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DENMARK : Hijab ban proposal sparks debate, protests in Denmark

Hijab ban proposal sparks debate, protests in Denmark

A new recommendation to ban Muslim headscarves in Danish elementary schools has been met with a backlash in Denmark.

By Anna Gudmann Hansen


Al Jazeera (12.09.2022) – https://bit.ly/3ddpOIG – The Danish Commission for the Forgotten Women’s Struggle – a body set up by Denmark’s ruling Social Democratic Party – has recommended that the country’s government ban hijabs (Muslim headscarves) for students in Danish elementary schools.


The August 24 proposal is one of nine recommendations with the stated aim of preventing “honour-related social control” of girls from minority backgrounds.

The other recommendations propose providing Danish language courses, promoting modern child upbringing practices in ethnic minority families, and strengthening sexual education in elementary schools.


Huda Makai Asghar, 15, would be forced to take off her headscarf if the ban is implemented. The ninth grader at the Kokkedal Skole – a school outside of the Danish capital, Copenhagen, with close to 800 students – has been wearing the hijab for two years.


“I have always known that we have freedom of religion in Denmark. I can wear what I want, and I can believe in what I like. So when I heard about the proposal, I was surprised,” she told Al Jazeera on the phone.


Asghar feels the idea of a ban violates her freedom, and that of girls like her, and that it is wrong to force her to take the headscarf off.


“I can’t do that; it is a part of me,” she said.


The ban proposal has sparked a backlash in Denmark.


Iram Khawaja, an associate professor at the Danish School of Education at Aarhus University, has been outspoken against the proposal.


Her research focuses on how children from religious and ethnic minorities navigate Danish society, and she is co-founder of the Professional Psychology Network Against Discrimination.

According to Khawaja, a ban will not solve any of the issues faced by girls who are subject to social control.

“On the contrary, a ban can add to bigger issues. The girls who are already being exposed to negative social control will be put under increasing pressure,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It is problematic to equate wearing the hijab with negative social control – there are also girls who do not wear the hijab who are exposed to negative social control,” Khawaja added.

According to the commission’s report (PDF), the “use of scarves in elementary school can create a division between children in two groups – ‘us’ and ‘them’”.

The study was conducted by the research companies Als Research and Epinion on behalf of the Danish Ministry of Education. It is based on a survey of 1,441 students in sixth to eighth grades from 19 elementary schools and eight independent and private schools, as well as 22 interviews with students and 17 interviews with teachers.

According to Khawaja, a study from 2018 on the extent of negative social control showed that few Danish school children – 8 percent of the participants in the study – are actually exposed to social control.

“The majority of girls wearing the hijab are doing it of their own free will,” Khawaja said.

According to her, simply making the recommendation and the debate that will follow could have negative consequences.

“It will, of course, have consequences if the ban is put into action, but I believe there are already negative outcomes now. Simply putting the proposal out there is already stigmatising, problematising, and casting suspicion on a large group of religious minorities,” she said.

“Although the intentions are good, it ends up stigmatising and disempowering the ones you are trying to help.”

Lone Jørgensen, principal of Tilst Skole, an elementary school in Jutland with approximately 700 students, does not support the recommended ban, either.

“The ban would create a law between the children and their parents, and the children would get stuck in between, “Jørgensen told Al Jazeera.

“My job is to run a good school for everyone, where there is room for everyone and everyone is of equal value.”

‘Part of Denmark’

On August 26, several thousand people took to the streets of Copenhagen to protest the ban proposal.

According to the Danish newspapers Arbejderen and B.T., several thousand took to the streets.

Midwife and activist Lamia Ibnhsain, 37, organised the event, titled “Hands off our hijabs”.

“I realised that our voices are invisible in society. The initial intention with the demonstration was to go to the streets and make our voices heard,” she told Al Jazeera.

Ibnhsain said she has had “a lot of difficult feelings” following the ban proposal.

