2018-07-06 17:29:12 UTC
By Ellen Barry & Martin Sorensen, July 1, 2018, NY Times
COPENHAGEN When Rokhaia Naassan gives birth in the coming days, she
and her baby boy will enter a new category in the eyes of Danish law.
Because she lives in a low-income immigrant neighborhood described by
the government as a ghetto, Rokhaia will be what the Danish
newspapers call a ghetto parent and he will be a ghetto child.
Starting at the age of 1, ghetto children must be separated from
their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time,
for mandatory instruction in Danish values, including the traditions
of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could
result in a stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are
free to choose whether to enroll children in preschool up to the age
Denmarks government is introducing a new set of laws to regulate life
in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families
there do not willingly merge into the countrys mainstream, they
should be compelled.
For decades, integrating immigrants has posed a thorny challenge to
the Danish model, intended to serve a small, homogeneous population.
Leaders are focusing their ire on urban neighborhoods where
immigrants, some of them placed there by the government, live in dense
concentrations with high rates of unemployment and gang violence.
Politicians description of the ghettos has become increasingly
sinister. In his annual New Years speech, Prime Minister Lars Lokke
Rasmussen warned that ghettos could reach out their tentacles onto
the streets by spreading violence, and that because of ghettos,
cracks have appeared on the map of Denmark. Politicians who once
used the word integration now call frankly for assimilation.
That tough approach is embodied in the ghetto package. Of 22
proposals presented by the government in early March, most have been
agreed upon by a parliamentary majority, and more will be subject to a
vote in the fall.
Some are punitive: One measure under consideration would allow courts
to double the punishment for certain crimes if they are committed in
one of the 25 neighborhoods classified as ghettos, based on residents
income, employment status, education levels, number of criminal
convictions and non-Western background. Another would impose a
four-year prison sentence on immigrant parents who force their
children to make extended visits to their country of origin
described here as re-education trips in that way damaging their
schooling, language and well-being. Another would allow local
authorities to increase their monitoring and surveillance of ghetto
Some proposals have been rejected as too radical, like one from the
far-right Danish Peoples Party that would confine ghetto children
to their homes after 8 p.m. (Challenged on how this would be enforced,
Martin Henriksen, the chairman of Parliaments integration committee,
suggested in earnest that young people in these areas could be fitted
with electronic ankle bracelets.)
At this summers Folkemodet, an annual political gathering on the
island of Bornholm, the justice minister, Soren Pape Poulsen, shrugged
off the rights-based objection.
Some will wail and say, Were not equal before the law in this
country, and Certain groups are punished harder, but thats
nonsense, he said, adding that the increased penalties would affect
only people who break the law.
To those claiming the measures single out Muslims, he said: Thats
nonsense and rubbish. To me this is about, no matter who lives in
these areas and who they believe in, they have to profess to the
values required to have a good life in Denmark.
Yildiz Akdogan, a Social Democrat whose parliamentary constituency
includes Tingbjerg, which is classified as a ghetto, said Danes had
become so desensitized to harsh rhetoric about immigrants that they no
longer register the negative connotation of the word ghetto and its
echoes of Nazi Germanys separation of Jews.
We call them ghetto children, ghetto parents, its so crazy, Ms.
Akdogan said. It is becoming a mainstream word, which is so
dangerous. People who know a little about history, our European
not-so-nice period, we know what the word ghetto is associated
She pulled out her phone to display a Facebook post from a right-wing
politician, railing furiously at a Danish supermarket for selling a
cake reading Eid Mubarak, for the Muslim holiday of Eid. Right now,
facts dont matter so much, its only feelings, she said. This is
the dangerous part of it.
For their part, many residents of Danish ghettos say they would move
if they could afford to live elsewhere. On a recent afternoon, Ms.
Naassan was sitting with her four sisters in Mjolnerparken, a
four-story, red brick housing complex that is, by the numbers, one of
Denmarks worst ghettos: forty-three percent of its residents are
unemployed, 82 percent come from non-Western backgrounds, 53 percent
have scant education and 51 percent have relatively low earnings.
The Naassan sisters wondered aloud why they were subject to these new
measures. The children of Lebanese refugees, they speak Danish without
an accent and converse with their children in Danish; their children,
they complain, speak so little Arabic that they can barely communicate
with their grandparents. Years ago, growing up in Jutland, in
Denmarks west, they rarely encountered any anti-Muslim feeling, said
Maybe this is what they always thought, and now its out in the
open, she said. Danish politics is just about Muslims now. They want
us to get more assimilated or get out. I dont know when they will be
satisfied with us.
