A prolonged ceasefire in Gaza is crucial for Danish democracy, integration and security
Amongst the Scandinavian countries, Denmark has been particularly vocal in its sympathy for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen highlighted the importance, during the recent humanitarian pause, of “protecting the children, the sick and injured,” and Denmark has pledged humanitarian aid to Palestine.
But despite a generous contribution of more than EUR 10 million, the Danish government’s actions still fall short of its foreign policy potential.
Denmark is capable of being more responsive to the global and national threats heightened by the Gaza conflict. It can make the temporary ceasefire a prolonged one.
Threat to Danish democracy and values of equality
Despite being a small country, or lille land, Denmark has a strong potential to be more outward in its political approach towards the issues dominating the headlines.
Its rural nature inspires a pluricentric political dynamic, which manifests as multi-faceted organizational and social subsystems. These systems all tend to express the values of Janteloven – cultural norms that encapsulate the idea that ‘no one is better than another’, and which govern the individual’s relationship to society.
This structural dynamic is inherently tolerant of the renegotiation and redefinition of boundaries. And that fluidity can strengthen the influence of this lille land on the global geopolitics.
Denmark is well positioned to be an influential voice in the Gaza crisis. It has a relatively clean political record when it comes the last decade of Middle East conflicts, including in Libya and the prolonged Syrian war.
In recent years, Denmark has been proactively working to counter violent extremism and devoting significant resources to counterterrorism, domestically and abroad, highlighting its impactful role in protecting European democracy.
The allure of ‘Moralised Jihad’
Danish society is divided over the Gaza conflict.
Many Danes are angered by the hypocrisy of foreign policy when it comes to Gaza. Some support a broad Palestinian uprising. Some are appalled by the justification of the Hamas attacks as self-defense by some young Muslims in the country.
A polarizing dynamic is emerging of good and bad, us and the other, where ‘us’ is the higher moral ground and contradictory views are ‘the other’.
The lack of political or diplomatic action by the Danish government in the face of the Gaza crisis reinforces the idea that Muslims in Denmark and other European countries are powerless.
Western foreign policy plays a pivotal role in creating animosity amongst young Muslims in Denmark.
Recent history offers plenty of examples of the dangerous outcomes, such as the 2006 Vollsmose case which was motivated by the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy and Denmark’s involvement in the Iraq War.
In the current context, a barrage of images and videos from Palestine depicting untold horrors including severely injured or dead children circulate on a daily basis, stoking the already highly-strung emotions of young, impressionable Muslims, and serving as a trigger for some youngsters to turn their back on democracy.
In this climate of Western inaction, radical organizations like Hamas present an attractive political home for young people or individuals who feel helpless in the face of the atrocities reported by media, and who are seeking a sense of belonging and purpose.
Impressionable youngsters buy into the idea that these are heroes defending helpless children. The group offers them a moralized heroic jihad which is far more tempting than the extreme jihad propagated by ISIS.
The appeal of charismatic Hamas leaders like Ubaydah – the spokesperson for the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas – can lure youngsters towards the path of jihad.
Videos of this masked militant are trending on platforms like Tik Tok and are being shared and reposted by young people across social media platforms.
In a dangerous narrative twist, the group, internationally recognised as violent radicals, can recast themselves as legitimate defenders of the vulnerable women and children of Gaza, and position themselves at the top of moral hierarchy.
But the DNA of the organisation is coded with the cause of jihad, ensuring that no matter what shape their actions take, the ultimate path – to fight perceived enemies of Islam – remains the same.
Views of Islam and jihad fluctuate over time and heavily influenced by global events – mainly conflicts in the Muslim world where Muslim children are killed and bombed.
History has provided ample evidence of how Muslim youth in Europe have reacted to massacres in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and we need to take these lessons on board.
Growing Islamophobia and antisemitism
The Hamas-Israel conflict is increasing the risk of Islamophobia and antisemitism in Europe, according to warnings from many authorities, including a European Union official tasked with combating Islamophobia.
Meanwhile, far-right European parties are exploiting the conflict to stir Islamophobia and proclaim the risk posed to the West by Muslim immigrants.
They thereby refashion themselves as compassionate towards the Jewish community and use the conflict as a pretext to sow division – including by burning of the Quran in flagrant defiance of the sentiments of Muslims worldwide.
On Friday 17 November 2023, a far-right supporter stood facing the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilisation Centre in Copenhagen during Friday’s prayer.
Protected by the Danish police, the man was wrapped in an Israeli flag and chanted racist and Islamophobic slurs and threats of burning the Quran through a megaphone.
On the opposite side of the road, a Palestinian immigrant stood waving the Palestinian flag, struggling with his Danish, searching for the right words to chant back.
The scene illustrates how identities intractably harden, with Islamophobia feeding the monster of antisemitism and vice versa.
Islamophobia facilitates the perception that Islam and Muslims, spurred by the Hamas-Israeli conflict, pose a threat European values and security. Or, when they are not actively in opposition, that Muslims are delinquents.
In response, a counter narrative connects Jewish people to the actions of Israel, triggering the ugly beast of antisemitism.
What needs to happen?
Denmark no longer has the luxury of remaining a neutral and inward lille land.
Today’s reality is that what is happening outside Denmark is directly impacting life within its borders.
Policy makers – especially in Western Europe, and including Denmark – must overlook their differences and come together to, at the very least, bring about a lasting ceasefire.
They must actively strive to stop the senseless bloodshed of children – all children, whether Muslim or Jewish.