In the following presentation I shall try to exemplify how the Danish People's Party (Dansk Folkeparti) have challenged the understanding of Denmark as an open and inclusive society, especially from 2001 to 2011 as the supporting party of the previous Danish government.
In several parliamentary debates, newspaper-campaigns, political speeches, and interviews the Danish People's Party and the radical right in general have made it their trademark to stigmatize ethnic and religious minorities, often by blatant exaggerations and accusations based on prejudices and stereotypes. Misrepresenting facts about immigrants and their cultural heritage while critisizing human rights used to be the game of extremists with little or no significance in public debate, but have gradually become an increasingly accepted and influential part of Danish politics through the influence of the Danish People's Party.
A common method is to present thieves, thugs or rapists with non-western heritages as typical examples of a fundamental unability or unwillingness of immigrants to be integrated in Danish society - maybe with a sarcastic twist as 'yet another benefit of multiculturalism'. In contrast, the actions of thieves, thugs or rapists with western heritages are never 'explained' by emphasizing their ethnic, religious or cultural identity.
This tendency has gradually been reflected in the priorities of the Danish media. For example, if political posters have been vandalized or a local politician has been threatened by Islamists, news reports as well as radio- and television-debates will focus heavily and nationwide on this as a threat against democracy and freedom of speech, but when a local politician has been attacked or threatened by racists there is very little or no mediacoverage.
In short, any Muslim who behave in a criminal or immoral way is likely to be considered as being of nationwide interest and portrayed as representing Islam in general, whereas no one portrays a criminal citizen with a strictly Danish ethnicity as a stereotyped version of all Danes. Not in politics, not in the press.
Members of the Danish Parliament and the European Parliament from the Danish People's Party have spoken of immigants as »cuckoos in the nest«, »occupants«, and »parasites«. They have compared the scarf of Muslim women with »a swastika«, described mosques as »command centres« and paralleled the Quran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Islam has been deemed »evil« and claimed to be »a new totalitarian plague sweeping Europe« that is characterized by an »all-consuming hatred« and a »scary urge to exterminate other people«.
However, the party founder and then leader of the Danish People's Party Pia Kjærsgaard protested passionately against Danish Radio Broadcast when being misquoted for saying that »foreigners breed like rats«. She didn't mention that the only mistake in the quote was the specie of the animal. The correct quote would have been, »foreigners breed like rabbits,« which she in fact stated in a debate in the 1990s.
In another statement in 2005 she held the following to be true about Muslims in Denmark: »Tens and thousands upon tens and thousands of people who spiritually, culturally and with regard to civilization, are plainly still in the year 1005 instead of 2005, [but] have come to a country that left the Dark Ages hundreds of years ago.« (Weekly Commentary: June 2005). She has later emphasized that this claim can be »proven« beyond any doubt.
One might wonder how many »tens of thousands and tens of thousands« amounts to? Surely, it must be no less than 100.000 or 200.000 altogether. However, only about 225.000 Muslims live in Denmark which means that the then leader of the Danish People's Party claims to have »proof« that half or more of all Danish Muslims live in the Dark Ages.
The former member of the European Parliament Mogens Camre has demanded that Denmark »should withdraw from UN Refugee Convention and (...) block EU's Charter for Fundamental Rights« which he finds is »aimed against the Europeans« (Midtjyllands Avis: May 2004). He has called for drastic measures against Muslims all over Europe: »There is no place for Islam in Europe and our first priority must be to repatriate the Muslims.« (Speech on Constitution Day: June 2006).
In a Dutch television documentary he explains why he prefers the behavior of German soldiers during the Nazi occupation of Denmark over that of Muslim boys in Denmark today: »I am sorry to say - nobody should be in doubt about my attitude towards the Nazis - but the German soldiers in our streets behaved better than the Muslim boys - much better - they were welldisciplined young German boys.« (De europese familie van Wilders: July 2009).
One of the strong supporters and longtime favorites of the Danish People's Party, Lars Hedegaard, who is chairman of the socalled Danish Free Press Society (Trykkefrihedsselskabet), believes that the Danes are under attack by Muslims without the politicians doing anything to prevent it: »In fact most of our leaders do not even acknowledge that we are under attack - indeed an ideal situation for any conquering army and one that has not even been anticipated by Western war theoriticians. Terror, violent insurrection and mass slaughter will undoubtedly play a decisive role in our final subjugation but they will only be employed on a grand scale if and when our will and ability to resist have been undermined by other - 'peaceful' - means.« (Counterjihad-conference, Brussels: October 2007).
