The public debates over banned Christmas trees, halal meat at schools and cashiers wearing headscarves appear to have made the Danish population more wary about giving their Muslim neighbours cultural concessions.
According to a new survey by market researcher TNS Gallup, carried out for Berlingske newspaper, every third non-Muslim Dane is under the impression that Denmark is too tolerant of its Muslim minority population.
Jens Peter Frølund Thomsen, a political science professor at Aarhus University, said that the most surprising thing about the survey was how little the Danish mentality has shifted, even though the Muslim immigrants arrived years ago.
“The demands of assimilation weigh heavily on the Danish public," Thomsen told Berlingske. "We have a very ethnocentric culture and when people speak of integration in Denmark, they’re really talking about assimilation.”
Danes right to protect values
Mehmet Necef, a lecturer at the Institute of Middle East Studies at the University of Southern Denmark and the co-author of the book ‘Er Danskerne racister?’ (‘Are Danes Racist?’), argued that Danes are right to guard their values.
“A decision to only serve halal-butchered meat is a failure because initiatives that cater specifically to a certain group will generate considerable irritation in the other group,” Necef told Berlingske.
Necef pointed to the survey findings that showed that even 20 percent of people who vote for left-wing party Enhedslisten believe that the Danes are too tolerant of Muslims.
“There is even irritation amongst people who have a positive view on Muslims and immigrants," Necef said.
Muslims' place in Danish society has taken centre stage this past year following a number of high-profile incidents that left ethnic Danes feeling irked by what they interpreted as Muslim minorities imposing their culture upon them.
Last Christmas, the decision by a resident’s association of a housing complex in the northern Zealand town of Kokkedal to not fund an annual Christmas tree led to so much controversy that the cultural minister at the time, Uffe Elbæk (formerly Radikale), received death threats.
Then, this past summer, heated debates over whether halal meat should be served in public institutions or pork in the nation’s daycare institutions prompted the prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne), to step in.
“We need to remember in our zeal to welcome new citizens not to lose sight of our own culture,” Thorning-Schmidt told DR Nyheder back in August.
Danes, immigrants lead separate lives
Lise-Lotte Duch, the head of FAKTI, an association that helps female refugees and immigrants, contends that one of the biggest problems is that Danes and immigrants lead separate lives that rarely intersect. Because of that, prejudices are never broken down.
“If I had a Pakistani neighbour, I might think that their kids were noisy, that it smelled of curry and that their shoes on the step-landing were bloody annoying," Duch told Berlingske. "But if I get to know them and the wife offers to buy me a cola while I’m sick with the flu, I would suddenly become more tolerant of the other things.”
According to the survey, just 27 percent of Danes have Muslims in their social network, including work colleagues and family members.