Denmark, Immigration, and Integration
Lawmakers in Denmark have introduced a set of new laws to integrate immigrant children into Danish society. In the New York Times yesterday morning, they revealed that the Danes had established a new legal category for those born – and living in – what the Danes call a “ghetto. (1)”
Immigrants living in these “ghettos” are “ghetto parents,” and their children are “ghetto children. (1)”
The new law states that as soon as the child has had their first birthday, they have to spend 25 hours a week in a classroom for instruction on Danish norms and values (1).
Some of these ideas and traditions include Christmas, Easter, and the Danish language. If parents are to reject this law, the government will cut off welfare payments (1).
The Acculturation Of Immigrants Into Denmark Has Been Challenging
The government of Denmark is concerned with integrating Muslims and other groups into Danish culture, claiming that if families living in 25 low-income neighborhoods don’t merge into the mainstream culture, the government must compel them (1).
Denmark throughout history has been an ethnically homogeneous nation, one that has used civic solidarity as a foundation on which the political institutions have been created (2).
Solidarity and trust in the government have long been a defining feature of how the Danish conduct themselves. Typically, the Danes haven’t considered themselves as a nation of immigrants, although they have accepted groups throughout history (3).
One of the usual consequences of being an affluent society is a declining birth rate, recently made up for through immigration in many Western nations.
Immigration in Denmark, Western Culture, and The Mohammed Cartoons
In the last thirty-five years, Danes have grown their population by around 250,000 people, a good portion of which is immigrants and their children (2).
Prior to 1984, Denmark had a negative birthrate, and it wasn’t until the government opened its doors to immigrants that they began to see a surge in their population (2).
For the most part of Danish history, the country has been ethnically and culturally homogenous, making this new transition to one including citizens from different backgrounds incredibly challenging (2).
And the Mohammad cartoon uproar back in 2005 has made the situation especially difficult (2).
In September 2005, a Danish newspaper, published a cartoon which depicted Muhammed as a terrorist. The the same cartoons appeared again in a Norwegian newspaper (2).
As a result, Muslims in Denmark and in Islamic countries began protesting what they considered as a grave insult to their religion and culture (2).
On the 30th of January, 2006, several armed Palestinians surged the offices of the European Union in Gaza, where they demanded an apology from both Norway and Denmark (2).
Many other countries pulled their ambassadors from the Scandinavian country, including Saudi Arabia and Libya.
Libya, in particular, stated they would take economic measures against Copenhagen in protest of the Danish authorities who refused to apologize or punish the cartoonists (2).
Syria, Jordan, and Egypt reacted similarly, with Syria released a “strongly-worded statement,” and Jordan summoned the Danish ambassador before Abdallah Al-Khatib in the expression of Jordan’s protest (2).
Arab foreign ministers criticized the Danish government for refusing to take actions against the newspaper and expressed their disappointment with the European Human Rights organizations that failed to take a “pro-Islamic” position (2).
Nevertheless, the response of Islamic nations against the Danish cartoons added to the political fire and controversy – so to speak. And with the surge of Islamic immigrants into the nation, Danes are aware of the cultural differences (2).
Throughout history, Denmark has accepted some immigrants, specifically, people from former communist regimes, Germans, Poles, Jews, Vietnamese, and Chilé, but the numbers have been small, and there aren’t many solid estimates of just how many they had accepted (3).
Following the Cold War which led to the breakdown of empires and federations, as well as conflicts in the Middle East, led to the arrival of new groups in the 1990s like Russians, Bosnians, Hungarians, Iranians, Iraqis, and Lebanese (3).
However, none of these groups came in significantly large numbers. Moreover, things began to change, and attitudes toward immigrants shifted when immigrants started to come from developing nations (3).
For instance, repatriation became a central feature of temporary residence programs in the early 1990’s (3).
And in 2001, the Danish government has discouraged refugees from applying for asylum, and their numbers have declined as a result of this (3).
Like other countries in Scandinavia, Denmark is quite small, but also highly affluent based on – like it was mentioned before – homogeneity and trust.
In Western nations, people – for the most part – are free to criticize their detractors without suffering any kind of punitive measure, with the exception of social consequences (3).
For example, if a person is to make racist statements, the broader community may ostracize them, but not punish them by law.
Even though the Mohammed cartoon affair in 2005 left somewhat of a negative impression, Danes have fostered an image of tolerance (3).
However, Denmark’s political and cultural saliency, the values which allowed for the prospering of a welfare state, have become obstacles in their attempt to integrate those coming from a different cultural and religious background (3).
Denmark’s Welfare State Created On A Foundation Of Homogeneity And Trust
And since World War 2, the Danish government has developed a highly efficient welfare state based on high levels of public services including education, benefits for the unemployed, healthcare, old-age pensions, and so on and so forth.
These programs are accessible to all of the residents in the country, however, Danes have begun to change their mind toward the idea of allowing immigrants – who don’t share the same values as them – to benefit from the welfare state that was created only for Danes with Danish values.
Danish welfare programs feature a considerable amount of state intervention into both social and economic distribution across social groups.
