Stigmatised, marginalised: life inside Denmark’s official ghettos

The Observer

As cultural assimilation intensifies, lifelong residents feel increasingly isolated in a place once known as a haven of tolerance

Emma Graham-Harrison and Janus Engel Rasmussen in Copenhagen
Sun 12 Aug 2018 08.00 BST



Ayah, a niqab wearer, and a policeman embrace at a protest. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Martin Henriksen and Sabah Qarasnane don’t have much in common. He is an outspoken, virulently anti-Muslim politician from a rightwing populist party who thinks wearing a headscarf is incompatible with Danish identity.
She is a Moroccan-Danish community organiser from a part of Copenhagen the government has officially dubbed a “ghetto”, proud of her country, her religion and her headscarf.

But they do share one thing – both are nostalgic for the Denmark of their youth. Henriksen because he remembers a less diverse country, and Qarasnane because she remembers a more tolerant country. “When I came to Denmark in the 1990s, it was more welcoming and open,” she said. “I decided to build my life here, and I gave my children to Denmark, to Danish society, with the expectation that they would be fully accepted. And now it is not clear if that is happening.

“I dealt with being an immigrant, but my kids are not,” she added. “They were born here. They don’t have another identity to claim if they are being marginalised.”

Henriksen and Qarasnane are at the heart of an intensifying debate about what it means to be Danish as rightwing nationalists gain political ground in a country once known as one of Europe’s most tolerant. Henriksen’s populist Danish People’s party (DPP) got the second-highest vote tally in the most recent parliamentary elections, and its votes prop up the centre-right coalition, although it refused any ministerial posts.

Instead, its controversial rhetoric helps drive Danish politics from the wings. A ban on full-face veils, which came into effect earlier this month, was pushed into law by their campaigning, and has helped to cement Denmark’s new image abroad.


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