Editor’s Note: This article is from last year, we are bringing it now for you to understand the previous article better.
From a niqab clampdown to circumcision debates, my country is becoming explicitly Islamophobic
Tue 10 Jul 2018
Denmark has just passed a law called the “ghetto deal”. This awful word is used in all seriousness to describe 25 residential areas across Denmark, where a significant proportion of the inhabitants have an ethnic-minority background and/or low social status.
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I often visit friends in some of the most well known of these areas around Copenhagen, and I have seen nothing but children playing football, mothers with baby carriers, bored young boys hanging out and old men playing chess under the trees. These are tidy, well-kept and homely places, very far from the depressing image the word “ghetto” brings to mind.
Nonetheless, our prime minister calls them “black spots on the map” and “parallel societies”, and a broad majority of the Danish parliament has a goal to “abolish ghettoes by 2030”. The steps towards this are heavily discriminatory, targeting only people who happen to live in these areas, and especially the children. But this is all for their own good, we’re told.
Crime rates have actually dropped sharply in the areas in the past few years, but from now on, sentences for crimes committed in these areas will be twice as high as elsewhere, and now a whole family can be thrown out of their home if one of their children commits a crime. The children in the “ghettoes” will get special attention that other children apparently don’t need. All one-year-olds will be given 25 hours a week of mandatory daycare, which will include an education programme, and pre-school children will be given language tests (which they can fail).
How did we come to this? The Denmark I grew up in was based on a humane, inclusive attitude, where equality was a goal, and social problems and crime were met with professional support, rehabilitation programmes and education. The supposed “ghettoes” are a result of a policy where even citizens with a low income should still have a home of good quality, with social activities built into the neighbourhood. It’s quite logical that ethnic minorities tend to end up in these places, as they rarely have other options to start with.
‘From the Danish media you get the impression that integration is a total disaster.’ Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian
During the last decade the Danish perception of equality and social support has taken a surprising turn. My friends from the Middle East, Asia and Africa do not qualify as my equals any more. A new term, “non-western immigrants”, is being used as a euphemism for Muslims. “Non-western” is somehow used to imply people who are backward, traditionalist, violent, criminal, lazy and non-democratic, with cultures that suppress women and children. And the government is constantly busy designing new laws that only target them – last year the proud integration minister, Inger Støjberg, celebrated with a cake when she reached the first 50 restrictions for foreigners.
Our open-minded, tolerant tradition is now being used as a weapon against “the ones who don’t respect our values”. All of a sudden, we think it’s very important that Denmark is a Christian country (as opposed to Muslim). And every time the word “migrant”, “foreigner” or “refugee” is mentioned, the same sentence is sure to hold several of these words and terms: “crime”, “terror”, “Islam”, “insecurity”, “economic expenses”, “demands”.
The issue of foreigners is the top priority of all political parties, in spite of the fact that very few people are asking for asylum at the Danish border these days. When the refugee wave was at its highest in 2016, Denmark gave asylum to 7,400 people, equivalent to 1.3 per 1,000 inhabitants.
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From the Danish media you get the impression that integration is a total disaster. In fact things are going better than ever: last year we saw a 60% rise in the number of employed new refugees. The old pattern of staying on welfare and not speaking Danish is quickly vanishing: the second generation have greater social mobility. But these facts do not fit into the government’s argument.
The focus has shifted from integration and inclusion to a new strategy of keeping migrants out. First: tell them they are not welcome. If they don’t listen, try to prevent them from entering by introducing some of Europe’s toughest requirements for asylum and family reunification. The few ones who slip in anyway are no longer entitled to the same social benefits and rights as Danes, as they had been before. And we don’t want them to stay, so the demands for permanent residency and citizenship have been made almost impossible to meet. This also helps to keep them out of the democratic voting procedure. There are serious discussions about mandatory serving of pork in state institutions; whether bus drivers are able to drive safely during Ramadan; fining the 40 women who wear a niqab for doing so; and we consider banning circumcision of boys (Jewish people caught up in this are simply collateral damage).
In contrast to all this, most Danes actually like their “non-western” neighbours. New refugees still tell me they feel welcome, with Danes helping them in their struggle with the language or finding a job, inviting them into their home. This is the paradox of Denmark: a hostile government policy apparently supported by a majority of the people, combined with a generally positive atmosphere towards the individual immigrants that we meet in our day-to-day lives.
• Michala Bendixen is head of Refugees Welcome Denmark and editor of refugees.dk