Taken from Politiken opinion piece (8th July 2013 by Inger Støjberg (V))
A little bit of context for all those unfamiliar with Denmark. Inger Støjberg is the Integration Minister for Venstre. Venstre is no longer in a ruling coalition, so she is an opposition minister. Her party is a centre-right group, if you were watching Borgen, Liberale, the party of the outgoing prime minister.
The far-right DF get a lot of the blame for anti-foreigner and islamophobic sentiment in Denmark. As you will see, they should not take all the blame for lumping groups together, sensationalising, conflating major human rights issues and minor cultural clashes and misunderstanding completely what “freedom of speech” means in a democracy.
I should be allowed to paint the prophet on my house walls
When I was a child in first grade, I drew both our Lord and Jesus.
That’s what happened in the Christianity lessons in the primary school I went to.
Had I at that time known about Islam, I definitely would have had a go at drawing the prophet Mohammed without shame, without any idea of the fuss it could have caused.
Earlier in the year, I visited Dorthea Road in Copenhagen’s northwest region with three Venstre colleagues by the invitation of the Islamic Faith Community. We were offered both food and drink in the faith community’s large community hall which was richly decorated with Middle Eastern ornaments. A meticulously carved bookcase ran all the way around the room.
It was filled with books whose spines were decorated with Arabic golden symbols. Not one single book in either Danish, English or French could I find. At the end of a large meeting table, there were five women. All Danish converts. Two of them avoided shaking hands with the male guests who accompanied me.
Passions ran high that evening. We got into a frank discussion about Islam’s role and about religion in everyday Denmark. Unsurprisingly the conclusion was that the connection between the everyday and relationship with God amongst faithful Muslims was greater than it was for me.
As a member of the Danish state church, I am a Christian in the same way as most Danes are. I take part in Church activities at Christmas and if there are happy or unhappy events, and it is a long time since I made up my mind that my loyalty and my conscience towards my faith completely is a part of the relationship between God and myself.
However, it’s not about how religious authorities translate and interpret the Bible. It’s in no way a controversial message for Christians but it is apparently for some Muslims in Denmark.
The open discussion on Dorthea Road was immediately rewarding for all parties but a number of opinions have left deep impressions on me. Like, for instance, when the debate came to stoning, the answer shocked me, that someone from the Islamic Faith Community’s side only broadly condemns stoning. Their grounds for not completely condemning this vile form of execution was that stoning is described in two places in the Koran and those being stoned expressly wanted it to happen.
For me, it is a completely hopeless approach to life in a modern Denmark, to argue for or against such a barbaric Dark Ages action based on a religious text written many hundreds of years ago. There’s simply no place for it in Denmark in 2013.
Even though I describe myself as Christian, it means in no way that I think that women should be silent in assemblies, just as I have never heard Danish Jews who think that someone should die if they don’t hold the Sabbath – even though that’s written in Exodus.
My point is that a group of outstanding, well educated and on the surface well integrated resident Muslims practise a foolish and outdated interpretation of a holy text and I find that quite unsettling.
Later that same evening on Dorthea Road, an opinion came out that homosexuals just run around freely in Denmark, as arranged marriages are met with a shrug. It ought to be said that the participants from the Islamic Faith Community condemned forced marriages entirely although they had to explain to me and my companions what the exact difference was between those things. (emphasis mine)
Peculiar were the arguments for why Muslims don’t participate in sporting activities on equal footing with all the other Danes. The debate is often about how Muslim women who wish special teams to be set up with regards to religious modesty which separates them from all the other Danes. But that evening is also became clear that the men preferred only to swim or do weights training with other Muslim men and not in teams where all the others also had access.
Since we know there is no special type of Islamic fitness, it can only be from a wish to preserve a religious parallel community that lies behind this.
After the debate with the Islamic Faith Community, I cannot stop thinking I met a couple of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
And their statements are far from unique. There is unfortunately nothing to suggest that the opinions were expressed in the heat of the moment. For many years, there have been large studies of Danish Muslim’s opinions about everything from forced marriage to freedom of speech.
The results were shocking: 55% of the Danish Muslims interviewed believed that it should be forbidden to criticise religion and 64% believed that freedom of speech in certain circumstances should be curtailed. There is unfortunately not much that suggests these opinions have changed.
