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On Denmark and its problems with immigration

I have some thoughts sparked by the debate over the Mohammad cartoons.





  1. We only have ourselves to blame for the mess we’re in. Our problems take root in 4 decades of failed immigration policy, and we the electorate are alone responsible for bringing us here. Blaming the immigrants will not help solve the problems, as they are not the cause.



  2. I have experienced the difficulties of coming here up close, through my employment of an American, a Latin American, and a Swede. Two are jews, one is vegetarian, non-drinker and non-smoker, one spent 10 hours a week learning Danish (and it wasn’t the swede). Denmark is a really tough country to come to.

    The language is exceedingly difficult to learn, not least because we speak it so fast, make no effort to be helpful and understanding towards learners, and frown upon people who don’t get our vowels exactly right as being stupid and inferior. Besides, everybody already have all the friends they need, and when there’s something social going on, you’re effectively shut out if you don’t speak the language, and if that wasn’t enough there can be no accommodation to people who don’t drink, eat meat, or who get sick from the smoke. Tough luck. To say that we’re not a welcoming place is a gross understatement.



  3. You can’t make people integrate well by force and declaration. Presenting immigrants with letters like this (linked from the Danish Immigration Service, via Sean) will only add insult to injury and alienate our immigrants. (There’s been recent talk about yet another document in the same vein.) You can only achieve real integration by motivating people, by offering an upside, and by offering basic dignity and respect. You can force superficial compliance, you can get people to sign documents, but you cannot make them mean it or want it. Anybody with children or employees should know this.



  4. We need to bring back political correctness. When Troels Lund Poulsen had the final word in the DR debate in Thorvaldsen’s Museum about a month ago, he talked about the need for understanding from “both Danes and Muslims”. Muslims are danes, too, for crying out loud! We need to sanitize our language until we no longer make basic mistakes like this. Generalizations like “them” and “us” are also compounding the problem, not solving it. And when you let the language slide, it distorts your perception of the world, to the extent that you start believing the generalizations. We need to establish some ground rules for how we talk about the problems and enforce them (not through law, but through convention), and our understanding will gradually become more nuanced, not less.





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17 comments

Chris Obdam

Lars, I'm sorry to disagree. What you do is what we (in Holland) have done also. Seeking the solution (and the problem) with ourselfs. But that hasn't helped us a bit overhere. The problem lies with the people who don't respect freedom of speech. Of course, the is a lot of generalization involved. It's not a language problem, it's a language everybody can learn! But you have to try! You can't blame yhe government for the fact that people aren't immigrating. It's a generation conflict. The Islam isn't evolved enough yet, it's 600 years younger than other religions. And it has been isolated for too many years in the Middle East. No other religions where alowed and the religion didn't had the opportunity to grow because of all the strange dictatorships. So, concluding :) : What we CAN do. Help the culture become more modern by asking them to step up to time! Don't think for them, let them think dor themselfs. Stimulate them to enter the politic debate. Because at the moment, everybody is talking about the problem. The problemmakers aren't talking at all! (Of course written from the Ducth perspective)
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I don' think the fact that we haven't managed to solve the problem yet is proof that it's not ours to solve. "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." , like "Albert Einstien is quoted with saying":http://rescomp.stanford.edu/~cheshire/EinsteinQuotes.html We have to get out of the rut we're in and think new.
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A partly agree with you, but on some parts I have a hard time understanding that we live less than 3 miles from each other :) Number one is a little weird or maybe I don't understand it. The mohammed cartoons - being a totally stupid and immature act from the Danish newspaper - has nothing to do with immigration policy. After all the biggest problems aren't the less-than 1.000 rather radical muslims making a lot of noise, but much more a foreign policy issue, imho. I don't recognize number twoat all, really. And while I feel that the "system" of Denmark seems very non-welcoming, it's my understandig that at least the social network that I'm a part of are very welcoming. Maybe you mixed something up between the lists or maybe you've had bad experiences and I've been lucky? But boy, a agree on number three. I was stunned too - guess that what's happen when you let a right-wing party control the government. Cheers, Niels...
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Thomas Madsen-Mygdal

