Give Us Your Money

     One of the great differences between the U.S. and Europe is that the European nations were not built by immigrants. That difference has allowed them to construct cradle-to-grave social networks without the resistance generated in the U.S., where we do not have the same sense of shared origin, history and destiny.
      But the European commonality in history and indeed race also produces a shared narrative, a generally accepted framework of history and principles within which to debate. So it was that I asked two friends in Denmark, who are from different cities and who do not know each other, for their analyses of the Muslim presence in Denmark. And their accounts followed the same line.
     “It started back in the sixties when Denmark first imported people from Turkey to take care of the jobs the Danes didn’t want to have,” said Henrik in Copenhagen. “At that time we didn’t have a problem with the Muslims because they were good workers.”
     Those early immigrants would then marry relatives from their little villages in Turkey, he said.
     “At the same time the Danish government (The Socialdemokraterne) started to concentrate all these people in the same area, for instance Gjellerup Parken in Århus or Tåstrupgård just outside Copenhagen,” said Henrik, describing a Danish policy not unlike the French policy that concentrated North Africans in neighborhoods outside Paris.
     His point, the same as Simon’s in Arhus, was that you cannot blame the Muslim community for the entire social conflict.
But there is also a shared view from both of my friends that something has fundamentally changed in the relation between the immigrants and the Danes.
     The underlying reasons for that change are debated and ascribed most commonly to an assertive Muslim effort to maintain the Muslim culture and religion within Denmark or to Danish policies that encouraged isolation or simply to criminality associated with the second generation of immigrants.
     But there is no debate about the incident that cemented a common anger.
     “Then we had the cartoon case,” said Henrik, “where some of their religious leaders travelled to the Middle East and Egypt talked badly about Denmark. One of the results was that most of the Middle East boycotted all Danish goods. Before that, we had a good trade in dairy products, especially feta cheese.”
     What came out of that incident was a political backlash that focused on the negative aspects of immigration, specifically abuse of the generous social system and high crime rates in immigrant neighborhoods.
     “The so-called refugees who came from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq said they were pursued by the government in their country and they got shelter and money in Denmark,” said Henrik. “But very often they go back to their country on holiday for three or four weeks.”
     He recounted a case that received substantial press coverage involving a Muslim woman who was elected to the parliament in Iraq, and paid for that job, while still claiming social welfare payments in Denmark.
     But the most powerful source of reaction to the immigrants is religious extremism.
     Muslim extremists have plotted to bomb the newspaper that published the cartoons while the cartoonists themselves have lived under threats of death. But the incidents have continued into the present with the most recent incidents involving November elections in Denmark.
     Moderate Muslims who were running for political office were threatened by radicals in their midst simply for participating in the Danish political process.
     “So again,” said Henrik, “it’s, `fuck the political process but give us your money’.”
     That common narrative, found in Denmark and reflected in politics throughout Europe, stands in contrast to the American view. My friends here took a very different angle in commenting on my columns about being mistaken for a Muslim.
     “What about the American Christians who threatened to bomb movie theaters in this country showing `The Last Temptation of Christ’ ?” Janet asked.
     “More recently, what about the American Jews who were going to bomb a mosque and Congressman Darryl Issa’s office, or who murdered Alex Odeh?”
      And why, she asks, does no one seem to wonder how Arabs and Africans felt when Britain, France, Holland, Portugal or the U.S. occupied their countries. “I rather imagine it disrupted the cultures and the peoples of the affected countries.”
      My problem with that view is that it is as if to say, the European nations deserve their predicament. And I don’t know that they do. I am quite certain they do not think so.
      At the same time, it is harsh to be treated as unwanted, as I found out first hand when I was seen as an immigrant by the blonde, pale Danes.

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