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Press: The Danish way of assimilating migrants 

06 July 2018


A view of Copenhagen

A view of Copenhagen

MOST of the talk about “integration” of immigrants, and especially Muslims, is just waffle. What would it look like if a government were to take the project seriously?

The New York Times had a report from Denmark which produced some disturbing answers to the question. The Danes have had a much tighter immigration policy than their Swedish neighbours for years. Their anti-immigration party broke through earlier and has been part of respectable politics for at least a decade. There are far fewer immigrants and refugees, and nothing like the gang violence of some Swedish estates.

Still, the measures covered by the NYT are astonishing:

“Starting at the age of 1, ‘ghetto children’ must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week . . . for mandatory instruction in ‘Danish values’ . . .

“Denmark’s 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 country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.”

The government has rejected a suggestion that all the children in designated areas be tagged electronically, though it is toying with the notion of automatically doubling the sentences for vandalism, theft, or threatening behaviour if these offences are committed in any of the 25 specially designated “ghetto” areas.

The term “ghetto” seems to be used without any irony whatsoever in the respectable Danish media, although there are some people quoted in the NYT for whom it still has troubling connections with the way in which Jews used to be forced to live in Europe. It’s worth noting that many of the immigrants in these areas were placed there by the government when they applied for private housing. Assimilation doesn’t mean having those people living among the proper Danes.

Imagine, for a moment, the impact that these measures would have on the Hasidic Jews of north London, whose distance from the mainstream secular culture is so profound that one of their schools has been found to have removed from its textbooks all mentions of homosexuality and evolution, and all pictures showing men and women together in public.

There are probably secularists who would welcome the Danish measures, and more liberal Jews as well. But it is impossible to imagine it becoming government policy and popular. That fact alone makes it clear how much the Danish measures are aimed, in practice, at Islam, or at least at Muslims.

This is also a really fine example of the way in which Christianity is used as a cultural and ethnic marker. Denmark is a country where the Church prospers because it is tax-funded and provides a social service for people who need it — but, to a first approximation, no one actually goes to services, although all believe that Christianity is a good thing and a real part of being Danish.

All in all, this is a perfect example of the kind of story about religion which is of huge importance, and bears on all the present European arguments about migration — but which is quite invisible to the filters of the average secular news desk.

PERHAPS this week will be all New York Times stories. American friends were outraged by an opinion piece there by Matthew Schmitz, who works for the conservative Roman Catholic magazine First Things. I found it enlightening.

He was trying to explain why Donald Trump can be seen by his supporters as a defender of family values when he is a serial adulterer who boasts of his ability to assault women. Schmitz starts from the class divide in American denominations: “An Episcopalian is more likely to have an advanced degree than a Southern Baptist is to have a college diploma.”

Among poorer Americans, he says, adultery is expected. So, too, is a degree of physical violence from men. “In these families, bonds between mothers and children are prized above those between couples. Unstable relationships are the norm, and fathers quickly end up out of the picture.

“Baffling as it may be to elites, Mr. Trump embodies a real if imperfect model of family values. People . . . tend to view his alienation from his children’s mother as normal and his closeness to his children as exceptional and admirable.”

This is more instructive about family patterns among the American poor than about Trump, though. There are very few family structures in which the bonds of filial affection are not strengthened if Daddy is a multi-millionaire. We would see if the Trumps really modelled family values if his wives and children visited him in jail without any expectation of reward.

THAT is, I think, a test that Jonathan Aitken passes. He has not been an example of monogamy, or truth-telling, but he has clearly kept some friends and the respect even of some enemies: Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of The Guardian (whom Mr Aitken once sued unsuccessfully for libel) tweeted his congratulations at the news of his deaconing.

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