Tone of immigration debate has improved – or has it?

A new poll suggests that the previously unpleasant anti-foreigner rhetoric in Denmark is on the decline

As France threatens to shut its borders as the Danes did not long ago, the immigration debate in Denmark seems to have taken a more positive turn. Though certainly not everyone agrees.

A poll conducted by Berlingske Research asked 1,007 of the top business leaders in Denmark whether they think the tone of the immigration debate has improved. One in three believed this was indeed the case.

"I think clearly that you can now observe that there are fewer shrill remarks than there were earlier," Jesper Møller, the administrative director of Toms Gruppen, told Berlingske. "It must really affect immigrants when they hear, for example, that they aren't welcome here."

A year ago, Tine Horowitz, head of the secretariat Consortium for Global Talent, representing 19 of the largest Danish businesses, called for the politicians to consider the way they refer to immigrants – and she can now see a definite change.

“I believe that the ambience has improved on all levels,” Horowitz told Berlingske. “Not only in the political arena in general, but also in the public and media forums.”

The incumbent administration has garnered much credit for stymieing the negative tone that had fostered in Denmark in the wake of the Mohammad cartoon crisis and, more recently, the Danish decision to forsake the Schengen agreement and close its borders.

Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a societal debater and oft-used authority on Islamic issues in Denmark, agreed that the debate has been waning lately.

“I do feel like we have moved on and that we are facing more relevant social-economic issues,” Abdol-Hamid told Ekstra Bladet tabloid. “The question of having a job tomorrow and the future of our families is far more critical than the subject of whether the headscarf should be positioned on our heads or around our necks.”

However, Pia Kjærsgaard, head of the Dansk Folkeparti (DF), believes that an absence of debate in the media doesn't mean that a problem doesn’t exist, and that Islam and integration are still very real and relevant matters.

“Just because the media are not writing about it does not mean that the issue is irrelevant to the Danish public," Kjærsgaard wrote in an op-ed in Politiken newspaper. “Does that suggest that suddenly there are no dilemmas associated with Islam and integration?”

Kjærsgaard also contended that while she can see why it could be annoying to be constantly confronted with one's own "mediaeval views and undemocratic disposition", a problem does not cease to exist solely due to a lack of debate.

“The current development towards several impenetrable parallel societies is inching forward as planned," she wrote. "Social control of the ghettos has become a daily struggle that few care to discuss anymore.”

Last week, figures from Infomedia revealed that in 2006, at the peak of the Mohammed cartoon crisis, the national newspapers wrote an average of 14 articles a day on Islam and integration. Five years on and those figures have halved.

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