It opened doors because Denmark was known as a country that respected others, helped other countries," said Villy Soevndal, who leads the opposition Socialist People's Party.

''This is scary," Lea Steen, a 28-year-old student, of television footage of shrieking protesters throughout the Muslim world burning Danish flags and setting the Danish embassies in Damascus and Beirut on fire. ''We've seen it with US or Israeli flags before, but it suddenly got a lot closer to our daily lives."

The effects are more than psychological for much of the business community. The Denmark-based dairy group Arla Foods says a boycott of its goods in some Islamic countries is costing it $1.6 million a day.

Overall, Danish industry could lose $1.6 billion a year if the boycotts in place or threatened in 20 Muslim countries hold firm, said Steen Bocian of Danske Bank. Arla spokeswoman Astrid Gade Nielsen wondered whether the company can even win back consumers. ''That will be a huge task," she said.

Denmark is also examining its own attitudes.

The country is proud of its freedom of speech laws.

Danes also tend to regard their nation as a paragon of reason and liberalism, pointing to the many immigrants it has accepted in recent decades, its willingness to take part in peacekeeping but not combat, and the presence of Danish aid workers in some of the world's most wretched places.

But Muslims in Denmark -- some 200,000 of the country's 5.4 million people -- often see a much different image. They complain of being discriminated against and being denied jobs because of their religion. Many were distressed by statements by Queen Margrethe II in an official biography last year.

There is ''something scary about such totalitarianism that is also part of Islam," the queen said. ''Resistance must sometimes be shown, although one risks getting a not-so-flattering label."

The remarks were widely interpreted as the queen's expressing outright opposition to Islam, although in Danish the statement implies argument rather than full opposition. Nonetheless, the comments added to tensions for Muslims in a country where the prevailing secularity, liberal sexual mores, and affection for beer are deeply at odds with Islam.

Muslims began to feel further oppressed when immigration laws were tightened in 2002, followed by restrictions on bringing in foreign-born spouses. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's government won support for the measure in Parliament with votes from an anti-immigration party.

About 15,000 Muslims are loyal to a group of outspoken Copenhagen imams who were key in spreading complaints about the Mohammed drawings to Muslims in the Middle East.

The Danish newspaper said it decided to solicit and print the caricatures in September as a gesture against what it perceived as a tendency to avoid criticizing Islam for fear of retaliation.

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