I’ve become a racist’: Migrant wave unleashes Danish tensions over identity

The New York Times reports: Johnny Christensen, a stout and silver-whiskered retired bank employee, always thought of himself as sympathetic to people fleeing war and welcoming to immigrants. But after more than 36,000 mostly Muslim asylum seekers poured into Denmark over the past two years, Mr. Christensen, 65, said, “I’ve become a racist.”

He believes these new migrants are draining Denmark’s cherished social-welfare system but failing to adapt to its customs. “Just kick them out,” he said, unleashing a mighty kick at an imaginary target on a suburban sidewalk. “These Muslims want to keep their own culture, but we have our own rules here and everyone must follow them.”

Denmark, a small and orderly nation with a progressive self-image, is built on a social covenant: In return for some of the world’s highest wages and benefits, people are expected to work hard and pay into the system. Newcomers must quickly learn Danish — and adapt to norms like keeping tidy gardens and riding bicycles.

The country had little experience with immigrants until 1967, when the first “guest workers” were invited from Turkey, Pakistan and what was then Yugoslavia. Its 5.7 million people remain overwhelmingly native born, though the percentage has dropped to 88 today from 97 in 1980.

Bo Lidegaard, a prominent historian, said many Danes feel strongly that “we are a multiethnic society today, and we have to realize it — but we are not and should never become a multicultural society.”

The recent influx pales next to the one million migrants absorbed into Germany or the 163,000 into Sweden last year, but the pace shocked this stable, homogeneous country. The center-right government has backed harsh measures targeting migrants, hate speech has spiked, and the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party is now the second largest in Parliament. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How Denmark turned ugly

refugees1

Hugh Eakin writes: In country after country across Europe, the Syrian refugee crisis has put intense pressure on the political establishment. In Poland, voters have brought to power a right-wing party whose leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, warns that migrants are bringing “dangerous diseases” and “various types of parasites” to Europe. In France’s regional elections in December, some Socialist candidates withdrew at the last minute to support the conservatives and prevent the far-right National Front from winning. Even Germany, which took in more than a million asylum-seekers in 2015, has been forced to pull back in the face of a growing revolt from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own party and the recent New Year’s attacks on women in Cologne, allegedly by groups of men of North African origin.

And then there is Denmark. A small, wealthy Scandinavian democracy of 5.6 million people, it is according to most measures one of the most open and egalitarian countries in the world. It has the highest income equality and one of the lowest poverty rates of any Western nation. Known for its nearly carbon-neutral cities, its free health care and university education for all, its bus drivers who are paid like accountants, its robust defense of gay rights and social freedoms, and its vigorous culture of social and political debate, the country has long been envied as a social-democratic success, a place where the state has an improbably durable record of doing good. Danish leaders also have a history of protecting religious minorities: the country was unique in Nazi-occupied Europe in prosecuting anti-Semitism and rescuing almost its entire Jewish population.

When it comes to refugees, however, Denmark has long led the continent in its shift to the right—and in its growing domestic consensus that large-scale Muslim immigration is incompatible with European social democracy. To the visitor, the country’s resistance to immigrants from Africa and the Middle East can seem implacable. In last June’s Danish national election—months before the Syrian refugee crisis hit Europe—the debate centered around whether the incumbent, center-left Social Democrats or their challengers, the center-right Liberal Party, were tougher on asylum-seekers. The main victor was the Danish People’s Party, a populist, openly anti-immigration party, which drew 21 percent of the vote, its best performance ever. Its founder, Pia Kjærsgaard, for years known for suggesting that Muslims “are at a lower stage of civilization,” is now speaker of the Danish parliament. With the backing of the Danish People’s Party, the center-right Liberals formed a minority government that has taken one of the hardest lines on refugees of any European nation. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Seizing valuables from asylum seekers – Denmark has lost the plot, and its heart

By Katharine Jones, Coventry University

Denmark is to seize cash and valuables from asylum seekers arriving in the country, after its government won a parliamentary vote on the issue by a huge majority. The message is as clear as it is visceral: refugees are not welcome in Denmark.

All new arrivals, mostly Syrians, Eritreans and Afghanis fleeing war and persecution in their homelands, will have to submit to the indignity and invasiveness of a body search when they arrive in Denmark, as well as having their luggage searched. Refugees will only be allowed to keep up to 10,000 kroner (£1,000) in cash and assets. Anything above that amount will be taken by enforcement officers. Items deemed to be of value will be sold by the authorities.