She has felt “othered”, placed under suspicion as a mother, and she fears a ban might add to some girls feeling “wrong” compared to others.

“Muslim women wearing the hijab are everywhere in Danish society. They are doctors, psychologists, bus drivers, and artists. They are a part of Denmark,” she said.

Ibnhsain is a mother to two girls – an eight-year-old and a 16-year-old.

Her older daughter wears the hijab, while the youngest wears it on days when she feels like it.

Ibnhsain explains how talking to her girls about a possible ban has been tough.

“My girls are wearing the hijab with joy and happiness. The hijab is a matter of the heart, and it should under no circumstances be turned into a political discussion,” she said. “It violates my girls’ basic rights.”

The commission

The commission was set up by the current ruling party, the Social Democratic Party, in January.

Although it presented the recommendations unanimously on August 24, two members of the commission later on retracted their support for a hijab ban following the debate, which led to one of them withdrawing completely from the commission, stating that she could not support the proposal of a ban.

In a written response to the criticism of the study presented to the commission in an email, the secretariat behind the commission told Al Jazeera it had been set up by the government and its mission was to present recommendations on how to ensure that all women from a minority background could enjoy the same rights and freedoms as other Danish women.


“The commission focuses on how Danish society can reinforce the efforts against honour-related social control, which we know from research is a problem in certain environments in Denmark,” it said in an email response.


“The study from 2018, which is referred to, states that only 43 percent of the ethnic minority girls in the study are allowed to see male friends in their spare time, while the same is the case for 88 percent of the ethnic Danish girls,” the statement read.


“And 13 percent of ethnic minority girls are afraid that their families will plan their future against their will, while the same is the case for 5 percent of the ethnic majority girls. One of the aims of the commission is to bring recommendations on how to equalise differences like these between Danes who are ethnic minorities and majorities,” it added.


The secretariat said the commission consisted of nine members with different backgrounds and knowledge – “they are people with practical experience, research backgrounds, and people who have experienced these issues personally. All know about the challenges related to countering honour-related social control”.


The commission is set to make additional recommendations in the coming months.


Photo: On August 26, people took to the streets to protest a proposed hijab ban in Danish elementary schools [Courtesy of Lamia Ibnhsain]



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DENMARK’s Ethnic engineering: a ‘ghetto policy’ for non-Westerners

By Binoy Kampmark

International Policy Digest (24.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/3vg8DJV – The very word is chilling, but has become normalised political currency in Denmark. Since 2010, the Danish government has resorted to generating “ghetto lists” marking out areas as socially problematic for the state. In 2018, the country’s parliament passed “ghetto” laws to further regulate the lives of individuals inhabiting various city areas focusing on their racial and ethnic origins. The legislation constitutes the spear tip of the “One Denmark without Parallel Societies – No Ghettos in 2030” initiative; its target: “non-Western” residents who overbalance the social ledger by concentrating in various city environs.


The “ghetto package,” comprising over 20 different statutes, grants the government power to designate various neighbourhoods as “ghettos” or “tough ghettos.” That nasty formulation is intended to have consequences for urban planning, taking into account the percentage of immigrants and descendants present in that area of “non-Western background.” One Danish media outlet, assiduously avoiding the creepier elements of the policy, saw it as the “greatest social experiment of the century.”


Bureaucrats consider the following: the number of residents (greater than 1,000); a cap of 50% of “non-Westerners”; and whether the neighbourhood meets any two of four criteria, namely employment, education, income, and criminality. Doing so enables the authorities to evict residents, demolish buildings and alter the character of the neighbourhood, a form of cleansing that has shuddering historical resonances. Central to this is an effort to reduce the stock of “common family housing” – 40% in tough ghettos by 2030 – supposedly available to all based on principles of affordability, democracy, and egalitarianism.


