Danish Migrant Backlash
"I've become a racist. Just kick them [migrants] out. These Muslims want to keep their own culture, but we have our own rules here and everyone must follow them."
Johnny Christensen, 65, retired bank employee, Taarnby, Denmark
"[Many Danes believe] We are a multiethnic society today, and we have to realize it -- but we are not and should never become a multi-cultural society."
Bo Lidegaard, historian
"Our problem in Denmark is that we've been too polite. No one dared talk about [immigration] because they were afraid they'd be called racist."
Anders Buhl-Christensen, city councilman, Randers, Denmark
"It's not racism to be aware of the difference -- it's stupid not to be aware."
"We do them a blessing by being very clear and outspoken as to what kind of country they have come to, what are our basic values."
Bertel Haarder, Culture Minister, Denmark
"Freedom of speech is now interpreted as freedom to say anything hateful."
"Denmark is closing in on itself. People are retreating inward."
Julie Jeeg, law student volunteer with a Danish antiracism group
|Photograph by Ilvy Njiokikthen for The New York Times|
A Randers day care center back in January no longer served pork meatballs in the realization that its Muslim students would reject them. When this came to public notice the town council reacted by requiring that pork be served "on equal terms with other kinds of food", in a bit of a push-back against the kind of accommodation that was recognized as getting that steel-toed foot in the door to open it wider to additional accommodations having the ultimate effect of diluting the familiar in Denmark.
Frank Noergaard of the Danish People's Party who had introduced the measure, portrayed himself as livid that "pork could be abandoned in Denmark. If you give in on pork, what's next?", he raged. Of course, two kinds of meatballs could have been proffered in this situation; students whose religion did not prohibit the eating of pork could indulge in the pork meatballs, while meatballs of beef or fowl could appeal to the Muslim students. That, in and of itself could become more complex with the concomitant demand that the meat used for Muslim students must be halal.
The Immigration Ministry of the country has made an attempt to stifle pushback in the general population, a situation it has named as "parallel societies" where migrants live in "vicious circles of bad image, social problems and a high rate of unemployment". That effectively describes the French banlieues, and in effect almost anywhere in Europe where Muslims arrive in numbers and tend to house themselves in ghettos.
There are, however, always Muslims who will defy the majority rule, who make an effort to fit into the prevailing culture, just as 34-year-old Iraqi engineer Omar Mahmoud has done, with his family, living in a Randers refugee center and attempting to 'fit in'. Attending Danish classes, encouraging their children to make friends with Danish children, and not opposing the eating of pork for them since it is a staple of the Danish diet, however forbidden in Islam.
Generally speaking, this attitude is not necessarily the prevailing one among the 36,000 Muslim asylum seekers who have entered Denmark in the last two years. Mr. Christensen, the retired bank employee, is convinced that migrants are not adapting to the country's customs, while taking full advantage of Denmark's social-welfare system. From a man once sympathetic to immigration and aiding war refugees, he has become a committed critic of asylum offering specifically to Muslims.
Where once tiny Denmark with its 5.7 million population was 97 percent native-born, with the influx of "guest workers" from Turkey, Pakistan and Yugoslavia in the 1970s, that number has dropped to 88 percent indigenous Danes. More recently, a rapid wholesale influx of haven seekers has seen hate speech enhanced in the country, with the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party becoming Parliament's second most representative.
The anti-immigrant reaction is attributable to several issues; fears of terrorism from Islamist jihadis and a drain on Denmark's public benefits. Not that a latent racial bias recently surfacing can be entirely discounted at the entrance of non-Danish demographics at a time when Europe has been overrun with war refugees and economic migrants. Denmark's situation pales beside Germany's acceptance of a million migrants, but it still rankles mightily that their culture is being degraded.
When five thousand Poles and three thousand, three hundred Americans, along with other Westerners emigrated in 2014 to Denmark, there were no demurs at their presence. Westerners are, after all, readily assimilable, featuring similar backgrounds and cultures, as opposed to people entering with all the baggage of a culture and a religion that has proven time and again to be inimical to integration into the prevalent heritage, culture and justice system.
The 15,000 Syrians who arrived in the past several years have, according to their critics, been tardy in learning the language. Danes resent ethnic enclaves. Some 30 percent of new immigrants arrived to the two larges Danish cities, Aarhus and Copenhagen, where men wearing prayer caps and women in abayas become extremely visible. In comparison with employment of 74 percent of native Danes, 48 percent of non-Western-origined people aged 15 to 64 were employed in 2014.
Denmark's Culture minister, Bertel Haarder, observed that Muslims fail to assimilate as readily as Europeans or Asians since their patriarchal culture does not promote women working outside the home. "For a lot of people, being Danish is in your blood, so I will never be Danish", said 28-year-old Danish citizen Patricia Bandak, who arrived in Denmark as a baby from Uganda, in 1989. "I call myself a Dane of a different colour."