Alarms in Denmark over Immigrants

David Zucchino:

TAARNBY, Denmark — Johnny Christensen, a stout and silver-whiskered retired bank employee, always thought of himself as sympathetic to people fleeing war and welcoming to immigrants. But after more than 36,000 mostly Muslim asylum seekers poured into Denmark over the past two years, Mr. Christensen, 65, said, “I’ve become a racist.”

He believes these new migrants are draining Denmark’s cherished social-welfare system but failing to adapt to its customs. “Just kick them out,” he said, unleashing a mighty kick at an imaginary target on a suburban sidewalk. “These Muslims want to keep their own culture, but we have our own rules here and everyone must follow them.”

Denmark, a small and orderly nation with a progressive self-image, is built on a social covenant: In return for some of the world’s highest wages and benefits, people are expected to work hard and pay into the system. Newcomers must quickly learn Danish — and adapt to norms like keeping tidy gardens and riding bicycles.

The country had little experience with immigrants until 1967, when the first “guest workers” were invited from Turkey, Pakistan and what was then Yugoslavia. Its 5.7 million people remain overwhelmingly native born, though the percentage has dropped to 88 today from 97 in 1980.

Bo Lidegaard, a prominent historian, said many Danes feel strongly that “we are a multiethnic society today, and we have to realize it — but we are not and should never become a multicultural society.”

The recent influx pales next to the one million migrants absorbed into Germany or the 163,000 into Sweden last year, but the pace shocked this stable, homogeneous country. The center-right government has backed harsh measures targeting migrants, hate speech has spiked, and the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party is now the second largest in Parliament.

Some of the same hostilities were reflected this weekend in Germany, where voters in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s home state embraced anti-immigrant candidates — an emphatic rejection of her refugee policy.

There is new tension between Danes still opening their arms and a resurgent right wing that seeks to ban all Muslims and shut Denmark off from Europe. Mr. Christensen, the retired banker, supports emerging proposals for his country to follow Britain in exiting the European Union.

There is tension, too, over whether the backlash is really about a strain on Denmark’s generous public benefits or a rising terrorist threat — or whether a longstanding but latent racial hostility is being unearthed.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.