Horrified reactions to the decision have reverberated around the world. For many it has evoked memories of the Jewish Holocaust.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Ai Weiwei shuts Danish show in protest at asylum-seeker law

The Guardian reports: The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has closed down his exhibition in Copenhagen in protest at a new law that allows Danish authorities to seize valuables from asylum seekers.

The 58-year-old, who is currently on the Greek island of Lesbos undertaking research on Europe’s refugee crisis, told the Guardian: “My moments with refugees in the past months have been intense. I see thousands come daily, children, babies, pregnant women, old ladies, a young boy with one arm.

“They come with nothing, barefoot, in such cold, they have to walk across the rocky beach. Then you have this news; it made me feel very angry.

“The way I can protest is that I can withdraw my works from that country. It is very simple, very symbolic – I cannot co-exist, I cannot stand in front of these people, and see these policies. It is a personal act, very simple; an artist trying not just to watch events but to act, and I made this decision spontaneously.”

An earlier post on his official Instagram and Facebook accounts read: “Ai Weiwei has decided to close his exhibition, Ruptures, at Faurschou Foundation Copenhagen, Denmark. This decision follows the Danish parliament’s approval of the law proposal that allows seizing valuables and delaying family reunions for asylum seekers.” The exhibition opened in March 2015 and had been due to close in mid-April.

Denmark’s parliament adopted reforms on Tuesday aimed at dissuading migrants from seeking asylum by delaying families being reunited and allowing authorities to confiscate migrants’ valuables.

The law has provoked international outrage, with many human rights activists criticising the delay for family reunifications as a breach of international conventions. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Danish parliament approves plan to seize assets from refugees

The Guardian reports: Denmark has become the latest European state to force refugees to hand over their valuables, with the continent increasingly using scare tactics and physical deterrents to deal with the biggest migration crisis since the second world war.

Following similar moves in Switzerland and southern Germany, Denmark’s parliament voted on Tuesday to allow police to search asylum seekers on arrival in the country and confiscate any non-essential items worth more than 10,000 Danish kroner (about £1,000) that have no sentimental value to their owner.

The bill presented by the centre-right minority government of the prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, was approved after almost four hours of debate by 81 of the 109 lawmakers present, as members of the opposition Social Democrats and two small rightwing parties backed the measures. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Denmark just broke a world record for wind power — again

denmark-wind-power

Climate Progress reports: One European country can’t seem to stop breaking records when it comes to wind power.

In 2015, Denmark produced almost half of its electricity from wind power, breaking a world record for the most wind production ever recorded — a world record set last year, by Denmark.

The record 42 percent electricity generated from wind represents a three percent increase from the 39 percent it generated in 2014, which at the time broke the world record for the most electricity from wind production by a single country. According to the Danish national grid operator Energinet, this year’s number represents both the highest figure ever and the highest proportion of electricity from wind for any country.

Moreover, for 16 percent of the year, two Western regions in Denmark produced more electricity than the region’s residents consumed, leading to an electricity surplus. While it’s not unusual for wind power production to exceed consumption some of the time, the fact that it happened for such a significant period of time means that Denmark can sell surplus energy to consumers in Norway, Sweden, and Germany. Denmark also imports some hydroelectric power from Norway and solar energy from Germany. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How Denmark’s unexpected killer slipped through the net

Reuters reports: On Valentine’s Day, two weeks after his release from prison, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein walked up to a Copenhagen cafe hosting a debate on freedom of speech and sprayed it with bullets.

As a manhunt began, the 22-year-old went to ground. Nine hours later he launched a second assault, this time on a synagogue. Police eventually shot him dead, ending a rampage that left Danish filmmaker Finn Noergaard and security guard Dan Uzan dead, and six people wounded.

The attacks on Feb. 14 and 15 shocked Danes, who prize their country’s openness and sense of security. The country was further confounded when it emerged that prison officials had warned Denmark’s domestic intelligence agency that Hussein was at risk of being radicalized. If Denmark’s prison system – famed for its focus on rehabilitation and education over punishment – could not prevent a young man from turning into an Islamist killer, then perhaps it was not the model that many Danes believe it was. Parliament demanded an inquiry into the attacks and how both the prison system and the municipality had handled Hussein’s case.