Rokhaia, her due date fast approaching, flared with anger at the
mandatory preschool program approved by the government last month:
Already, she said, her daughter was being taught so much about
Christmas in kindergarten that she came home begging for presents from
Nobody should tell me whether or how my daughter should go to
preschool. Or when, she said. Id rather lose my benefits than
submit to force.
Barwaqo Jama Hussein, 18, a Somali refugee, noted that many immigrant
families, including her own, had been settled in ghetto
neighborhoods by the government. She moved to Denmark when she was 5
and has lived in the Tingbjerg ghetto area since she was 13. She said
the politicians description of parallel societies simply did not
fit her, or Tingbjerg.
It hurts that they dont see us as equal people, she said. We
actually live in Danish society. We follow the rules, we go to school.
The only thing we dont do is eat pork.
About 12 miles south of the city, in the middle-class suburb of Greve,
though, voters gushed with approval over the new laws.
They spend too much Danish money, said Dorthe Pedersen, a
hairdresser, daubing chestnut dye on a clients hairline. We pay
their rent, their clothing, their food, and then they come in broken
Danish and say, We cant work because weve got a pain.
Her client, Anni Larsen, told a story about being invited by a Turkish
immigrant to their childs wedding and being scandalized to discover
that the guests were separated by gender and seated in different
rooms. I think there were only 10 people from Denmark, she said,
appalled. If you ask me, I think they shouldnt have invited us.
Anette Jacobsen, 64, a retired pharmacists assistant, said she so
treasured Denmarks welfare system, which had provided her four
children with free education and health care, that she felt a surge of
gratitude every time she paid her taxes, more than 50 percent of her
yearly income. As for immigrants using the system, she said, There is
always a cat door for someone to sneak in.
Morally, they should be grateful to be allowed into our system, which
was built over generations, she said.
Her husband, Jesper, a former merchant sailor whose ship once docked
in Lebanon, said he had watched laborers there being shot for laziness
and replaced by truckloads of new workers gathered in the countryside.
I think they are 300 to 400 years behind us, Jesper said.
Their culture doesnt fit here, Anette said.
The new hard-edge push to force Muslims to integrate struck both of
them as positive. The young people will see what it is to be Danish
and they will not be like their parents, Jesper said.
The grandmothers will die sometime, Anette said. They are the ones
By focusing heavily on the collective cost of supporting refugee and
immigrant families, the Danish Peoples Party has won many voters away
from the center-left Social Democrats, who had long been seen as the
defenders of the welfare state. With a general election approaching
next year, the Social Democrat party has shifted to the right on
immigration, saying tougher measures are necessary to protect the
Nearly 87 percent of Denmarks 5.7 million people are of Danish
descent, with immigrants and their descendants accounting for the
rest. Two-thirds of the immigrants are from non-Western backgrounds, a
group that swelled with the waves of Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees
Critics would say the state cannot force children away from their
parents in the daytime, thats disproportionate use of force, said
Rune Lykkeberg, the editor in chief of Dagbladet Information, a
left-liberal daily newspaper. But the Social Democrats say, We give
people money, and we want something for this money. This is a system
of rights and obligations.
Danes have a high level of trust in the state, including as a central
shaper of childrens ideology and beliefs, he said. The Anglo-Saxon
conception is that man is free in nature, and then comes the state
constraining that freedom, he said. Our conception of freedom is the
opposite, that man is only free in society.
You could say, of course, parents have the right to bring up their
own kids, he added. We would say they do not have the right to
destroy the future freedom of their children.
Of course, he added, There is always a strong sense of authoritarian
Ms. Hussain, the high school student from Tingbjerg, is accustomed to
anti-immigrant talk surging ahead of elections, but says this year it
is harsher than she can ever remember.
If you create new kinds of laws that apply to only one part of
society, then you can keep adding to them, she said. It will turn
into the parallel society theyre so afraid of. They will create it
Correction: July 3, 2018
An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect estimate of the
number of Muslims in Denmark. There are half a million non-Western
immigrants and descendants; the Danish government does not provide
statistics on religious groups.