His conception of Muslim families is astounding: »They rape their own children. You hear it all the time. Girls in Muslim families are being raped by their uncles, their cousins or their father.« (December 2009). He is also of the firm belief that you can never trust a Muslim to be telling the truth. In a Christian culture we always know when we have done something wrong, but not so in a Muslim culture, according to Hedegaard: »This is simply not the case in Islam. They simply don't have it. One doesn't get a bad conscience, if one lies.« (December 2009).
The tendency to deprive Muslims of basic universal moral standards is also exemplified by prominent politicians in other political parties. One such is the former minister and member of European Parliament Bertel Haarder: »Ordinary Danes are subject to various types of social control. We go to work, because we are concerned about what our neighbours and family should say, and because we want to set a good example for our children. But foreigners seldom have such inhibitions. They live in a sub-culture outside the Danish tribe. That is why they are quick to acquire those possibilities where you can get money without making an effort.« (Berlingske Tidende: September 2003).
The Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper defines the totalitarian theory of morality like this in his renowned work The Open Society and its Enemies (1945): »Good is what is in the interest of my group; or my tribe; or my state.« (Vol. I, p. 94).
In fact, it's a close relative to this view that reappears in the rhetoric of some modern day Danish democrats. Minorities are being excluded from 'our tribe' in ways that range from manipulative misconceptions and deliberate exaggerations to negative generalizations and more or less classical racist notions.
Although it often occurs under the pretext of freedom of speech or criticism of Islam, most of the claims about Muslims in the political debate in Denmark are nothing but a mixture of populistic and simplistic attempts to gain political influence and power by defining and demeaning convenient scapegoats.
The Danish People's Party will frequently repeat a list of frightening socalled 'Muslim contributions' to Danish society such as terror, female circumcision, and gang rape. The facts are that we are more likely to drown in a bathtub than to be killed by terrorists, that female circumcision does not occur in Denmark, and that gang rape was a more widespread phenomenon in the 1950s - when there were virtually no Muslims in Denmark - than it is today.
But fact or no fact, if repeated over and over with diminishing or no critical opposition it becomes part of a politically constructed set of myths alongside the rest of the stigmatizing stereotypes. It not only deepens rifts in society and stimulates radicalization, but paves the way for the undermining of rights for those that are portrayed as a collective threat - and therefore increasingly perceived as such.
The Danish Peoples' Party have demanded a ban on private Muslim schools, a ban on burqas, a ban on headscarves in the public sector, a ban on islamic burial grounds, a ban on minarets, a ban on Arabic tv-channels, etcetera. They have terminated all public fundings to Danish PEN as well as to the Danish Center for Documentation and Counselling on Race Discrimination. And they have shut down the Danish Board for Ethnic Equality and even tried to shut down the Danish Institute for Human Rights.
In 2002 The Washington Post wrote a piece on growing support for far-right parties: »The changing mood has found its fullest political expression in Denmark, where an anti-immigrant party won 12 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in November, nearly doubling its showing from the previous election. Its campaign posters featured a picture of a young blond girl and the slogan: 'When she retires, Denmark will have a Muslim majority' ...« (March 2002).
According to recent opinion polls not 12 percent, but 24 percent of the voters in Denmark support the Danish People's Party.
The prospect of a further right turn in the upcoming elections to the European Parliament in May 2014 as well as the next Danish general elections, probably in 2015, indicates that double standards and negative generalizations are paying off.
I have exemplified radical views which could have grave consequences for individuals that belong to certain minorities in Europa if the Danish People's Party and similiar parties or movements gain greater influence. And in that case, the challenges for future European collaboration in general will hardly diminish, partly due to intensified frustrations and tensions that will result from these parties' outspoken hostility towards millions of citizens with a non-western heritage across Europe, and partly because Danish People's Party among others consider the European Union to be more os less as big a threat to Denmark as any allegedly ongoing Muslim invasion.
Tolerance and equal rights might face even stronger odds in the years to come, wether it be on a national or a European level - especially because radical right wing parties gradually pull the mainstream parties further and further away from historical notions of humanism. Anyone who is concerned about this development will need to speak out much, much more frequently against the widespread misconceptions, against negative generalizations, and against doublestandards that are challenging the idea of an open and inclusive society as we know it.
Or as we knew it.
Speech at the Conference »Right Turn for Europe?« Cologne, March 18, 2014