From Anne Jessen for Demos and Antifa-Net in Copenhagen
Searchlight, October 2007
INTOLERANCE TOWARDS Muslims in Denmark is growing according to several recent reports that strongly criticise the government's policies towards immigrants, refugees and ethnic minorities.
At the beginning of 2006 Denmark's image took a battering as Muslim protests against the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons of Muhammad dominated the international news. Since then the media spotlight has turned away and the Danish government's hard line on ethnic minorities has resumed. Although the country is governed by a liberal-conservative coalition, the rightwing populist Danish People's Party (DFP) wields decisive influence over immigration policy.
Amnesty International's annual report published this summer emphasises that ethnic minority groups suffer discrimination, especially Muslims, and points out that since the cartoons controversy the number of politically motivated attacks on Muslims has increased but this has not been matched by charges brought for violating anti-racism laws.
Amnesty's report confirmed the findings of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which commented in a report issued in March this year that the Danish jobs market discriminates against foreigners. It said that Denmark has the lowest proportion of employed immigrants out of all the OECD's 30 member states and that the education system has failed the younger generation of immigrants.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe also censured the Danish government over the situation of Muslims in Denmark in a report prepared in July 2006 but only reported in the Danish media in April. The report's author, Ömür Orhun, pointed out that the situation of Muslims in Denmark has worsened over the past five years. He criticised the radical aliens legislation, which limits the access of Muslims to the social security system, and blamed the government for the absence of legal mosques and Muslim cemeteries, the requirement for newborn Muslim children to be registered with the Christian church and the fact that anti-racism legislation is rarely enforced.
In May last year the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) expressed its anxiety at increasing xenophobia and intolerance towards Muslims in Denmark. ECRI's report pointed out that DFP members are able to make shockingly racist statements in public without political or legal consequences.
Both the Danish government and the DFP consistently reject criticism of their positions. Mogens Camre, a DFP Member of the European Parliament, unhesitatingly spells out his agenda: "We must quit the refugee convention of the UN, we must block the civil rights embodied by the European Union charter which are directed against Europeans and we must amend the legal and penal codes to make it possible to defend democracy and throw political-religious leaders, criminals and parasites out of the country."
The deterioration of the social climate towards ethnic minority groups is prompting the departure of many immigrants. Official figures are not yet available, but research in 2005 and 2006, conducted by the Danish Engineers' Association and the Employers' Association among others indicates that it is highly trained and well educated immigrants who are tending to leave Denmark. The reasons cited include improved employment prospects outside Denmark, difficulties with the family unification and the generally xenophobic social climate.
Like the more xenophobic aspect of government policy, the adverse social climate is largely attributable to the DFP which has played a substantial role in shaping Danish so-called "integration policy". As a parliamentary prop to the government, the DFP has led a sharpening offensive in public debate, presenting western, national and Christian values as ammunition in the struggle against Muslim culture.
In this conflict of values, whether in parliament or in society in general, what the DFP says often crosses the borders of legality. Some party members have been convicted for breaking anti-racism laws but generally the party gets away with political murder.
The DFP's so-called struggle of values is no less than a war against Muslims. The party no longer refers to foreigners or immigrants, only Muslims, and its tone is becoming ever more strident and aggressive as part of an effort to make anti-Islam sentiments publicly acceptable. At the same time, the DFP distances itself from right-wing extremism by expelling members whose contact with nazis have been too close.
It is the success of this balancing that has resulted in leading international institutions expressing concern about intolerance in what was once a liberal country.
The adverse impact of the DFP's policies have also led to the emergence of another, even more virulently anti-Muslim group, Stop Islamisation of Denmark, which before the cartoons controversy was called Stop Immigration. This outfit is now threatening to stand candidates in the next parliamentary elections.