Straight Up | What a summer it was: kebabs, halal and immigrants

This past summer started on a meaty note. Media outlets served us pork breakfasts, beef dinners and kebabs in between. The news was beef-packed. Who-sold-what-meat-when and where, read the headlines. The press went in a frenzy with the halal debate. The media force-fed us, Guantanamo-style, and choked us on nothing but meat.


Pretty TV reporters asked difficult questions. Should our school children be served frikadeller for lunch? Should it contain pork or not? Should we kill cows upside-down or knock them unconscious? Pertinent questions. The journalists, however, underplayed the fact that the kebab-halal uprising is just one symptom of underlying integration tensions.


Meanwhile, as we scrambled over pork-filled shawarmas and suffered constipation, an immigration bill was underway in the US Congress. At the centre of it were 11 million undocumented immigrants. That is twice the population of Denmark. The bill would allow undocumented immigrants to come out into the open and partake in the American dream. The dream that led the “skinny boy with a funny last name” from grass to grace, from zero to hero, all the way to becoming the first black dude to occupy the White House.


The potential new citizens however would be required to pay fines and taxes, work hard and stay out of trouble. These reforms, according to supporters, would save America millions of dollars. And integrate the immigrants.


Back home, Dansk Politi magazine reported that the number of undocumented immigrants in Denmark could be as high as 50,000. Most of them work and live in conditions best described as neo-slavery. Living on street corners and in dingy basements. Working long nights and earning 20kr an hour. Knowing too well they are ‘illegal’ and ‘enemies of the state’, they are too scared to come out of the shadows.


Our politicians probably didn’t read the American bill (politicians don’t read, and the few who do don’t give a damn), but for the sake of argument, let’s say they did. Probably they would be inspired to draft a similar bill in Denmark, right? Wrong. Denmark is not America, they would argue. They don’t have a welfare system over there like we do here. If we allow it, the whole world will close shop and head to Denmark to exploit the welfare system. That, unfortunately, has been the unsubstantiated basis of the nation’s anti-immigration discourse.


The reality is that immigrant countries do well. Australia, Canada and Singapore are a few examples. But that’s written off by the usual suspects like Dansk Folkeparti. This summer, for instance, they called for tighter asylum regulations. DF´s immigration mouthpiece, Martin Henriksen, outlined his party´s plans to ensure no refugee steps in Denmark unless brought in by the United Nations. And when a lone ranger like Lasse Jensen in Aalborg starts campaigning on a foreigner’s empowerment platform, he is considered a rebel without a cause.


But you see, Denmark – like most Western societies – is ageing. The young energetic immigrants are covering for the ageing workforce. That is what aspiring leaders like Jensen understand quite well. Fences and intolerance cannot arrest immigration flows or facilitate integration. A change of tact is needed. That is why countries like the US are taking two-pronged approaches.They are building fences and bridges. Fences to control illegal immigration, and bridges to ensure skilled and unskilled workers do not remain in the shadows. It is good for the immigrants and beneficial for the country.


The local elections in Denmark are approaching. Pro and anti-immigration rhetoric will once again dominate. We may not all like frikadeller served in schools. We may not all approve of the upside-down slaughter of animals. But the white and not-so-white Danes, the hijab-wearing and the biracial, will shape the future of this country. The generations whose playground is not just Nørrebro but the world stage are the voters of the future.


If DF and others like it hope to lead the Denmark of tomorrow, they cannot continue to alienate immigrants. The growing number of immigrants and their descendants will shun the party that shuns them. In the elections of the future, there will be no majority ‘pure’ Danes and minority second-generation Danes. Political parties will win the elections of the future not on policies that segregate and divide along immigration lines, but rather on those that integrate and unite.