Denmark's Islamophobic 'ghetto' laws are a slippery slope towards fascism

Denmark's Islamophobic 'ghetto' laws are a slippery slope towards fascism
Comment: The package of measures passed by Danish legislators in May is misguided, racist and undermines the justice system, writes Khaled Diab.
7 min read
04 Jul, 2018
The new policy is part of measures to eradicate 'parallel societies' by 2030 [Getty]
Denmark has passed legislation that will require children from the age of one living in areas defined as "ghettos" by the state to be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap times.

This new policy carries echoes of, and is a small but significant step towards the discredited and inhumane practices of tearing indigenous children away from their families, such as occurred with Australia's "lost generations" of Aboriginals or Canada's so-called Scoop generations.

Although the children involved are not indigenous, Denmark's new "ghetto" policies follow similar assimilationist logic.

The toddlers and children attending obligatory daycare will receive mandatory instruction in "Danish values," which reportedly includes not only democracy but also the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and the Danish language.

But how on Earth they plan to combine that with potty training, or how they expect Danish minority toddlers to grasp the democratic norms which have eluded many American adults, has not yet been made clear.

This policy is part of a package of measures passed by Danish legislators at the end of May, which itself is part of a broader strategy to eradicate "parallel societies" by 2030.

"We must introduce a new target to end ghettos completely. In some places, by breaking up concrete and pulling down buildings," centre-right prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said in his New Year's speech unveiling the government's intentions.

Whether out of expediency or conviction, the Social Democrats voted for the 'ghetto package'

Although Rasmussen insisted that his government's aim was to "recreate mixed neighbourhoods" and to "break the chain in which generation after generation lives in a parallel society", many of Denmark's minorities, especially Muslims, see this as a manifestation of the longstanding racism and discrimination that has plagued Danish society, and that some had hoped it was in the process of gradually shedding.

Quite a few Danish politicians insist the ghetto laws are not racist or racially motivated, and this widespread and internalised bigotry may explain why nobody in the government appears to have even blinked at officially calling poor, minority-heavy neighbourhoods, "ghettos".

Read more: Denmark's burqa ban: A lurch towards secular extremism

Whether ignorant of it or indifferent, the painful history of centuries of Jewish exclusion and persecution which culminated in the Holocaust appears lost on them. 

"I grew up in Denmark as a refugee facing racism on almost a daily basis… Danes [would] go out of their way to make sure you feel like you don't belong," recalls Maryam AlKhawaja, the prominent Bahraini-Danish dissident and activist, who spent her childhood and early teens in Denmark.

Marginalised minority neighbourhoods are not the problem. They are a manifestation of myriad other problems

She returned again as a young adult, following a crackdown in Bahrain which saw her father imprisoned for life. "Things got better after I moved back in 2012, but it seems now that all that underlying xenophobia, racism and hate is surfacing because it's suddenly become okay to voice such opinions."

For AlKhawaja, the greatest disappointment has been how the Social Democrats "have become more and more right-wing on migration and refugee issues, and in some cases one can no longer tell the difference between them and the right-wing Islamophobes".

Whether out of expediency or conviction, the Social Democrats, despite being in opposition, voted for the "ghetto package".

It is possible that the Social Democrats are not (just) being electorally cynical but actually believe, in the tradition of Nordic "social engineering", that tackling the ghettos offers poor migrants and minorities an exit permit from exclusion.

If so, this is misguided.

Marginalised minority neighbourhoods are not the problem. They are a manifestation of myriad other problems. The reasons migrants concentrate in certain areas is not generally because they want to live in these neighbourhoods, but because they have little to no other choice, and cannot afford to live elsewhere.

Even if minorities voluntarily lived in proximity with one another. That, in principle, should not be a problem. In fact, Europeans and westerners have just this tendency to live in "ghettos" when abroad, so as to be able to support one another and lead a lifestyle according to their own values, not those of the host society.

