COPENHAGEN – May be Ozlem Sara Cekic, Denmark’s first female Muslim MP, has already left the Parliament, but she did not quit public life.
For months, the Muslim figure has been arranging cake and tea events to open dialogue between neo-Nazis and the mainstream Danish community.
“I am a human – of course I get upset. I wish I did not cry,” Cekic told The Independent, recalling times when she gets overwhelmed with emotions.
“It is very hard to talk with these people but someone has to do it. I no longer think that the right strategy is to ignore them.”
The Muslim woman, who does not wear a hijab, became the first Muslim MP for the Socialist People’s Party (SF) in the 2007 elections but lost her seat in 2015.
The mother-of-three started receiving hate mail during her time in the Parliament. According to the former politician, people would brand her a terrorist and ask what she was doing in parliament.
Using to delete these hate messages at the beginning, she decided to change her approach after meeting Jacob Holdt, an internationally acclaimed Danish photographer who has spent time with the far right.
“Holdt said: ‘Visit them and try to understand them.’ And I said: ‘They will kill me.’ And he said: ‘Rule one, they will never kill you. Rule two, if they kill you, you will be a martyr. It’s a win-win situation for you.’ And that was the reason I started my dialogue coffee,” she said.
“I used to delete all my hate mail, but one of my colleagues said: ‘Don’t do that. If something happens to you, it’s good for the police to have something.’ So I made a hate-mail map in my Outlook and then I thought, ‘maybe Jacob’s right, maybe I should visit them.’
“It’s always in their house so they can see that I trust them. I always bring something we can eat. My philosophy is if you can have something to eat you can have peace.”
Since leaving parliament, the former MP has made it her life’s work to open dialogue between the far right and mainstream Danish society and has set up the Bridge Builders organization.
On one occasion, Cekic took a three-and-a-half-hour train journey from Copenhagen to meet a neo-Nazi.
“I met him because he said he had a very good solution for all of these problems,” she tells The Independent.
“I did not trust him. He said: ‘I don’t think we should deport people out the country: the black race is much more violent than the white race, and the best solution is to stop you having children.’
“I said: ‘But I want children.’ He said: ‘I’ve found a solution, we can inseminate you with the white genes, so you can get the white children,’” she added.
The meetings with far-right didn’t bring easy life for Cekic.
“I have a restraining order,” she said.
“Twice a year I have contact with the police, where they try and find the people. I had a case against some people in the court.”
She recalled a time when she was stalked by an apparent Danish Nazi party member.
“It was a horrible time,” she said.
“The telephone would ring and ring and I would get paranoid and think ‘he’s in the house’. I was at the zoo with my children and the phone rang 20, 30, 40 times and I thought he was there,” she said.
“He called me for eight months. He always called with a secret number and would say ‘you have to get out of my country’. My sons said, ‘But mum why does he hate you so much? He doesn’t know you.’ The police found him after that. He only threatened me on the phone.”
Despite having a hard time, Cekic insists the overwhelming majority of meetings go smoothly.
“I always imagine in my head who I am visiting and what their lifestyle is. Almost every time I am wrong,” she said.
“The people who send the hate mail are normal people. They have a job. A lot of them have a wife or husband. They have children.”
For her, the purpose of the meetings was to try to tackle and overcome feelings of fear felt by either party and find a way to relate to each other on a human level.
“It is not about me being the good guy and them being the bad guy, it is about meeting each other,” she says.
“I need them to listen and to understand where this hate comes from. I am afraid of people like them and they are afraid of people like me. We have to meet each other to know that we shouldn’t be afraid of each other.
“My advice for all the people I meet is, ‘please talk to each other, don’t just talk about each other’.”