In interviews with dozens of people, including a former cellmate and a source familiar with the as-yet unpublished official investigation, Reuters has learned new details about Hussein and his final months. His story seems to show how quickly people can be radicalized and how easily they can slip through the net, even a net as supportive and ostensibly secure as Denmark’s. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

A Danish answer to radical jihad

Der Spiegel reports: If you ask Allan Aarslev, the friendly blond police commissioner from Aarhus, about his almost globally famous program, he answers with numbers. He mentions, for example, 31, 16 and one.

In 2013, he says, 31 Muslim men from Aarhus left for Syria with the intention of joining the radical jihadists of Islamic State (IS). Five of them have since lost their lives and 10 remain in the war zone. But 16 have returned to Aarhus, either for a rest before rejoining the fight, or to remain in Denmark and, as Aarslev says, perhaps become a danger closer to home.

But the program he designed for those returning from Syria has ensured that no such danger has developed. Indeed, since the project began only a single man from Aarhus has traveled to Syria to join the war. “One single person,” says Aarslev, doing his best to sound humble. The young men who live here in Aarhus, he says, are much less radical than they were just one year ago.

Denmark can use that kind of comforting news these days. The two murders committed just over a week ago by Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein, a 22-year-old with Palestinian roots, have hit Denmark’s liberal society hard. And they have reignited the debate that was triggered by the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris: How can a society that holds freedom of opinion to be an inalienable right prevent political-religious violence?

Copenhagen was a rather grim place to be last week with police officers armed with machine guns standing at bus stops and in front of shopping centers, helicopters buzzing low over the city and the shriek of sirens frequently piercing the air. Last Monday’s large demonstration, which saw 30,000 people gather at Gunnar Nu Hansens Plads in the heart of the city, did little to alleviate the shock — even if Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt proclaimed that all Danes had joined hands in the face of such difficult times.

Everywhere, though — in the editorial offices of newspapers like Politiken, for example, and at police headquarters in Copenhagen — people were talking about the pilot program in Aarhus. Indeed, the city’s mayor even flew to Washington recently at the invitation of President Barack Obama to talk about the Aarhus project, says Commissioner Aarslev. The city has received 150 requests from across the globe for more information and delegations are constantly visiting.

The program is almost naive in its simplicity. A significant number of the some 250 people involved work as scouts whose job it is to spot young Muslim men who have become radicalized. Once identified, they are approached by authorities in conjunction with a local Muslim cleric in the hopes of turning them away from violence. It is essentially a vast screening program for potential terrorists. And the strange thing is: It appears to be working. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Copenhagen shooting suspect Omar el-Hussein — a past full of contradictions

The Guardian reports: Danish intelligence services have suggested the fatal Copenhagen shooting of a film-maker at a freedom-of-speech debate and a Jewish security guard at a synagogue may have been a copycat of last month’s Paris attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. If that was the case, Hussein would have had to have followed those Paris attacks from a Danish prison, where he was serving a two-year sentence for stabbing a 19-year-old man on Copenhagen’s inner-city train system. He had been released from prison only two weeks before the attacks in Copenhagen at the weekend.

It is not yet clear whether he became radicalised in prison like the men behind the Paris attacks. But Michael Gjorup, head of the country’s prison and probation service, told Danish media that authorities had noticed changes in his behaviour in prison and had alerted the intelligence services.

Details on Hussein’s upbringing in Copenhagen remain sketchy. A court psychiatric assessment of him carried out during the stabbing case, and obtained by Danish TV2, showed him telling psychologists he had a happy childhood and good relations with his parents and a younger brother. However, he did not graduate from school, was unable to get into a university and later was homeless.

Although it was not clear where he had lived after leaving prison, he was well-known on the low-rise, red-brick Mjølnerparken estate in north-west Copenhagen, where police had raided an apartment at the weekend searching for weapons. Behind the peeling paint of the front door, the stairwell was graffitied with black pen and strewn with litter. Past the children’s play areas of the estate, Emilie Hansson, 26, who is half Swedish, said she knew Hussein and had seen him at the estate last week. She said: “For me he’s not a terrorist. He’s someone who felt finished with life and decided to go out with a big bang.” An 18-year-old at school nearby said he thought those who knew Hussein had been shocked he could have carried out the attacks. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Copenhagen attacks: Danish police charge two men

The Guardian: Two men detained on Sunday have been charged with aiding the suspect in the Copenhagen terror attacks.