1. Agree. Trying to externalize it is a sign of the problems. It's all about understanding context. We have a extreme right-wing government, we have a failed integration policy, we have the strongest immigration laws, we have a public discourse that's more like the 1930's in germany and we're at war with a islamic country. The attitude of Jyllands-Posten is a testiment to how far we've let things go. 2. I'm not sure i buy this one. The danes i meet are very welcoming to speak a foreign languange, many people seem to fit well in. I'm sure it's difficult for anyone to start from scratch in a new country. 3. Agree. 4. I'm not sure the framing is "political correctness" - more something like normal sensemaking, respect and "dannelse". Political correctness is a dead word. But in all this is really diffcult - just witness this post from an "immigrant" concerning the voting for the copenhagen immigration council, http://profeta.dk/blog/?p=27
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Re 3) I thought so, too, until I started bringing my foreign employees out to the social events I was going to. I've experienced it personally as well, moving back after living in the US for a couple of years, I was perceived as a threat to the world order of some people, and my stories from the outside world weren't always very welcome. There was some serious resocialization going on. I'm not saying everybody is like this, but there are some things going on that we're not aware of, and which are directly opposed to our self-image. Interestingly, several of my friends found a "home" in the salsa-dancing latin american community in Copenhagen, which seems more inclusive. Re 4) PC may be dead in this country, because we didn't understand that it's really about decency and accurracy. I don't think it's dead in the US, for instance. It just seems more internalized there, there are things you just can't get away with saying, at least not without being ridiculed on The Daily Show.
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Chris Obdam

Reacting on the EInstein quote. Thayt suggests that you have created the problem yourself. But you haven't! The Cartoons were humor. Can't debat on humor.
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Thomas Madsen-Mygdal

Can we sum it up to - we need something like the daily show right away? The cartoons we're humor? - If only that was the purpose of it.
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Robin Benson

Interesting microcosm of debate going on here. My perspective is that the majority of Danes have a deep inferiority complex, can't see the forest for the trees, and suffer from group-think (while benefiting from it in other ways, of course). Any criticism is met with ridicule, and rebuffed as somebody trying to teach them something. Hey, not so fast! You're thinking of numerous exceptions to my comments. Great, but too bad - my thoughts are general in nature. Quick, catch yourself before you think there are so many worse places and less hospitable people around the world - true - but why compare yourself with the worst? I'll just say one thing about the cartoons - few Danes handle being laughed at (or made fun of) well at all, especially if the fun isn't made in a fashion consistent with Danish humor (I'm lucky - I find similar things quite funny!). So there is something of a double-standard there, when Danes expect others to simply understand. I have lived in Denmark for some years (not currently though), have a Danish wife and some Danish friends, and thus, have a whole bunch of Danes who I am in touch with, over several generations. I can say that my "extended" family and friends are very special to me, to be sure. Of course, some Danes would say that this isn't enough to have an accurate opinion about Denmark ... PS. Jeg snakker og skriver dansk - hvor er jeg go'! PPs. if you want to understand people, learn their language.
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@Lars Pind: Interesting comment. Like Niels I don't see the direct link between the cartoons and the immigration policy. You also want to bring back "political correctness"!. I salute that - politeness is getting more important than ever as a result of the increasing globalization. Danes are famous for being very direct and we Danes often insult foreigners without purpose. The cartoons may be just one of many examples of that
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Gunnar Langemark

