Editorial | Haunted by the ghost of rhetoric past

It would be nice to think that a housing association’s decision not to hold a Christmas party this year was simply a hyper-local issue involving a dysfunctional board and a group of unmotivated individuals who would prefer to let someone else do all the planning for the event.

And, on some levels, it is. The board of the Egedalsvænget housing estate held a ‘democratic’ vote, as it painstakingly points out in its minutes, and decided against holding the party. And had it been just a local issue, the story would have ended here. The decision may have come as a disappointment to those who were looking forward to the tree-lighting and glögg drinking that went with it, but in reality, the matter should simply have been a decision made by the individuals elected to represent residents. 

Much of the media attention on the Kokkedal disagreement stems, of course, from the fact that it neatly packages the immigration debate into an apparently simple case of Muslims seeking to steal Christmas away from Christians.

And while that version of the story certainly does touch one of the rawest nerves of the Danish immigration debate, it misses out on the wider issue that ordinary ‘immigrants’ (as minority groups are generically labelled in many public discussions) from all backgrounds tend to see themselves being talked a lot about, yet seldom talked with – let alone included – in discussions about their place in society.

What’s worse is that the language being used to talk about minorities tends to paint them in negative terms. No-one is going to argue that there aren’t problems bringing minority rates of education, income and criminality into line with the general population. But there is a difference between stating what’s wrong with a group and telling them that there is something inferior about them because they have problems.

Most recently, we saw this when an Odense headteacher labelled troublemaking students as "you Muslims". She later apologised for her choice of words, but the sentiment of the original statement only underscores why some minorities no longer see any point in trying to become a part of Danish society.

The focal point of the discussion about the Christmas tree in Kokkedal has been a decision by the board of a single housing association, and that’s about as local an issue as they come. But what makes this a story of national importance is that Egedalsvænget is just one of hundreds of housing estates across the country where the outcome could have been the same.

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