Denmark’s ‘Quran Law’ and its ramifications for Denmark and Danish Muslims
Dr. Halla Diyab
On the 9th of December, the Danish parliament passed a law, unprecedented in Scandinavia, which bans the burning of religious texts and is widely referred to as the ‘Quran law’.
This legislation heralds a turning point in Danish policy. It is a reformist step which leans towards addressing the country’s generational failure to deal with rising Islamophobia and far right xenophobia, thereby changing how Denmark presents itself locally and internationally.
The bill circumvents the need to address Chapter 12 of the penal code of Denmark, and proves that Denmark can go the extra mile to protect freedom of religion in general and a minority religion on its soil, fostering a better understanding of Danish multiculturism today.
In Denmark, the collective consciousness in relation to Danish Islam is entwined with complexities dating back to 2005 and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon controversy (or Muhammad cartoons crisis).
The impacts of this crisis reverberate to this day, and controversies related to Muslims still emerge in rapid succession, having an inevitable impact on Danish legislation and fuelling the grievances of Muslims.
Political positioning on matters related to Islamic visibility is a permanent characteristic of Danish policy making. The Danish system leans firmly towards ensuring that Islam in the country is ‘discrete’. This approach has led to the ban of burqa (niqab) in 2018, the ongoing discussion on banning the hijab in schools which flared up in 2022, the banning of halal slaughter in 2014, and in 2018, designating a mandatory handshake in the Danish nationalization ceremony to counter Islamic-based gender segregation.
All these bans have been subject to intense debate as well as backlash from the minority religion of Islam before being settled by legislation.
The Quran Law should also be viewed through the lens of the collective consciousness of Danish Muslims; it defines Muslims and Islam as part and parcel of the Danish ‘forskellig’ – a religious and cultural dynamic where freedom of religion and freedom of expression must be respected in this democratic country.
The Quran Law must not become the poster child for backlash politics. It transcends the provisions of Chapter 12, aimed at condemning religious hatred, and goes further to promote mutual respect between the different religious and secular communities in Denmark.
Inclusive Denmark for all?
The Prime Minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, offered the apt assessment that she does not “consider it a restriction on freedom of expression that you can’t burn other people’s books”. In the words of Heinrich Heine, burning other peoples’ books “will ultimately burn people too”.
History stands testament to how the Nazi book burning in Berlin in 1933 led ultimately to the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe during World War II. Today’s Quran burnings are insulting to Muslims in Denmark who are also Danes, pay ‘skat’ (Danish taxes) and respect and abide by Danish values.
We cannot pick and choose when Danish Muslims are to be seen as Danes and when they are seen as Muslims, even if they are pushed to perceive themselves otherwise.
Acts like burning the Quran are considered very undemocratic in a country that advocates freedom of religion and where many ethnic minority Muslims sought refuge from religious persecution in their home countries where there was no democracy.
For example, during the regime of Hafez Assad (the father of Bashar Assad) in Syria, the headscarf (hijab) was banned in schools. Is the reoccurrence of such scenarios in today’s Europe acceptable? And is there freedom of expression in not allowing a Muslim girl to wear headscarf, or to feel offended if her book of worship is burned in front of her?
In today’s democracy, Muslims should be able to practice their faith and have the right to feel safe –not to be surrounded by several police officers and their cars who are protecting the burning of their holy book in an act of public violence in front of the mosque where they pray.
This type of reaction by the authorities does not show respect for freedom of speech, but rather tolerance and apathy in the face of hate speech, which in turn creates divisions and allows grudges and anger to fester and multiply, a wellspring for hate culture.
Denmark’s new Quran law has put an end to this, underlining that Muslims are a valued part of Danish culture and society and that Denmark respects the rights and freedoms of all its citizens.
The bill and Danish Islam
Visually violent incidents such as Quran burning create an oppressive atmosphere in which Danish Muslims are susceptible to alienation and a retreat from their sense of belonging in Denmark.
Within Danish society, strong stereotyping of Muslims persists, and active Islamophobia is still a significant obstacle to integration of Muslim communities.
When a Danish Muslim is asked about their identity, they tend to define themselves as Palestinians or Syrians even if they were born in Denmark and have never been to Palestine. Many Muslims are torn between their family’s cultural roots and their belonging to Denmark, with some feeling that they must choose one of the two.
This growing division is not only a risk to Danish integration, but also represents a dangerous void where alienation can expand, pushing some young Muslims incensed by injustice to grow antagonistic towards the country in which they live, and gradually isolate themselves from their Danish identity.
Nonetheless, the new Quran Law is a constructive means of dealing with the grievances of Danish Muslims. It proves that Muslim Danes matter, and its enactment could help foster national identity among Muslim citizens, facilitating their negotiation of how to be both Danish and Muslim, without having to dilute their faith, culture or even political stances, in so far as these are constitutional.
Dr. Halla Diyab
A British journalist, TV producer, award-winning screenwriter, author and analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, Dr. Halla Diyab commentates extensively on topics of Islam, identity, counter terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. She has spoken at the House of Commons and advised MPs including Jon Ashworth on the British Muslim integration in the UK, later producing a TV documentary that followed him fasting for a day with British Muslims in his constituency.