Danes, Muslims, Christmas and why immigration is always a religion-beat story

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Know what’s new from the land of hygge and hot chocolate and high standards of living?

Denmark, which has consistently polled as one of the happiest places to live on Earth apparently isn’t so happy according to a spate of articles just out. 

The reason is about a quarter-million immigrants from the Middle East and Pakistan who have sought asylum there from nasty conditions in their homelands and for the rich benefits Denmark hands out to whoever’s fortunate enough to reside there. To the point where Danes are seeing their place as the world’s happiest place to live slipping by the day.

What’s not so apparent in some stories is how big a part religion plays in it all, being that the overwhelming percentage of these new arrivals are Muslim whereas Danes are Lutheran (at least in name). The Danish government says 4 percent of its 5.7 million population is Muslim, which comes out to 228,000 people.

This piece from CityLab sees a set of new rules as a rich/poor issue instead of a religious one. The word “Muslim” is mentioned only once.

Time magazine pulled the same trick in its reports on “parallel societies” that now exist in Denmark. Remember, Denmark just passed a "burka ban" law early last month.

So I turned to a July 1 piece in the New York Times, which had a more accurate account about what’s at issue here:

COPENHAGEN -- When Rokhaia Naassan gives birth in the coming days, she and her baby boy will enter a new category in the eyes of Danish law. Because she lives in a low-income immigrant neighborhood described by the government as a “ghetto,” Rokhaia will be what the Danish newspapers call a “ghetto parent” and he will be a “ghetto child.”
Starting at the age of 1, “ghetto children” must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in “Danish values,” including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are free to choose whether to enroll children in preschool up to the age of six.
Denmark’s government is introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.

This sounds to me like some pretty desperate measures that are just short of kicking all these immigrants out.

Denmark has seen neighboring Sweden get termed the “rape capital” of Europe because of immigrant gangs, and is trying to figure out ways to forestall similar problems. Its immigration minister said in May that Muslims who fast during Ramadan a danger to public health.

At this summer’s Folkemodet, an annual political gathering on the island of Bornholm, the justice minister, Soren Pape Poulsen, shrugged off the rights-based objection.
“Some will wail and say, ‘We’re not equal before the law in this country,’ and ‘Certain groups are punished harder,’ but that’s nonsense,” he said, adding that the increased penalties would affect only people who break the law.
To those claiming the measures single out Muslims, he said: “That’s nonsense and rubbish. To me this is about, no matter who lives in these areas and who they believe in, they have to profess to the values required to have a good life in Denmark.”

The Times was much more open about the Islamic leanings of the immigrants than were other publications.

The Naassan sisters wondered aloud why they were subject to these new measures. The children of Lebanese refugees, they speak Danish without an accent and converse with their children in Danish; their children, they complain, speak so little Arabic that they can barely communicate with their grandparents. Years ago, growing up in Jutland, in Denmark’s west, they rarely encountered any anti-Muslim feeling, said Sara, 32.
“Maybe this is what they always thought, and now it’s out in the open,” she said. “Danish politics is just about Muslims now. They want us to get more assimilated or get out. I don’t know when they will be satisfied with us.”

Danes pay prohibitive taxes for a system that offers massive social benefits and, as the article says, they resent freeloaders who aren’t working but still want the benefits. Two years ago, Danes passed a law requiring new immigrants to hand over valuables, including jewelry and gold, to help pay for their upkeep.

“They spend too much Danish money,” said Dorthe Pedersen, a hairdresser, daubing chestnut dye on a client’s hairline. “We pay their rent, their clothing, their food, and then they come in broken Danish and say, ‘We can’t work because we’ve got a pain.’” …
Anette Jacobsen, 64, a retired pharmacist’s assistant, said she so treasured Denmark’s welfare system, which had provided her four children with free education and health care, that she felt a surge of gratitude every time she paid her taxes, more than 50 percent of her yearly income. As for immigrants using the system, she said, “There is always a cat door for someone to sneak in.”
“Morally, they should be grateful to be allowed into our system, which was built over generations,” she said.

The Russian-based Sputnik News says the annual cost of non-Western immigration is cost the Danes $5.2 billion a year. Which is small change for the U.S. government but a lot of money for the Danes.

The typical immigrant, I should add, comes from a monolithic Islamic society where freedom of information, a free press and free schooling is unknown. Social integration takes more than a generation to happen but it’s clear the Danes want to hurry this up a bit.

Although the Times mentions Christmas and Easter, these are mainly secular festivals in highly unchurched Denmark. No one notes in any of these pieces the irony of a largely secular state trying to force Muslims to understand Christian holidays.

According to this 1998 Times piece, the natives’ distaste for immigrants has been an issue in neighboring Sweden for 20 years. Back then, Rinkeby was merely an immigrant neighborhood. As of last year, it’s a ghetto so violent that even the police don’t want to go there. 

In response, the (native) Danish public has swung far to the right on immigration and life there for Muslims, according to this recent Guardian piece, has become less welcoming.

Let’s face it: Immigration is almost always a story about religion. The arrival of Central and South American immigrants to the United States is also a tale of how these new arrivals have bolstered the Catholic Church. Ukrainian Pentecostals fleeing Soviet rule have made Sedalia, Mo., the most Slavic town in America.

There's a reason why the Vancouver Sun's religion writer Douglas Todd has widened his beat to include migration issues. And it's not just about the immigrants converting to the faith of the natives. Some of these immigrants want the natives to convert to their faith.

Maybe I should re-word this: Immigration is frequently a story about religious freedom.

But is the Muslim trek to Denmark more about economics and capitalism? Religious freedom is certainly part of the mix in Germany, where some Muslims are dumping their faith in favor of Christianity. Is this happening in Denmark? Yes, in a way. It's even happening in Finland.

So when reporting on the latest legislation from the Danish parliament, remember there's probably a God link out there. And if that seems elusive, look harder. 

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