Another survey showed that 24% of young ‘non-western’ (translator’s note: in Danish this means Asian, African, South American, Caribbean, Polynesian but not European, North American, Australasian. It is certainly not a synonym for Muslim), immigrants and their descendants experience limits on their freedom and self determination by their family with regards to choice of romantic partner or spouse. In ghetto areas in Denmark, we see Sharia zones being set up where fundamentalist Muslims try to force residents to follow the laws from the Koran.
Far too many Muslims in Denmark live by an interpretation of the Koran that can be compared with the Dark Ages, where a few scholars explained the Bible. The representatives from the Islamic Faith Community is exactly that type – and does it well – but it is unfortunately unrealistic to imagine – if the Muslim community in Denmark started a reformation, and let go of dated interpretations of the Koran from self-appointed religious authorities.
There has been a tendency in the Danish integration debate, that we find it very hard to start meaningful debates and discussions about what we call worthy integration. The debate has been reduced to an exchange of puffed up view points about symbols or the opinions of one person.
For example, when an examiner doesn’t want to shake a student’s hand, when a school wants to have a gender segregated meeting or a young Muslim woman insists on wearing a headscarf on the till at Netto.
Every time, the debate splits into two camps, who either demand a new law that forbids that which we do not think is Danish or almost celebrate the delivery of Islamic customs in Denmark as the true manifestation of freedom. I cannot agree with either side of this debate.
My liberal membership means that I recognise that freedom has the consequence that people have the right to live their lives in a way that I don’t understand or maybe personally do not approve of. On the other hand, I find it hard to understand how someone can celebrate, shrug or show indifference when the values we have taken for granted in Denmark for generations are being put under pressure.
For the case is not just that a man has a problem with shaking hands with a female students, when he is an examiner at the VUC in Herning. The problem is view of women that is represented.
It’s that the debate should be about. We must never mistakenly tolerate opinions, values and views of humanity just because the person with those views are in a minority.
Whether you like it or not, Islamism in Denmark represents the biggest threat to worthy integration. No other way of thinking challenged so many areas that we normally consider hallmarks of Danish values.
For me, it is completely fundamental that we have religious freedom in this country. It is our constitutionally assured right to practise our religion as we want, without interference from the state or all other possible others. It is a freedom that has deep historical roots and it is freedom we should protect.
This means naturally that someone may believe in whatever God they want and practice their faith in the way they want, within the bounds of the law. But. And there is a but. Religious freedom is also the right to be free from religion. It is the right not to believe in anything and live your life accordingly. And it is in just as high degree, the right to be free from the dogma of other religious people being forced on you.
Naturally, religion plays an important role in our relations with each other. And we should show respect to each other. But respect goes both ways. My religious norms should not limit the freedom of others. And other’s religious norms should not limit my freedom. It is a balance, I feel has been under pressure these past few years. There is a conflict between those who understand that true religious freedom follows secularism and those who do not understand the connection.
It is a conflict between those who understand that one never may force their own religious beliefs onto others via social control or even legislation. This crucial distinction – the absolutely essential distinction basis for a free Western society – the representatives of the Islamic Faith Community do not agree with. Unfortunately, this is a wide problem amongst Muslims in Denmark and the rest of Europe.
This is why we need a debate on the role of Islam in the Danish society. Basically, it should be that when you come to a new country, you need to fit in with the culture and line up as much as possible with the norms and values important to the society you are a part of. I’m not suggesting that Muslims in Denmark have to take all our traditions, along with good and bad habits, but they should show respect for – and a wish to be involved in – our way of life.
Denmark is belongs to the Danes and you are very welcome to become Danish and take part in work and community.
But to the Muslims, who constantly work against us, constantly ask questions, are unsatisfied, go to Holy War in Syria, commit honour violence or killings, belittle our values, flag, and way of life. To all of you: find another place to live. No one is keeping you here or forcing you to stay. We have been welcoming and now it is up to you to show the required respect for our society and values we have built upon.
I think that the time has come to make a stand about who wants to be in Denmark and who doesn’t want to be in Denmark.
Here in this country, you can believe, think and speak about everything you want. I am allowed to criticise and discuss the prophet all I want.
Just as Muslims are allowed to laugh at Our Lord, Christians and all ordinary people just as much as they want. In our society, it your own morality that sets the limit.
Just as it is in free societies as it is in Danish and in other Western cultures – and that’s the way it should stay. It is proven that societies where opinions are shared, elites are challenged and where the degree of freedom is largest, have the greatest growth and wealth.