The problematic designation of people of “non-Western background” is also a bit of brutal public policy. It is a discriminatory measure that has concerned the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC). In its concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Denmark from 2019, the CESCR urged the country’s adoption of “a rights-based approach to its efforts to address residential segregation and enhance social cohesion.” This would involve the scrapping of such terms as “ghetto” and “non-Western” and the repeal of provisions with direct or indirect discriminatory effects “on refugees, migrants and residents of the ‘ghettos.’”



The use of “descendants” also suggests the importance of bloodline that would have seemed entirely logical to the Nazi drafters of the Nuremberg Laws. The German laws, announced in 1935, made no reference to the criteria of religion in defining a “Jew,” merely the importance of having three or four Jewish grandparents. Doing so roped those whose grandparents had converted to Christianity and the secular. First came the sentiments; then came the laws.


This irredeemable state of affairs has solid, disturbing implications, though both the CESCR and ACFC tend to be almost mild-mannered in pointing it out: You did not belong and you cannot belong. It is less an integrating measure than an excluding one. Denmark’s “Ghetto Package,” as the ACFC puts it, “sends a message that may have a counter-effect on their feeling of belonging and forming an integral part of Danish society.” It also urged that Denmark “reconsider the concepts of ‘immigrants and descendants of immigrants of Western origin’ and ‘immigrants and descendants of immigrants of non-Western origin.’”


For its part, the Ministry of Interior and Housing finds the package all above board, a mere matter of statistical bookkeeping. Using “non-Western” as a marker adopted to distinguish the EU states, the UK, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, the Vatican State, Canada, United States, Australia, and New Zealand. “All other countries,” the Ministry curtly observed in a statement, “are non-Western countries.”


Last year, Mjølnerparken, a housing project in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro area, became the subject of intense interest in the application of the Ghetto laws. With 98 percent of the 2,500 residents being immigrants or the children of immigrants, a good number hailing from the Middle East and Africa, the “tough ghetto” designation was a formality. Apartment sales were promised, effectively threatening the eviction of the tenants.


These actions were proposed despite ongoing legal proceedings against the Ministry of Interior and Housing by affected residents. Declaratory relief is being sought, with the applicants arguing that the measures breach the rights to equality, respect for home, property, and the freedom to choose their own residence.


Three rapporteurs from the United Nations also warned that the sale should not go ahead as litigation was taking place. “It does not matter whether they own or rent all residents should have a degree of security of tenure, which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment, and other threats.”


Such policies tend to consume the reason for their implementation. Disadvantage and stigmatisation are enforced, not lessened. Former lawmaker Özlem Cekic suggests as much. “It is not only created to hit the Muslim groups and immigrant groups but the working class as well. A lot of people in the ‘ghettoes,’ they don’t have economic stability.”


The Ministry has reacted to the protests with proposals that ostensibly reform the legal package. The word “ghetto,” for instance, will be removed and the share of people of non-Western background in social housing will be reduced to 30% within 10 years. Those moved out of the areas will be relocated to other parts of the country. According to Nanna Margrethe Kusaa of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, “the ethnicity criteria has a more sharpened focus on it than before.” Officials have merely refined the prejudice in one of Europe’s most troubling instances of ethnic engineering. To this, Cekic has an ominous warning: “How can you expect [immigrants] to be loyal to a country that doesn’t accept them as they are?”


Photo credits: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

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DENMARK accused of ‘sacrificing the future’ of Syrian children at risk to be expelled to Syria

By Chantal Da Silva


Euronews (21.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/3xf0dEq – Danish authorities have been accused of putting the futures of dozens of refugee children at risk by threatening to expel them to Syria, despite warnings that it is not safe to do so.


In a statement released on Wednesday, children’s rights group Save the Children said it was “deeply concerned” to discover that at least 70 refugee children are at risk of being expelled to Syria.


Denmark sparked outcry after it announced plans to strip Syrian refugees from Damascus of temporary protections allowing them to stay in the country after officials determined that it was safe for them to return home due to the security situation in parts of Syria having “improved” significantly.