The Danish system is based upon the idea of social egalitarianism, but also in the idea that the citizens must earn their entitlements by making contributions to the society, through working hard and paying significant taxes, which all Danes do.
Political entitlements, as well as cultural acceptance, are tied together, with equality meaning both “cultural similarity, and “political sameness,” or the belief in similar goals.
Integration has been measured by the success of the inclusion of individuals and the assimilation to the social norms of Danish life.
Historically, the Danes haven’t recognized, or differentiated, between the legal rights of native Danes and immigrants or visible minorities.
Only in exceptional cases do the Danes make juridical or political allowances based on any type of minority status. France and Denmark are similar in this manner because they’re both secular, assimilationist, and egalitarian.
Immigration In Demark Today And Danish Politics In The Modern Era
However, as mentioned earlier, homogeneity and equality have become obstacles to integration. Because the integration of ethnic groups, especially those conforming to Islamic values and norms, has been considerably more difficult than expected.
For several years, integrating immigrants into Denmark has been a challenging feat. Leaders are trying to curb the unemployment rates and gang violence in immigrant communities(1).
Politicians such as the Prime Minister, Rasmussen, warned that the cultural problems in the ghettos could spill into the streets. And politicians who once used the softer term, “integration,” are now using the other more serious version, “assimilation. (1)”
The government introduced the “ghetto package,” – 22 proposals presented back in March of this year, agreed upon by a majority in parliament (1).
Some of the stipulations are punitive, for instance, one allows courts to double the punishment for particular crimes if a suspect commits them in what the government has deemed as a “ghetto. (1)”
Ghettos are identified by the income, employment status, education level, number of criminal convictions, and whether they come from a background not considered Western (1).
Another policy punishes the parents who send their children to their country of origin for long periods of time, described by the Danish government as “re-education trips,” that inhibit their integration into Danish culture.
Some of the other proposals were too radical. One suggested by the Danish People’s Party advocated for the imposition of an 8 pm curfew to children living in these enclaves (1).
The leader of the Danish Peoples’ Party, after opponents asked how they would enforce such a law, said they could be equipped with “electronic bracelets” – a symbol of how the political discourse has changed.
Poulsen, the Justice Minister, said the harsher laws would only affect those who commit crimes, and wouldn’t threaten the lives who don’t.
When asked if the laws were discriminatory toward Muslims, he said that it was nonsensical. He added it wasn’t about where they’re from or what they believe in, but about the values required to enjoy life in Denmark.
Yildiz Akdogan, a Social Democrat, said the new laws and labels of “ghetto children” is similar to the way Nazi’s described and segregated Jewish people (1).
Ms. Akdogan said the term has become a part of mainstream discourse, making it exceedingly “dangerous.” The word, according to her, is associated with some of the worst atrocities of European history (1).
Akdogan pointed to a social media post from a right-wing politician, who criticized a grocery store that sold a cake celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid (1).
The report from New York Times told several stories of Muslim families, who feel they are being unfairly mistreated. Some of the children of refugees, for instance, come home from school and say they want gifts from Santa Claus (1).
Barwaqo Jama Hussein, 18, a refugee from Somalia, said the immigrant families do everything they’re supposed to. They “follow the rules” and attend school. The only thing they “don’t do is eat pork (1).”
Dorthe Pedersen, a hairdresser, said that the immigrants are spending too much of “Danish money.”
The government welfare programs are paying for their entire lives, and, to Dorthe Pedersen, they don’t even bother learning Danish (1).
The right-leaning political party, the Danish People’s Party, has taken many voters away from the center-left Social Democrats, the group in support of the welfare state. Danish citizens pay around 50% taxes to support free health care and education.
And with an election coming up next year, the Social Democrat party has begun focusing on immigration because, in their view, tougher measures are “necessary to protect the welfare state (1).”
According to the New York Times, around 87% of Demark’s 5.7 million voters are of Danish descent, with immigrants and their children making up the rest (1).
And 66% of those immigrants have a Muslim background, a group that grew substantially as migrants came from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria (1).
How Will The Danes Work This Out?
Either way, it’s clear that the immigration question has been a very challenging one for Danes.
Because of their cultural values of homogeneity and trust in the state, as well as Western values of free speech and democracy, it’s been challenging to include immigrants who don’t share the same ideology.
However, Danes should be careful in how they treat immigrant groups. Specifically, targeting immigrants with punitive laws have the potential to become a bad situation.
There has to be some sort of mutual understanding. Immigrants must understand to contribute to the collective good in order to receive benefits of the state, but Danes must realize that it may take time for new citizens to adapt to a drastically new way of life for them.
A journalist of a left-liberal newspaper said the state shouldn’t be forcing their children away from their parents, because it would be a “disproportionate use of force (1).”
But the Social Democrats say that they give people money and a means for living, so it’s a system of both obligations as well as rights (1).
Danish people trust the government immensely. Anglo-Saxons believe human beings are free in the state of nature, and then the state comes in to regulate life and punish those who harm others (1).
However, in Denmark, human beings can only be free in a society.
Ms. Hussain, the 18-year-old mentioned previously in the article, said that applying laws to some groups but not others are going to create the “parallel society” that they’re so afraid of establishing (1).