Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mutually Disagreeable Complaints: Denmark

"I've become a racist. [Migrants are draining Denmark's social-welfare, refusing to adapt to customs'."
"Just kick them out. These Muslims want to keep their own culture, but we have our own rules here and everyone must follow them."
Johnny Christensen, 54, retired bank worker

"We are a multiethnic society today, and we have to realize it."
"But we are not and should never become a multicultural society."
Bo Lidegaard, Danish 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

"We should be like this glass -- transparent. As long as we follow the rules of the country, we are part of Danish society."
Sherif Sulaiman, organic food scientist from Egypt, community organizer, 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, antiracism group volunteer
A Friday prayer in the Grand Mosque of Copenhagen, also known as Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilization Center. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

In the space of two years, tiny Denmark has absorbed over 36,000 Muslim asylum seekers. Immigration only became an issue in 1967, when "guest workers" were first brought in from Turkey and Pakistan and the-then Yugoslavia. Denmark's 5.7 million population was 97 percent Danish in 1980, and it now has been reduced to 88 percent. Germany and Sweden have absorbed far greater numbers of immigrants, but Danes are struggling with the presence of a demographic whose culture and religion is dramatically unlike their own and seemingly incapable of adapting to the greater culture.

Resentment has set in and strict measures supported by the center-right government has led to a spike in criticism and the rise in popularity of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party. Not much surprising in a country that is seeing its social welfare system strained by the influx of dependent haven-seekers, with the spectre of terrorist attacks looming in the shadows. When thousands of Poles and Americans as well as other Westerners emigrated to Denmark in 2014 the adjustment seemed without fuss of any kind.

It has taken the arrival of 16,000 Syrians in the past two years to herald the rise of discontent and resentment with complaints that the refugees are not making a serious effort to learn to speak the national language despite that the Danish Ministry of Immigration reporting 72 percent having passed a  mandatory language test. Danes are uncomfortable with enclaves of ethnic groups, where Muslims settling in Aarbus and Copenhagen present views in public of women in abayas and men in prayer caps.

Muslim refugees are viewed as an economic drain on the country's economy in view of the fact that 48 percent of immigrants only, aged 16 to 64 are employed as compared to 74 percent of the native Danish population. Official Denmark attempts to thwart what it names as "parallel societies" comprised of migrants presenting as "vicious circles of bad image, social problems and a high rate of unemployment", precisely what the Danish public views as the reality.

Too many refugees were failing the simple citizenship test, and a whopping 86 percent of welfare recipients were identified as Muslim immigrants. Tolerant Denmark has permitted multiple wives to be brought over in a family reunification scheme, and with the wives comes a multitude of children, all supported by welfare payments when the father of the children claims physical disability and psychological debilitation in the most overt of the examples of immigration gone awry.

Which has led, though it may not be typical, to a backlash against Muslim immigrants. Sherif Sulaiman who has lived in Denmark for eight years speaks persuasively to other Muslims that they must open their expectations of themselves in Denmark to become integrated in the prevailing customs and society. As manager of an Islamic center inviting Danes to attend for an annual "harmony week", he dedicates himself to forging a bond between Danes and Muslims, of tolerance understanding on both sides.

At the introduction of 2015, Danish authorities had the right through a newly-passed law to confiscate valuable items from those newly arriving to aid the government in the costs associated with settling them into their new country. It appears to be a rarely-enforced situation. Denmark placed advertisements in Arabic language newspapers emphasizing new policies making it tougher for migrants to apply for status in an effort to dissuade immigrants from considering travelling to Denmark seeking haven.

Difficulties in assimilation, and a patriarchal culture that disallows women working outside the home, a culture that constrains free speech, one that has no concept of equality, all issues representing adequate enough reason that Danes and other European countries are finding it problematic to settle refugees and economic migrants who often disregard custom and law, with criminal activities taking place out of proportion to their numbers, engendering anger and backlash.

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