Editorial | In Islam debate, Aarhus is the real Europe

Denmark’s second city doesn’t often get much ink in this newspaper. So when it does, you can be sure that something important is going on.

This week, it turns out, we have not just one, but three articles, as well as a commentary, all dealing with Aarhus and some of our the hottest issues of our time – free speech, immigration and the clash between the West and Islam. Unfortunately, none of the stories gave the city anything to smile about.

In the case of this weekend’s anti-Islamic rally, you could say that while Aarhus escaped without physical damage, the city’s reputation was one of the biggest victims. Aarhus, according to the city’s slogan, is ‘Danish for progress’, but on Saturday it was ‘European for racism’ (if that, as has been pointed out in the comments on our website, is indeed the right term for someone who is prejudiced against members of a religion.)

In its defence, Aarhus did nothing to bring the anti-Islamists to the city, and few locals attended the rally. In addition, Aarhus officials, describing the rally as something they wanted to “distance themselves from”, allowed a counter-demonstration, organised by a local politician, to be held at the same time despite the likelihood that it would end in conflict.

European Defence League leader Tommy Robinson apparently settled on Aarhus for its symbolism as the home of Jyllands-Posten, the paper that published the Mohammed cartoons. But with Robinson preparing future rallies, it’s also worth noting that he says the group is considering holding them in provincial cities in other countries as well, such as Malmö.

Here in Copenhagen, it can be difficult for us to relate to what happens elsewhere in the country, be it Aarhus or Albertslund. As the capital, we’re more likely to pay attention to ourselves or to other countries than we are to the provinces. But this lack of national interest can be dangerous. In these areas – often economically and socially depressed – Muslims aren’t seen as people who can contribute something different to our culture. They are the stereotypical ‘other’ who steals jobs from the equally stereotypical average white guy, out of work and facing a lack of opportunities. And it is here – whether that’s Aarhus, Malmö, Bradford, Toulouse or similar cities – that people like Robinson look when seeking to recruit others for his conflict.

Here in the capital, we don’t often report about news from the provinces, unless there’s something big going on. The question this time around, though, is whether disaffection in the provinces is already so big that it’s already old news for everyone else but us.