A wave of xenophobia is sweeping Denmark, but its nice Nordic people reject any charges of racism - arguing, without any trace of irony, that as 'nationalists and Christians' they merely object to having 'Muslims and Arabs' in their midst. And since the country has a tiny immigrant population and, unlike States in southern Europe, does not fear an influx of Muslim job- or asylum-seekers, especially given its high rates of employment, the Islamophobia gripping the land must have been long-standing as well as deep-seated.
Most Danes will resent a charge of racism, arguing that the current xenophobia is temporary and stems from the perception of many Danish people that refugees and immigrants - mostly from the Middle East and Africa - are doing better under the country's generous welfare system than they are.
Even those who admit that there is a growing tide of racism tend to draw a distinction between racism and antipathy to a religion, which is alien to the country's western and Christian civilisation. Hans Jorgen Nielsen, professor of political science at Copenhagen University, said in a recent newspaper interview that while that perception is responsible for the rising xenophobia, the brunt of the resentment is directed against Muslims and Arabs - adding that the Vietnamese are popular.
'What seems to be out there is the feeling about immigrants that we get too little, and they get too much,' he told the International Herald Tribune. 'There are real racists out there, but they are a few. It is not a cosmopolitan society here. Some surveys show that the first and foremost opposition is the Muslim groups and the Arabs. The Vietnamese are absolutely popular.'
Nielsen implied that the real reason why Muslims were detested and the Vietnamese refugees lionised was the formers' greater resistance to assimilation. 'The negative feelings relate to how difficult it is to integrate people,' he said.
The anti-Islamic feeling is being whipped up by the rhetoric of a new and tiny political party that wants all immigrants to be deported and immigration laws to be tightened. Founded in 1995, the Danish Peoples Party (DPP) is led by Mrs Pia Kjaersgaard, a '50-year-old middle-class housewife and mother of two grown children,' as she describes herself.
Kjaersgaard, whose party is Denmark's answer to France's National Front, does not like Jean-Marie Le Pen, who leads the Front - dismissing him as a racist, and racism as a crime. But while calling racism a crime, this mother of two describes her own brand of xenophobia as 'nationalism', complaining that the word 'racism' is too readily applied to mere 'nationalists' like her. And she feels no qualms about calling for the expulsion of Muslims, calling them a problem, but Jews who are doing a 'good job.'
'It is a crime to be a racist, awful, and I don't like what I read about Le Pen of France,' Kjaersgaard said in a recent newspaper interview. 'I think the Muslims are a problem,' she added without any hint of irony. 'They are quite as good people as you or me. But it is a problem in a Christian country to have too many Muslims. We have had Jews for many years and they do a very good job.'
Her problem with Muslims, as distinct from Jews, is that they are not prepared to be assimilated, and that they simply do not like her - a rare frankness in a litany of fudge designed to camouflage her fierce racism.
'You must not show a negative attitude toward our traditions and that is the case, I think, for the Muslims,' she explained. 'They don't like me.'
Racists like this 'Christian' and 'Liberal Nordic' Lady do not care whether Muslims like them or not. Kjaersgaard's aim is to put her fledgling party on the map on the strength of her anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The first electoral test for the success of her rhetoric came on November 19, when the results of the first local elections (or national for that matter) held since the establishment of her party in 1995 were published. As her tiny and unknown party captured 7 per cent of the votes, she clearly had no complaint about the effectiveness of her anti-Muslim campaign. The DPP fielded candidates in 142 of Denmark's 275 districts, according to figures from the interior ministry.
Kjaersgaard saw the results as 'this fantastic breakthrough', describing them only as 'a beginning', and predicting that the party would 'go far' in the parliamentary elections that must be held by next September.
She had no doubt - and was frank enough to announce - that her party's electoral success was due to the voters' concern about immigration. 'These results showed that voters have had enough of the government's passive policy on immigration and said clearly that enough is enough,' she said during a television debate on November 19.
As foreign nationals account only for 4.5 percent of Denmark's population of 5.5 million, they are not that visible. Kjaersgaard's success in whipping up so much Islamophobia in such a short time in an environment lacking an immigration crisis must be due to the wider antipathy latent in the west's crusader psyche.
Muslimedia: December 16-31, 1997