A recent report released by the Council of Europe (CoE) has stated that there is an increase in incidents of Islamophobia and hate speech against Muslims living in Denmark
The report, published March 24, is based on the examinations of Nils Muiznieks, commissioner for human rights of the CoE, during his visit to Denmark in November of last year. Muiznieks concluded that the high prevalence of racist and stigmatizing speech being used against Muslims in political life and in the media is a very problematic issue in Denmark.
In the report, Muiznieks also focuses on issues regarding human rights of asylum-seekers and immigrants, with a particular emphasis on the rights of children as well as those of people with disabilities.
“The commissioner encourages the Danish authorities to step up their efforts to combat hate speech, and in particular Islamophobia, which continues to be widespread in public and political debate. He particularly urges the authorities to condemn firmly and unequivocally all instances of racist and xenophobic political discourse,” states the report.
Danish media contribute to a skewed picture of Muslims
There is a diverse range of debates in Denmark on what makes up Danish identity -- from whether or not to allow halal meats at schools or whether to allow cashiers to wear headscarves to questioning a Danish boy of Moroccan descent winning Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, an annual music competition that determines the country’s representative for the Eurovision Song Contest. These debates have one common factor: not being Danish enough
Giving these types of incidents, one may think that it is no surprise Muiznieks found widespread debates that are particularly Islamophobic even though some political parties have criticized the report to be “thin” and not very comprehensive.
Brian Arly Jacobsen, assistant professor in sociology of religion from Copenhagen University, agrees that the Danish media and the political debates contribute to a skewed picture of Muslims in Denmark. Jacobsen, who also specializes in how Muslims and Islam are portrayed in Danish politics, does recognize the problematic issue regarding the portrayal of Muslims in the media. However, he adds that depending on whom you ask there will be different opinions on the issue.
“What does it mean to be Islamophobic? There are tendencies, sure, but how can one define Islamophobic?” Jacobsen told Sunday’s Zaman, adding “The problem is that the political debates and the media contribute to a skewed picture of Muslims that have consequences for Danish society as the picture portrayed is often associated with conflicts -- and this problem is exactly the generalization of Islamophobia that Muiznieks refers to.”
Generalization is widespread
Özlem Cecik, a Danish politician of Kurdish descent from Turkey, argues there are particular types of rhetoric being used in political and public debates in Denmark that may be thought-provoking, but she doesn’t agree that the debates are Islamophobic.
Cecik told Sunday’s Zaman: “Nuances have disappeared in the political debate; generalization is widespread and herein lies the problem. For example, if there is a criminal called Brian, we try to understand why he became a criminal and help him. However, if the boy is called Muhammad, then the standard response is that it’s a cultural problem. Instead of focusing on how we can help, we start by thinking of it as a cultural or religious problem. We don’t address it as a social issue, such as educational or health-related issues.
“Unfortunately, there is a greater focus on culture or religion, which distracts us from the real problems. Setting fire to containers is not a traditional feature of Turkish or Kurdish culture, so there must be more to the problem and often it is social issues, such as lack of education, that we should look to.”
Reading Danish news, it is not hard to find a harsh tone and attitude towards Muslims. For example, a column headed “Islam is our civilization’s greatest threat” in the Danish newspaper, Politiken, on March 2, written by Soren Espersen, a politician from the Danish People’s Party, may encourage fear-mongering.
For Cecik, this type of rhetoric is used to stoke fears and sabotages any constructive dialogue. She believes it is always easier to engage in politics by stirring up hostility toward another group of people, adding: “This is a populist approach. Societal groups which do this are fear-mongering.”
Muiznieks has also noted the harsh tone used in the media and politics towards Muslims and writes in the report: “Several of the commissioner’s interlocutors have indicated that the focus of stigmatizing media and political debate has shifted from color and ethnicity to religion and culture, with Muslims and Islam being at the center of this shift. Terminology frequently used to refer to Islam includes words such as ‘barbaric,’ ‘tyrannical,’ ‘fundamentalist’ and Muslim men have frequently been portrayed as violent and rapists.”
As a consequence, the anti-Islamic approach has eventually led to tightening immigration requirements for non-Westerners, making Denmark one of the countries in the EU with some of the tightest immigration regulations.
“Some people are concerned as to whether Sharia [strict Islamic] law will be implemented in Denmark or not… However, it is unrealistic to think that Sharia law will be implemented in a democratic country like Denmark,” said Cecik
There is a different side to the problem
Rushy Rashid Hojbjerg, a Pakistani-descended Danish journalist and radio host at Radio24syv who has been working in media for 15 years, told Sunday’s Zaman that she recognizes that even though there is a great focus on Islam and ethnicity in the media, it does not necessarily mean that every time Islam gets mentioned it is a case of Islamophobia.
“The media often goes for negative stories because that’s where the conflict lies. As a radio host at my program, I am told that I should also feature more success stories; I don’t make two hours covering success stories, but I interview people of various ethnicities and make them talk politics, social injustice, Islam and so many other topics. The main goal of the program is to give a more nuanced picture,” Hojbjerg noted.
Speaking with Sunday’s Zaman, Jens Stensgaard Jakobsen, an editor for the Danish cross-cultural paper Opinionen, agrees that the Danish debates in the media are not Islamphobic, adding: “If you look back at the 2000s, articles regarding Islam and immigration were published up to three times more than today, but now the focus has been taken away from that. Rather, there is a problem with good journalism. As a journalist, I see the problem lies within the lack of multi-cultural journalists who, with their different cultural insight, can contribute to a more nuanced debate. A lot of the big news agencies do not often have skilled journalists with solid resources. The lack of insightful reporting may be the problem...The big newspapers have to remember that their readers also include Danes with multicultural backgrounds now.”