After enacting a burqa ban, Denmark’s hardline anti-Muslim migration rhetoric of the right wing Danish People’s Party has now become mainstream…even being adopted by the Social Democrats. Above all, the Social Democrats leadership sees the large influx of Muslim migrants and refugees as a threat to the nation’s welfare society, all of which has Muslims feeling “besieged.”
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The Guardian Earlier this month Danish MPs passed a law that, in effect, bans the burqa. It imposes a penalty of 10,000 kroner (£1,200) for repeat offenders. The ban was backed not only by both the ruling centre-right Liberal party but also by the centre-left Social Democrats, whose rhetoric on Islam has started to rival that of the populist right in the last two years.
The Social Democrats’ leader, Mette Frederiksen, has called Islam a barrier to integration, said some Muslims “do not respect the Danish judicial system”, that some Muslim women refuse to work for religious reasons, and that Muslim girls are subject to “massive social control”. She has also called for all Muslim schools in the country to be closed.
Emrah Tuncer, a local politician for the pro-immigration Social Liberal party, worries about where the two main parties’ rhetorical race to the bottom will lead. “They are almost fighting about who has the most extreme ideas,” he said.
The day before we met, Tuncer’s party formally ended its 25-year electoral partnership with the Social Democrats over the party’s rightward turn on Islam and immigration. “I think it’s very ugly that the Social Democrats have become so extreme,” he says. “They’re worse than the [right wing] Danish People’s party.”
But he concedes that the party’s shift over the past two years has come in response to a change in public opinion. “They’ve smelt votes on this one,” he says. “It’s moved in Holbæk, like in the whole of Denmark, from: ‘Let’s help people even if they’re Muslims or immigrants’, to: ‘We have to take care of Danish people first.’”
Tuncer attributes the shift in mood to the rise of the Islamic State terror group and the refugee crisis. “It’s because of terror: 150 Danish citizens went to Syria to fight with Isis,” he said. “And of course the refugees cost a lot of money at the same time as, in Holbæk, they didn’t didn’t have money to buy paper for schools, or markers to write on the whiteboards.”
Stig Hjarvard, a professor of media at the University of Copenhagen who last year co-wrote a paper on Scandinavian attitudes to Islam, believes the antagonism goes further back. According to Hjarvard, it began with Danish troops’ involvement in the Nato-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, grew with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was further fuelled by the reaction to publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in 2005.
He also thinks that the kingmaker position that the populist Danish People’s party has enjoyed in politics recently is important. “That has of course meant that their policies in terms of immigration have spilled into the agenda of the other parties: not only the Liberal party, but also the Social Democrats. That has consistently put immigration on the agenda. It’s immigration in general and it’s Muslim immigration in particular.”
Inger Støjberg, Denmark’s hardline immigration minister has called for all Muslims to take holidays during this month’s Ramadan fast “to avoid negative consequences for the rest of Danish society.”
Istahil Hussein, 36, says the change in Danish opinion so disturbing that she is thinking of returning to Somalia, the country she left 18 years ago. (Buh Bye!) “You listen every day [about] Muslims doing this, Muslims doing that. It’s not good,” she says.
“Now the Danish People’s party is saying that all schools and kindergartens should have to serve pork once a week.