The move comes following a report last year in which the government said “the conditions in Damascus in Syria are no longer so serious that there are grounds for granting or extending temporary residence permits”.


As a result of the decision, hundreds of Syrian refugees from the region are at risk of losing their residency permits, which would likely force them to return home to a country that has been embroiled in conflict for the past decade.


Speaking with Euronews on Wednesday, Amjad Yamin, Advocacy, Media and Communications Director at Save the Children’s Syria office, said the organisation was aware of at least 70 children who are awaiting on a final decision on whether or not they lose their rights to stay in Denmark.


If their rejections are confirmed, they and their family members would have to make plans with Danish authorities to return to Syria or they could be placed in departure centres for an indefinite period, he said.


Yamin said he did not understand Denmark’s justification for potentially sending children back to Syria. However, he said he believed it is a decision the country has been “itching to make for some time”.


“A lot of countries have been generous for a long time,” Yamin said. However, he asserted: “Syria is not a place that children should be sent back to…This is not the time to start pushing people to return”.


In a separate statement provided by Save the Children, Anne Margrethe Rasmussen, the organisation’s Denmark Area Representative for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, said that if children were forced to return to Syria, they would be going back to a “country they hardly remember, a country that is still not safe”.


“Children, who have no responsibility for the devastating conflict in Syria, are yet again victims of a crisis created by adults. Many of them will have never known a peaceful Syria, which has been steeped in conflict for more than ten years now,” Rasmussen said.


Most children ‘do not see future’ in Syria


Indeed, in a recent research campaign, Save the Children spoke to more than 1,900 children and caregivers in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the Netherlands and found that the “vast majority” of children said they did not see a future in Syria after ten years of conflict.


Of those questioned, 86% of Syrian refugee children in the above countries said they did not want to return to “the country of their parents”.


Even among those polled within Syria, one in three said they would rather be elsewhere.

While Rasmussen said that sending children to Syria would put their safety at risk, she also said that placing children in departure centres in what she branded an effort to “push their parents to leave the country” would also “deeply impact their mental wellbeing and development”.


“Syrian children have the right to feel safe and they should not live in fear of being forced to flee again,” she said.


At this point, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director Sonia Khush said it is still too soon to deem “any part of Syria” safe.


“Such an argument is not in line with international standards and does not reflect the reality on the ground. It fails to take into account the risks of arbitrary arrests and flare-ups of violence. It ignores the fact that many houses are destroyed, access to education is limited at best and the health system is overwhelmed,” she said.


Yamin told Euronews that the coronavirus pandemic was also a cause for concern, noting the recent surge in cases over the past month.


“So, how do you send children back to that situation? To hunger, poverty, death, COVID and no school… It is very concerning if they are sent back,” he said.


‘Voluntary, safe and dignified’ returns


In a recent statement published by Human Rights Watch, experts on the situation in Syria joined in condemning the Danish government’s decision to remove protections for Syrian refugees from Damascus.


“We believe that conditions do not presently exist anywhere in Syria for safe returns and any return must be voluntary, safe, and dignified, as the EU and UNHCR have clearly stated,” the coalition of experts, including Ammar Hamou of Syria Direct, Bente Scheller of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Sara Kayyali of Human Rights Watch and Suhail al-Ghazi, a Syrian researcher and non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said in their statement.


They called on the Danish authorities to follow a position that was outlined in last month’s European Parliament resolution, which reminded all member states that “Syria is not a safe country to return to”.


“Denmark was the first country to sign up to the Refugee Convention in 1951. It is now setting a dangerous precedent by effectively taking the first step to send people back to a place that is far from safe,” Khush said.


“Most Syrian children do not even see a future in the country,” she said. “Put simply, Syria is not ready for refugees to return and most children don’t want to be there. The Danish authorities should listen to them.”