I'm a little puzzled why we see all these explanations of the problems we face - most of them simply trying to evade the real problems. I agree that some of the drawings in JP were insulting to Muslims. And so what? They (The JP) have a right to do so in my world. It is none of our governments business to interfere with that right. And yes - the government did probably not handle it well in the beginning. So what? 20-20 hindsight is cheap. Get on with life ... A great many danes have a problem with people making fun of danes and Denmark. So what? Their problem. Yes danish immigration politics stinks. Yes lots of danes are closet-racists. Yes lots of danes are bigots and peasants - and don't see the world outside of their local community as something with which they should have anything to do. That's no different from a lot of other countries. But it is a problem. See - I think the real problem is: Close to 100 people are dead. 12 danish cartoonists now fear for their lives, and the lives of their families. NO ONE is to blame but those people who find it ok to threaten their lives. NO ONE! Those people who think they can rigthfully kill people, burn embassies and so on - because someone insulted them and their religion. Those people are to blame. Everything else is out of proportion, and evading the real problems. I hate to break the news to you guys. Freedom of religion does not mean that you can kill your neighbor if he does not follow the rules of your religion. Being sensitive to other peoples religious belief and feelings is a very good thing. Not being sensitive - is not a crime. Freedom of expression means that you can insult people for their beliefs. Otherwise it is worth nothing. If you can't say "I disagre" You can't say anything. Making a drawing of Mohammed is one such expression. It says: "I have a right to depict Mohammed - and I hereby do it". We can dislike it - but it is no business of any democratically elected government to say that you can't. I believe in a secular society where religion is a private matter. As far as I can see - Denmark is not such a country. Lutheranian Christianity is very much a part of the danish system (I had to go to a church when my kids had their names - which I found insulting. Should I go kill someone???). Let's get rid of all that religious BS, and let's ignore those extremists who believe they should govern our thoughts. Denmark is a cartoon country right now - with various politicians and other high profile celebrities losing it all the time. Why can't we just stick to our beliefs and stop playing the (local danish) blame game?
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Alexandra Lindahl

I dont agree with you totally. If someone find themselves immagrating for whatever thereason is they must make it there goal to become apart of the society inwich they choose to live in. I dont believe the host society must make changes to its culture to have immagrants feel as though they are back in there country of origin there is no logic to that what so ever. If a person from the west decided to immigrate to a arab/muslim country you know for sure there will be no effert made to have you feel as though you are still in your native land as a matter of fact you will be made to understand it is there way or your life will become verey uncomfortable fast. I a person needed to stay in your home temporarily you will make then feel comfortable but will you say to them please take over my home tell me in my home how to live in it rearrange it what to eat what to where when to go to bed what time to wake who shall come over for tea all just to make them feel as though they are back in there house: I think not so whsat should a society change to make arabs,muslim or whom ever to feel as though they are in the middle east asia or where ever. Dont mix racism and helping immagrants to adaopt to your culture it is up to them to want to be aspart of your culture. Now there are problems yes and those issue need to be addressed and not by making Danmark The Netherland, France or any other EU country little Syria, Samolia, or what ever. If you or anyone who reads this feel as though Im being cultural ego centric I will ot apologize its only logical
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Alexandra Lindahl

I dont agree with you totally. If someone find themselves immagrating for whatever thereason is they must make it there goal to become apart of the society inwich they choose to live in. I dont believe the host society must make changes to its culture to have immagrants feel as though they are back in there country of origin there is no logic to that what so ever. If a person from the west decided to immigrate to a arab/muslim country you know for sure there will be no effert made to have you feel as though you are still in your native land as a matter of fact you will be made to understand it is there way or your life will become verey uncomfortable fast. I a person needed to stay in your home temporarily you will make then feel comfortable but will you say to them please take over my home tell me in my home how to live in it rearrange it what to eat what to where when to go to bed what time to wake who shall come over for tea all just to make them feel as though they are back in there house: I think not so whsat should a society change to make arabs,muslim or whom ever to feel as though they are in the middle east asia or where ever. Dont mix racism and helping immagrants to adaopt to your culture it is up to them to want to be aspart of your culture. Now there are problems yes and those issue need to be addressed and not by making Danmark The Netherland, France or any other EU country little Syria, Samolia, or what ever. If you or anyone who reads this feel as though Im being cultural ego centric I will ot apologize its only logical
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Alexandra Lindahl

