Immigrants in Denmark: How Misrepresentation Contributes to Bigotry


Immigrants make up 10 per cent of the Danish population, many of whom are Muslims. This has been a point of contention, as for most of its history Denmark was an almost homogenous society. Why is a country run by Social Democrats still failing the minorities within their nation?

Ever since the first guest workers migrated to Denmark from Turkey in the early 1960’s, the country has encountered numerous integration issues. One of which is the degree to which ‘affirmative action’ might better recent immigrants position in society, as well as decreasing racism. However in Denmark, this idea is equated with tokenism, and not as an integral role in change, as it is in the United States. However it is difficult to examine this position, as there is little data on the situation of immigrants on the whole in Denmark. Due to privacy legislation, it is illegal to register or ask for a person’s ethnicity, health status, political or union affiliation. This means that there is little statistical evidence as to whether or not structural racism exists.

Racial profiling, an aspect of structural racism, is a term not recognised by police enforcement. There is no data quantifying whether racial profiling is and issue, as police do not record the ethnicity/background of whom they stop. In fact, when I asked the Police Commissioner of Gellerup (a suburb mostly populated by immigrants) about the topic of racial profiling, his reply was that it does not happen and that his officers just pull people over based on past experiences and how the car looks. He also explained that the Danish Police, in his opinion, have unbiased intentions and do not exercise racial profiling. This is a belief that was reinforced by many Danes that I interviewed on the subject.

Halal Denmark The freedom to practice religion under fire?

The Danish left’s insensitivity to minorities is reflected in a bill recently enacted by the Social Democrats that all animals had to be  anaesthetised before being killed; this in turn means that there would no longer allow the production of Halal or Kosher meat  within the country. The law and the process through which it was enacted, highlights the institutionalised disregard for Muslims  and Jews in Denmark, a country that prides itself on freedom to practice any religion. Prior to passing the law there was very little  dialogue between the government and religious groups. In fact it was not until a week after the legislation was passed that Dan  Joergensen, Minister of Food, met with the head of the Jewish Society, Finn Schwarz, to discuss the law. The lack of media  coverage and dialogue between the state and the religious minorities on this matter further indicates a lack of understanding and  compassion.

In the summer of 2013, many nursery schools had stopped serving pork, in consideration of Jewish and Muslim children. The Social Democratic Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, spoke out against this and was quoted as saying that parents with children in nursery schools should demand that they stick with the ‘Danish tradition’ of serving pork at lunch time. What this does is emphasise that immigrants and their culture, are not in line with ‘Danish tradition’. This breeds a sense of assimilation rather than integration, which further broadens the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Denmark islam2Too tolerant of Muslims?

Bigotry in Denmark is not only seen in politics and policies, but in the mainstream media. Mustafa Hussain, professor of Intercultural Studies at Roskilde University, headed a study that found that “media organisations have been shown to have been actively involved in ethnic politics through construction of a popular anti-immigrant, and particularly anti-Muslim, consensus”. A Gallup poll released in 2013 showed that only 27 per cent of Danes have a Muslim person in their social network. Hussain concludes that without any personal experience with minorities, ethnic Danes only have the media’s references and its reproduction of prejudiced and stereotypical images to formulate opinions of minorities.

The 2013 Gallup poll had also showed that every third non-Muslim Dane believed that Denmark is too tolerant of the Muslim population. This combined with how immigrants are portrayed in the media as well as the lack of sensitivity the current government has towards their disposition in society, could improve if there was actual data and research conducted to reflect the reality of the state of Denmark.

Picture credits: Danish Days by SolvangUSA, Halal Shop by Mark Jensen, Apology by Jacob Botter

By Rebecca Thorning Wine

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