In 1978-9 I was living and studying in Denmark. An elderly woman to whom I was close said something to me one day that puzzled me for many years after. I forget what the context of our conversation was, but she commented that I - as a young American in Denmark - should not let any Dane scold me about the way America had treated its black population, because the Danes in her view treated their immigrants at least as badly. I wasn’t sure which immigrants she meant, so I asked her. She answered that she meant those from the Middle East.
But in 1978 - even in Copenhagen, one didn’t see these Muslim immigrants. The Danish population embraced visitors, celebrated the exotic, went out of its way to protect each of its citizens. It was proud of its new brand of socialist liberalism - one in development since the conservatives had lost power in 1929 - a system where no worker had to struggle to survive, where one ultimately could count upon the state as in, perhaps, no other western nation at the time. The rest of Europe saw the Scandinavians as free-thinking, progressive and infinitely generous in their welfare policies. Denmark boasted low crime rates, devotion to the environment, a superior educational system and a history of humanitarianism.
Denmark was also most generous in its immigration policies - it offered the best welcome in Europe to the new immigrant: generous welfare payments from first arrival plus additional perks in transportation, housing and education. It was determined to set a world example for inclusiveness and multiculturalism. How could it have predicted that one day in 2005 a series of political cartoons in a newspaper would spark violence that would leave dozens dead in the streets - all because its commitment to multiculturalism would come back to bite?
By the 1990's the growing urban Muslim population was obvious - and its unwillingness to integrate into Danish society was obvious. Years of immigrants had settled into Muslim-exclusive enclaves. As the Muslim leadership became more vocal about what they considered the decadence of Denmark’s liberal way of life, the Danes - once so welcoming - began to feel slighted. Many Danes had begun to see Islam as incompatible with their long-standing values: belief in personal liberty and free speech, in equality for women, in tolerance for other ethnic groups, and a deep pride in Danish heritage and history.
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