I’m in Copenhagen again, a city I left 12 years ago to become a migrant worker in London. As I arrive, the prominent news is the demand for the resignation of the Minister of Integration, following revelations about Denmark’s unlawful refusal of citizenship to 500 stateless Palestinians.
As a “foreign Dane” but a regular visitor to this grand city, I am probably an “outsider from within” when observing the changing demographics and public discourse. My view on the nature of co-existence between diverse Copenhageners and the way in which the city treats its minority and marginalized populations are mixed. Populist spokespersons have decided to define what constitutes “Danishness” and, more importantly, what does not. This is very worrying: how can anyone claim to have the recipe for what a Dane is or should be?
The somewhat stale rhetoric of the so-called incompatibility between ethnic Danes and “new” Danes (read: Muslims) makes headlines in mainstream media. The MP Karen Jespersen in her recent book The Power of Islam: The New Reality of Europe, warns against the “increasing division and tension between Europe’s Muslim communities and the native populations, including in Denmark. Jespersen, who is head of the parliament’s integration committee, exploits her political leadership to paint a very gloomy picture: that of fundamental differences in values, and parallel societies where co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims is simply not possible.
I beg to differ. Denmark—and perhaps Copenhagen more so—has changed dramatically in the last two decades. But the change has been towards recognizing the need for inclusion of all residents in the municipalities of Copenhagen. The City Council, in its new Integration Policy 2011-2014 [pdf], is changing its terminology from "integration" to "inclusion" "diversity" and “citizenship”—a clear sign that the city, spearheaded by the Mayor for Employment and Integration, wants every Copenhagener to feel at home and have equal rights and responsibilities.
On this visit I am taking part in a launch of our study Muslims in Copenhagen. The findings point to key values that are nearly identical, respect for the rule of law being at the top. The results show that the differences between Muslims and other residents are exaggerated in the public discourse, and that they have a lot more in common than not. Yet, the report reveals experiences and perceptions of discrimination and the need to tackle ethnic and religious prejudice against particular groups, especially visible minorities.
I live in an area with one of the largest Jewish communities in London. On the whole few non-Jews kick up a fuss, because in London, for the most part, people can be who they want to be. I think and hope that Copenhagen is on that path, toward a place where everyone will feel included and at home. And not, as an English friend of mine, who has lived in Copenhagen for many years, expressed recently when I mentioned something about it being very cold in Copenhagen. “Do you mean the climate?” she replied. I meant the weather. She meant something else.