Danes' Anti-Immigrant Backlash Marks Radical Shift
RENÈE MONTAGNE, host:
Earlier this year the Muslim world erupted in violent anti-Danish protest. Those protests were a reaction to cartoons of Mohammed published by a newspaper in Denmark. Many Danes were shocked, and now Denmark is seeing a backlash against immigrants that has moved sentiments once associated with the far right into the political mainstream.
In the first of a three-part series on Europe's rightward drift, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from a suburb of Copenhagen.
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SYLVIA POGGIOLI: This is a welding shop in Christiania, symbol of the hippie revolution of the 1960s. The cartoon crisis hit hard in this bastion of the counterculture where freedom of speech is the paramount value. Charlotte Steem is a sculptor/welder, one of the commune's 800 residents. The violence with which some Muslims reacted to the Mohammed cartoons has undermined many of her convictions.
Ms. CHARLOTTE STEEM (Sculpture Welder, Christiania): I don't know if we can have open borders; and we like to, because I'm a free-thinking person, but I mean there's a lot of people coming to Denmark because this is maybe is an easier place to live.
POGGIOLI: Easier thanks to generous welfare benefits. Only a few years ago, Denmark was proud of its open-door policy and even the mildest critique of immigration would have been labeled racist. But the mood shifted after 9/11 and the terror attacks in Europe. After many years of leftist rule, a right-wing government came to power, introducing Europe's toughest immigration laws. It also introduced restrictions aimed at curbing forced marriages among Muslims.
Today, the Danish political discourse is no longer stifled by political correctness. The tone can even be inflammatory. One politician has called for the internment of some Muslim radicals in Denmark for security reasons. And last year a radio station went so far as to call for the extermination of all radical Muslims.
The difficulty of integrating Muslims who don't share Western values is the number one topic of discussion.
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At the Nyboder Boghandel bookshop, store manager Annie Larson(ph) talks about the number one bestseller. It's called Islamists and Naivists.
Ms. ANNIE LARSON (Manager, Nyboder Boghandel Bookshop): It fits very good with a lot of people's opinion. The things are certainly are not politically correct.
POGGIOLI: Karen Jespersen co-authored the bestseller with her husband Ralph Pittelkow.
Ms. KAREN JESPERSEN (Co-author, Islamists and Naivists): We compare Islamism to Nazism and communism because they are all three of them a totalitarian ideology.
POGGIOLI: Their unpolitically correct analysis would suggest they're right-wingers. On the contrary, they're die-hard social Democrats, proud veterans of the student protests of the '60s. Jesperson, a feminist and a former interior minister in charge of immigration issues, believes the radicals' goal is the Islamization of Europe.
When she was in government, many Muslims told her they were not free to adapt to Western society.
Ms. JESPERSEN: They use the term Muslims police. They are trying to control the more modern Muslims. If they see their daughters talking to boys, then they go to the fathers and say, I saw your girl talking to a boy, you've got to stop it immediately.
POGGIOLI: The Norrebro neighborhood is famous for its cemetery where philosophers Soren Kierkegaard and author Hans Christian Andersen are buried. Today it's rapidly becoming a separate, parallel society. Veiled women shop at the Middle Eastern grocery store and halal butcher, but they're unwilling to speak to reporters.
This used to be mixed neighborhood. But in recent years more and more Danes have been moving out. Matilde Kimmer(ph), a young Danish mother, explains why.
Ms. MATILDE KIMMER: The schools here have horrible results because maybe 90 percent of them don't really speak Danish when they enter into school, so the level is just too poor.
POGGIOLI: Like the overwhelming majority of her fellow Danes, Kimmer is an enthusiastic supporter of Denmark's welfare state. The average income tax is 50 percent and Danes willingly pay hefty sums to what they call tax daddy. In exchange, the state provides from cradle to grave. Kimmer says the welfare state is the essence of the Danish national identity, a symbol of communal solidarity and egalitarianism.
Ms. KIMMER: We want a very thin, masked net to catch everybody. We don't want anybody to be dropped on the floor.
POGGIOLI: The concept of the welfare state is so deeply embedded in the Danish psyche that even the conservatives don't dare touch it. But many Danes say their social pact has been undermined by the large inflow of immigrants, many of whom don't share Danish civic values and, they say, prefer to live on the dole rather than work for the minimum wage.
Mr. SOREN ESPERSEN (Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Danish People's Party): A welfare state can only function if there are restrictions on the border.
POGGIOLI: Soren Espersen is leading member of the right-wing Danish People's Party, which has had increasing electoral success running on an anti-immigration platform. The government depends on the DPP's parliamentary support to pass bills. Espersen points out that thanks to new laws, annual immigration has declined from 27,000 in 2001 to 2,000 last year, and asylum for refugees has dropped sharply.
Despite promoting Europe's harshest immigration law, the DPP rejects being identified with the racism and anti-Semitism associated with French ultra-right-wing politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. It's radical Islam, Espersen says, that today represents the extreme right, and the only way to combat it is through integration and education.
Mr. ESPERSEN: Danish, Danish literature, Danish language, Danish environment, Danish values...
POGGIOLI: Commentator David Trads says there is such a broad political consensus that the DPP has become mainstream.
Mr. DAVID TRADS (Political Commentator): We want as few new immigrants as possible. This is not how it was five years ago.
POGGIOLI: One of parliament's most vocal opponents of Islamic radicals is Syrian-born Nasser Kader, who says the integration debate is roiling also among Muslims themselves. Kader says many Muslims in Europe want to break their ties with their lands of origin and declare their loyalty to their new Western homelands.
Mr. NASSER KADER (Danish Parliamentarian): But the Islamist don't like this. They want the mullah and the imams in the Muslim's countries should decide what the Muslims in Europe should do.
POGGIOLI: Kader insists that Islam and the West are not grappling with a clash of civilizations.
Mr. KADER: It's a clash between ideologies, between those who wants democracy, modernity, respect for human rights, equality between gender and the other who want the opposite.
POGGIOLI: Kader says it will be a long battle and won't be won during his lifetime.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: Tomorrow, Sylvia reports from Flanders in Belgium, where an anti-immigrant political party is getting widespread popular support.
Unidentified Man: We can't allow that they come to our country, they come to Europe and they keep their own culture. They keep their own religion.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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