Just as clear is it that you can put an equals sign between denied equality, freedom of speech and very strict and sick interpretation of the Koran, and so the society falls apart or goes backwards. A look over the UN’s list of Failed States supports my claim. (Translator’s Note: No it doesn’t. A look over the UN’s list of Failed States highlights the mess imperialism and colonialism can make, not faulty interpretations of holy books but that’s another story)
Religions should continue to live side by side in Denmark. We have religious freedom and this freedom should be upheld.
But it demands that all Muslims in Denmark realise that it should be possible to have a skullcap on in Nørrebrogade without having your life threatened (as happened to journalist Martin Krasnik). It also requires that Muslim children don’t bring the war and the hate that their parents have brought from the Middle East and bully Jewish children in school and that examiners must shake hands with both female and male students at exams.
Just as the demands that Dark Ages opinions about arranged marriages, equality and freedom to decide about your own life without the prophet’s incessant interference can be shelved, just as the demands that someone accepts living in a country where the prophet Mohammed can be painted on my house walls with a skullcap, if that’s what suits me.
To the Muslims that live in Denmark must take the whole package. On the other hand, you have the right to practise your religion all you want and have Eid parties, pray on Fridays and all the other holidays you wish.
It’s freedom- and it’s exactly the freedom Denmark is built upon. It needs to be respected.
How interesting that you had never heard of Islam when you were seven or eight years old and that your meeting of five Muslims earlier this year made such an impression upon you. I take it these are the first Muslims you ever really talked with, given your excitement to share that you finally learned at the age of 40 what the difference between arranged and forced marriage was.
Now, you say that these representatives were Danish converts. I don’t know if you have ever met Christian converts before? They sometimes say whacky things too about all sorts of topics. But anyway. How can you go from talking about the things that irritated you in a conversation with five Danish converts to Islam to “muzlimz go home”? (even if it did take you all those redundant paragraphs about what freedom of religion is). Where are Danish converts that you do not agree with supposed to go? Indeed, where are “descendants” you do not agree with supposed to go? They are Danish, they’re sort of your country’s responsibility.
I also think it is time to help you with your formulation of arguments. Translating all your thunks into English gave me a profound insight into what your problem is:- you don’t understand what you are talking about. In order to make your position seem more reasonable, you make up viewpoint “camps” you do not agree with. That no one could agree with. Because you pulled them out of your arse.
But never mind. Let’s talk about Islam. Some things you found problematic in your meeting were
- Even though they said they didn’t believe in stoning as a form of execution, they told you that it was okay when written about in the Koran because of reasons (Let’s just take the “I don’t believe in stoning as a form of execution” and ignore the rest because it is completely irrelevant)
- Muslim men and women prefer to work out with others of their religion and gender. (Now, in a country that only just said that cafés could ban nursing mothers because it was immodest, you are on the shakiest of shaky ground criticising others for not wanting jiggle their bits/have bits jiggled at them for modesty reasons. Also, the reasons why Muslims might want the company of other Muslims during work outs might be less to do with “the only reason” you could think of (Desire for a parallel society) and more to do with not wanting to be stared at, patronised, attacked or otherwise treated badly by Danish people. You’ll never know because you never asked, you just assumed it was your (stupid), reason.
- Homophobia (yeah, it’s distasteful. But Danish people do homophobia all the time, Birthe Rønne did some the other year, so don’t even pretend like it’s a Muslim thing.)
- The spines of the books you looked at were in Arabic.
And NOTHING else. So, to justify this rant, you came up with a couple of other concerns. Like that guy who didn’t shake hands. For heaven’s sake, Inger, it’s just a taboo about touching. It’s weird and whacky (I guess), but let’s not get it twisted. Remember when it was swine flu times and no one shook hands for about a week? Sure, he could have avoided this sitch by not shaking anyone’s hand but it seriously isn’t a big deal. When people defended him it wasn’t “because” he was a minority. It was because WHO GIVES A FUCK ABOUT HANDSHAKING?
One school, ages ago, suggested that they could have a gender segregated meeting so that more mothers would show up. This wasn’t because Da Muzlimz made any demands or said they weren’t coming because “Argh men!” but because the teachers at the school, in their “adorable” white person way of thinking they know what’s good for Muslims without asking, arranged these meetings. If they had have asked, maybe the parents involved would have said “Dude, these meetings are total bullshit, what is WITH them, anyway? What are they for?” or “Well, Danish class has left me completely unprepared for the topics covered” or “I have my gender segregated badminton club in the parallel society club house that night”. WHO KNOWS.
