Christmas is typically such a festive time, but for one housing association in the Zealand town of Kokkedal, it has, thus far, been anything but.
It all started when the association’s nine-person board, five of whom are Muslim, voted against having a Christmas tree this year. They apparently balked at the estimated 7,000 kroner of the tree, but had earlier had no qualms about spending some 60,000 kroner on a party celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid.
Nearly immediately after news of the decision broke, the story of the axed Christmas tree was taken up by the Danish media with gusto after several politicians and commentators suggested it demonstrated an intolerance towards Danish customs held by the minority Muslim population. Before we knew it, Denmark was in the midst of a ‘War on Christmas’.
“It is deeply troubling that our integration efforts have failed so badly that Danish traditions are removed and replaced by Muslim traditions the moment there is a Muslim majority,” Konservative MP Tom Behnke told DR News. “This is an example of a lack of respect for Danish traditions and culture. We should not want a Denmark where Danish traditions disappear when there is a Muslim majority present.”
Local newspaper Frederiksborg Amts Avis, which broke the story on its front page last week on Wednesday, reported that there is deep frustration that the new majority on the board is not representative of the views of the Egedalsvænge housing complex’s residents, and not least of its many Muslims.
The newspaper added that the decision had led to tensions by creating an ‘us against them attitude’ in the housing complex.
And create tension it did.
Karin Leegaard Hansen, a 29-year-resident of Egedalsvænge, was elected as the chair of the residents’ association in September.
“The vast majority of the residents support the Christmas party, maybe 99 percent, but a majority of the board still voted against it,” Hansen told Jyllands-Posten.
But not everyone on the board could agree on why the proposal to have a Christmas tree was rejected.
“No-one wanted to take on the responsibility of getting it,” one board member, Ismail Mestasi, told the press. “A vote was taken and it ended as it ended. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I was asked to get the tree. And I didn’t want to.”
But Hansen denied this and has said she offered to take on the responsibility, but that her offer was not noted down in the minutes of the meeting.
The situation inside Egedalsvænget was inflamed even further over the weekend when two journalists from TV2 News escaped unharmed after their van was attacked by 25 masked individuals.
The journalists had gone to the housing complex to report on a petition that was gathering signatures of those who had lost confidence in the housing association’s board.
After the men arrived and exited the van, the attackers promptly began throwing bricks and cobblestones at it. The attackers shouted slurs at the journalists, such as “Neo-Nazi”, and told them to leave.
Following the attack, the head of TV2 News condemned the treatment of his journalists.
“It’s completely outrageous that things like this happen, but I’m glad it was only our hardware that was attacked and that our personnel were unharmed,” Jacob Nybroe told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “But it’s disappointing that we can’t cover the news everywhere in Denmark.”
The North Zealand Police has said it is now investigating the incident.
Hard feelings over the axed Christmas tree spread far beyond Egedalsvænget as well, threatening to turn into a nationwide conflict between Muslims and ethnically Danish Christians. The Islamic association, Islamisk Trossamfund, told Ekstra Bladet that it has received some threatening phone calls since the issue was first covered.
“We have received direct threats, verbal abuse and other forms of taunting as though it was us who were responsible for this case,” spokesperson Imran Shah said, before adding that Muslims are not allowed to deny other groups their right to celebrate their holidays.
Many were so affected by the board’s decision that they offered to step forward and ‘save Christmas’ with their own funds. Political leaders and private citizens alike offered to pay for all or part of the Christmas celebrations.
Jonas Birger-Christensen, a small business owner from Hellerup, has offered to pay 7,000 kroner for the Christmas party and 7,000 kroner for next year’s Eid celebration.
Despite the offer, the drama looks unlikely to subside anytime soon.
Police have announced they are now investigating an accusation of racism made against the board.
“It needs to be determined to what extent the decision by the Muslim members of the board to first vote ‘yes’ to a 60,000 kroner Eid party, then ‘no’ to a 8,000 kroner Christmas tree to celebrate Christian traditions, violates laws by discriminating against Christians and their traditions,” police spokesperson Karsten Egtved wrote in his report.