In Denmark and other parts of Europe, many immigrants do not need an invitation, let alone an ultimatum from the state to move, out of the "ghettos".

Those who become more prosperous and successful tend to move out of their own volition. But this has the downside of leaving behind society's 'rejects' and providing young people in these neighbourhoods with few role models for success.

The same goes for crime, which is generally very low in Denmark. In fact, crime has reached record lows in recent years, though you might not know it with all the populist scaremongering going on.

In reality, the reasons for higher levels of certain types of crime - such as petty theft - in minority neighbourhoods, have little to do with the concentration of migrants or Muslims, and almost everything to do with the concentration of poverty, the intensity of socio-economic exclusion, and the paucity of prospects, as well as how what constitutes "crime" is defined.

Earlier this year, Denmark's parliament passed a law banning face coverings in public places,
including the Islamic niqab and burqa [AFP]

This is visible in, for instance, how the traditionally poverty-stricken East End of London has been associated with crime for centuries, regardless of whether it was inhabited by Anglicans, Catholics, black Africans, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, or Bengalis.

In fact, the kind of moralising and condescension expressed about the allegedly unwashed, lazy and criminal poor in the 19th century has been repurposed for poor migrants.

If Denmark sets a precedent of de facto legal apartheid in Europe, who is to say where it will stop?

Forcing minorities out of deprived neighbourhoods will not, in and of itself, lead to less crime. If their deprivation and exclusion move with them, and if Danes do not overcome their own self-imposed ghetto mentality of building cultural walls, little progress will be made.

The Danish government's plan tacitly recognises this economic dimension, offering bonuses to municipalities that find employment for non-western minorities. But this is far, far too little to make a realistic dent.

Infinitely easier is to play the identity card; to suggest that it's because immigrants have failed to embrace "Danish values" that the problem exists. Brushed aside is the notion that society has undervalued them, and that they are excess to requirements in the contemporary model of predatory capitalism which causes the prosperity worked for by the many, to trickle up to the very, very few.

So what exactly are these Danish, European, or western values?

If we assume it to mean a commitment to and belief in democracy, freedom of belief and expression, gender and equality, as well as respect for all human rights, what do we do about the 'native' Danes who are of an authoritarian or fascistic persuasion, or who are misogynistic and/or homophobic?

Should they also be sent to re-education classes? Of course not, that is not what a free society is about. A free society is about giving citizens full freedom to decide for themselves, as long as their decisions do not directly hurt other citizens.

Besides, the suppression of liberal and progressive values occurred in Denmark and Europe long before the advent of mass non-European migration.

For instance, many locals fear Muslim attitudes towards alcohol, yet conveniently forget that, long before the spectre of illusionary "creeping Sharia" arrived on Denmark's shores, the autonomous Faroe Islands had an alcohol prohibition for most of the 20th century, and nearby Iceland banned beer.

Then, there is the problem with the slippery slope: What may seem a small or lesser evil today often spirals out of control to become a consuming evil.

If you think this is just progressive or liberal alarmism, consider the fact that a proposal is in the pipeline to double the punishment for certain crimes (chillingly, to be left to the discretion of the police) in "ghetto" areas, effectively eliminating one of the founding and fundamental principles of the modern justice system: equality before the law.

"I always argued that, despite all the things that I disliked about Denmark, at least the system is, to a large extent, just. I fear that is no longer the case," confesses Maryam AlKhawaja.

And if Denmark sets a precedent of de facto legal apartheid in Europe, who is to say where it will stop. If equality before the law is undermined through unequal punishment, what's to stop legislation being passed formalising unequal rewards, legislating that minorities should be paid less for equal work?

Moreover, the slippery slope can often consume those who were cheerleading the descent to fascism, because a system built on fear and identity politics cannot survive without creating new enemies of the state and of the people, and because the beast of exclusion possesses a voracious appetite.

Khaled Diab is a journalist and writer who is currently based in Tunisia. He is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies (2014).

Follow him on Twitter: @DiabolicalIdea

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.