I dont agree with you totally. If someone find themselves immagrating for whatever thereason is they must make it there goal to become apart of the society inwich they choose to live in. I dont believe the host society must make changes to its culture to have immagrants feel as though they are back in there country of origin there is no logic to that what so ever. If a person from the west decided to immigrate to a arab/muslim country you know for sure there will be no effert made to have you feel as though you are still in your native land as a matter of fact you will be made to understand it is there way or your life will become verey uncomfortable fast. I a person needed to stay in your home temporarily you will make then feel comfortable but will you say to them please take over my home tell me in my home how to live in it rearrange it what to eat what to where when to go to bed what time to wake who shall come over for tea all just to make them feel as though they are back in there house: I think not so whsat should a society change to make arabs,muslim or whom ever to feel as though they are in the middle east asia or where ever. Dont mix racism and helping immagrants to adaopt to your culture it is up to them to want to be aspart of your culture. Now there are problems yes and those issue need to be addressed and not by making Danmark The Netherland, France or any other EU country little Syria, Samolia, or what ever. If you or anyone who reads this feel as though Im being cultural ego centric I will ot apologize its only logical
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DenmarkSucks

I totally agree. Denmark faces an extreme technical labor shortage which will require immigration to solve. They dont have the number of people nor the system in place to train internally to fill that gap. Everyone can be in denail but this is the reality so a system needs to be put in place that helps and not hinders immigration of worthwhile candidate to keep Denmark competitive. Having recently been granted residency, I can tell you that even well qualified and educated people suffer disadvantages against the Danish Immigration Services.
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Incognito Norwegian

Acculturation process “The adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture”. Attached is an article from Denmark that in my eyes clearly describes how the acculturation process of Danish immigrants has failed. First, it explains how difficult the language is to learn for foreigners. The Danish author, Lars Pind, explains how the Danish people in general are impatient and unwilling to understand immigrants who don’t speak their language fluently. It is important for the native population to at least try to understand when foreigners take their time to learn their language. I can speak of personal experience as I have lived in Denmark for 10 years. I am Norwegian, and my language is nearly identical to Danish. Still, during my first years in Denmark, people would often switch to English when I spoke Norwegian to them. The language is basically the same, as Irish is to English. I have felt that the Danish people can be very impatient to language barriers. Next, the article explains how the acculturation and integration process cannot be forced upon foreigners. Lars Pind explains “You can only achieve real integration by motivating people, by offering an upside, and by offering basic dignity and respect.” I truly agree with this statement as it states that immigrants need some incentives in order to grasp a foreign culture. If they are brushed off when trying, the acculturation process will fail. He further explain through an example of the Danish media, which have been categorizing the Danish people in two groups as Danes and Muslims. This was said even of the Muslims that were of Danish citizenship. It’s the same as saying, if you’re Muslim, you are not Danish. In this area, the United States and Canada goes forward as great examples of good acculturation process; at least in sense of being part of a nation. USA and Canada do not use terms like “them” and “us”. This has of course a lot to do with the fact that Denmark is a very small country and people might feel intruded since they have very little geographical room for immigrants. Denmark has a lot to learn in making foreigners welcome and should plan a new acculturation process.
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The Danes LOVE their Beer… so much they’ll STRIKE for it! « L J R

[...] no way am I shocked the workers went on strike. And good for them, with the Yenta Laws and Danish political culture the way it is, looking to protect the Danish part of Denmark despite the influx of immigration, [...]
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[...] no way am I shocked the workers went on strike. And good for them, with the Yenta Laws and Danish political culture the way it is, looking to protect the Danish part of Denmark despite the influx of immigration, [...]
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