And, Inger, you cannot bleat on for 14 hundred long paragraphs about how welcome you are to have a religion in Denmark as long as it isn’t hurting anyone else and then say women are insisting on wearing headscarfs at work, rather than the converse “work was insisting that they take them off”. You. Don’t. Get. It.
A lot of people might have felt embarrassment at telling Muslims what they really really need to do. Especially if they only just recently heard of the religion, have only met five people who practice it earlier this year and haven’t even got to the stage where they realise that “Our Lord” is also “Their Lord” in their awareness of Islamic thought. A lot of people might have thought to themselves, you know what, I should do some more listening. I should ask more questions. I should go to more meetings, maybe meet some other groups. I should ask why all these books are in Arabic and not French or English or Danish. Maybe I have it twisted, I should keep talking until I get it. I should ask those groups what THEY want. Not you though, Ing. Not you. You just went for it.
“This part of the Quran is wrong, this part is outdated, this part is stupid, this part should be dropped, this part is Dark Ages.” I expect the Islamic community will send a letter of gratitude round to your office after the reformation you so kindly started for them. They may even name the new religion after you. Ingerslam has a nice ring to it, I think.
So you did a “clever” thing rhetorically. You put a bunch of indefensible shit alongside stuff that people should be allowed to do in a democracy, in the hope that if someone came to tell you off, they might try to defend the indefensible and thereby lose before they start.
I am not falling in your clever trap, Inger. I am not going to defend attacking or bullying Jews. I am not going to say that honour violence or killings are good. (I am a bit confused about why it’s not okay for people to go fight against Assad in Syria. Aren’t the Danish government thinking about sending Danish soldiers to go fight him? Anyway. Whatever)
64% of Muslims believe that freedom of speech should be curtailed in certain circumstances but 100% of people that are you believe that freedom of speech should be curtailed in certain circumstances.
You believe that Muslims who constantly question, express dissatisfaction or belittle the values, flag and way of life in Denmark should shut the fuck up or get the fuck out.
Constantly question? Express dissatisfaction? Honestly, mate, that is some weak shit to be putting beside “killing women for sleeping with the wrong guy”. Danish Muslims are Danish and as such have the constitutionally given right to ask questions (even if it is constantly) and be dissatisfied. Even the most recent immigrants are entitled to do both of those things up one side of Strøget and down the other. It’s sort of the deal with freedom of speech. You don’t like it? Then move to another country where they ban that sort of thing. No one is keeping you here, etc etc parp.
And then we come to the question of belittling something. Apparently, it’s okay for you to make fun of Mohammed or paint him or paint him with Jewish headgear (or whatever it was you thought you were saying). But if any Muslim is thinking about belittling the Dannebrog! They should buy a plane ticket immediately and never return.
Well, are you ready Inger? I think the Dannebrog is stupid. I think using only two colours is boring and the pattern is too derivative. I think it flaps about too much and I am going to paint it on the side of my house with a burqa on. Nur nur! Stupid flag! YOU STUPID FLAG! I BELITTLE YOU!
I am not sure what constitutes Danish values or way of life (as opposed to living anywhere else) but some of the shit I have had to put up with in your country is weak-ass. I don’t like the air of smug superiority. I don’t like being shoved by peasants. I don’t enjoy how ignorance is celebrated as anti-elitism. I don’t like the way you charge full price for second hand items but haggle over event tickets being sold at face-value. I hate the us-and-them mentality. I think you could do with putting your sinks lower down in the counter so water doesn’t go everywhere.
And see. Even though I belittled your three holy pillars of Danishness, I remain undeported. Because it is completely irrelevant what I think about your pigging flag or your cultural mores. I pay my taxes, I obey the law, I volunteer, I hold doors open. For heaven’s sakes, that’s why we HAVE freedom of speech, so that obnoxious but otherwise law abiding people like me who are constantly questioning and never satisfied are not criminalised or subject to any penalties. It’s not just so you can draw a person that there is a current taboo about drawing or taking the piss out of people.
You don’t mind the belittling of values that aren’t your values. You don’t feel particularly religious, so you don’t see the problem with upsetting religious people. But you do feel particularly Danish, so you see the immediate problem with having that attacked. This is rank hypocrisy but it is so mainstream in your country, it has gone unnoticed.
You don’t know much about Islam or its history or philosophy or its modern applications but instead of educating yourself, you take a couple of headlines and a chat with committee and then glory in your ignorance in public. And you think Islamism is a major threat to your country and not, as I do, simplistic politicians cynically polemicising to whip up religious hatred and xenophobic suspicion.