A 22-year-old Danish-born gunman killed a film director and a young Jewish man at the weekend in Denmark’s most lethal terror attack in decades.

The defence lawyer for one of the detained men said they were accused of helping the gunman evade authorities and get rid of a weapon during the manhunt that ended early on Sunday when the attacker was killed in a shootout with police.

The suspects, arraigned at a closed hearing on Monday, were accused of “having helped the perpetrator in connection with the shooting attacks”, Copenhagen police said.

Michael Juul Eriksen, defence attorney for one of the men, told reporters they deny the allegations. A judge at the hearing will rule on whether to keep the men in custody.

The suspected gunman has been named in local media as Omar Abdel Hamid el-Hussein. He was reportedly released from prison a few weeks ago after serving a sentence for knife crime. Police did not confirm the name.

Facebooktwittermail

Barely a month after Charlie Hebdo, twin terror attacks hit Denmark

The New York Times reports: The Copenhagen police said on Sunday that they had shot and killed a man believed to be behind two attacks that killed two people, one at a cafe and one outside a synagogue.

The first attack took place on Saturday, when a gunman sprayed bullets into the cafe where a Swedish cartoonist [Lars Vilks] who had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad was speaking. Hours later, early Sunday, a man was shot outside the city’s main synagogue, according to the police.

One man was killed in the cafe attack and three police officers were wounded; a man was shot in the head in the second attack and later died, and two officers were wounded, Danish television reported. In each case the gunman escaped, raising fears throughout the city — the capital of Denmark — and setting off a police manhunt.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called the shooting at the Krudttoenden cafe a terrorist attack and said that the nation was on high alert. “We feel certain now that it was a politically motivated attack, and thereby it was a terrorist attack,” Ms. Thorning-Schmidt said.

Later Sunday, Jørgen Skov, a police inspector, said at a news conference in Copenhagen that the police had shot and killed the suspect after he opened fire on officers near the Norrebro station. Mr. Skov added that there was no indication other suspects were involved, but that the investigation was continuing. [Continue reading…]

The Local reports: The suspected gunman in two fatal shootings in Copenhagen may have been inspired by the Islamist attacks in Paris a month ago, Danish police said Sunday.

The man, who was killed in a shootout with police earlier in the day, “may have been inspired by the events that took place in Paris a few weeks ago,” Jens Madsen from the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) told reporters.

The man may “generally have been inspired by militant Islamist propaganda issued by IS [also known as Isis or Islamic State, ed.] and other terror organisations,” Madsen said.

Christopher Dickey adds: In Scandinavia, the history of cartoons taunting Muslims by caricaturing Muhammad dates back almost a decade, to September 2005 when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons by different satirists. Local Muslims were offended, but it was governments in several Muslim countries encouraging and orchestrating protests that turned the controversy into a firestorm. More than four months after the publication, in February 2006, protesters tried to burn down the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus. The same embassies were attacked in Beirut. Soon, more than 50 people had been killed in related violence in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

In Denmark itself, Islamic organizations took Jyllands-Posten to court, claiming that the Muhammad cartoons were an offense against all Muslim people, but they eventually lost the case.

Against this background, Lars Vilks, a run-of-the-mill artist in Sweden, published a rough sketch in an obscure local newspaper in Orebro that picked up on a curious phenomenon of the time — mysterious sculptures of dogs appearing in the grassy centers of traffic circles. He drew the turbaned head of Muhammad on one such “roundabout dog.” Again, governments in Muslim countries made official protests while anger on the streets of those countries grew.

In the years since, the cartoonists and editors responsible for the Jyllands-Posten publications have lived under constant threat, and so has Vilks.

Facebooktwittermail

Danish chief rabbi responds to Netanyahu: Terror is not a reason to move to Israel

Haaretz: Denmark’s chief rabbi on Sunday said he was “disappointed” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call on European Jews to immigrate to Israel, following the double shootings in Copenhagen a day earlier, including one on a synagogue that left a young Jewish guard dead.

“Terror is not a reason to move to Israel,” said Rabbi Jair Melchior.

Netanyahu issued his call for immigration hours after the attack, telling ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem: “Jews were killed on European land just because they were Jewish. This wave of attacks will continue. I say to the Jews of Europe – Israel is your home.”

Facebooktwittermail