Euronews has contacted the Danish government for comment.


Photo credits: AP Photo

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DENMARK: “Translation Law” vs. Religious Liberty – Protestants and Catholics are protesting

Protestants and Roman Catholics are protesting a new law that would compel all religious bodies to translate into Danish and publish in advance their sermons.

By PierLuigi Zoccatelli

Bitter Winter (30.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3pC5wcE – Here we are again. Concerns about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism lead to introduce legislation that reduces the religious liberty of all religions. The mother of all such laws is the Russian statute against “religious extremism,” introduced as a weapon to combat Islamic radical groups, and in fact used to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other peaceful communities whose proselyting activities disturb the majority Russian Orthodox Church. The new French law on the defense of the Republican principles was also presented as necessary to combat Islamic “separatism” and extremism, but ended up creating problems for all religions.

Now, the same process is at work in Denmark. A new law, which had broad support in the Parliament and the public opinion, would request all religions to have their sermons published and put at the disposal of the authorities. If they are in languages other than Danish, they should be translated.

It may seem a good idea to allow the police to check the sermons delivered, often in Arabic, by some firebrand Islamic imams, but as usual the law cannot target one religion only, least it meets with intractable Constitutional problems. The result is that the same provisions will apply to all religions.

A first problem is that in Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are part of the Kingdom of Denmark, most religious services are in the local languages rather than in Danish. Yet, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has indicated that she “cannot guarantee” exceptions for the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

More generally, there are in Denmark German-speaking minorities, which have used German as language for their religious services for eight centuries, and immigrant religious communities, which would be placed under a heavy economic burden if all sermons should be translated. And religious groups also have the unpleasant feeling that they are “placed under general suspicion by this law,” in the words of the General Secretary of the Nordic Catholic Bishops Conference, Sister Anna Mirijam Kaschne.

Evangelicals are also complaining that it would be the poorer congregations that would face the more serious problems. The Council of Churches of Denmark called the law “discriminatory and ill-considered.” And Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, in a statement published by the Vatican, said that the law “could impede the fundamental right to freedom of religion.” Once again, media hype and emotion caused by the presence of radical Islam is leading to ill-advised legislation restricting the freedom of all religions.

Photo credits : Morten Haagensen



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DENMARK will ask all faith groups to translate sermons into Danish language

A new law aims to control the teaching of radical Islamic groups but evangelicals say it “will have negative consequences for many religious groups”.


Evangelical Focus (15.01.2021)- https://bit.ly/38Y8vGM – A draft law expected to be discussed in February could ask all religious groups in Denmark to have a Danish version of the sermons and messages delivered in their faith communities.


The government of Democrat Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had promised to better control radical Islamist groups in the country whose teachings clash with the democratic values of the country. Over 270,000 Muslims live in Denmark and most of the sermons preached in mosques are in Arabic.


The government said the aim of the law is to “enlarge the transparency of religious events and sermons in Denmark, when these are given in a language other than Danish”.

The translation and publication in Danish language of all sermons should help control what ideas and values are preached across the country.


According to analysts, a majority of Dans would approve such a law. But critics (including human rights organisations) say the new law would restrict religious freedom, fuel more prejudices against faith groups, and threaten the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of Denmark.


In November, the Prime Minister admitted that she could not assure that an exemption would be approved for the religious groups in the Greenland and the Faroe Islands – two regions where the population speaks native languages apart from Danish.


German-speaking churches concerned


“There is much concern”, said Rajah Scheepers, the main pastor of German-speaking St. Petri church in Copenhagen, in a statement to Domradio transcripted by Livenet.ch. German-speaking Christians in Denmark have used their language in Danish churches for eight centuries. “We do not only hold services on Sundays, but also baptisms, weddings and funerals, throughout the week. It is not realistic to expect that we simultaneously translate all these gatherings or that we translate them in advance”.


Roman Catholics have also expressed their disapproval. The General Secretary of the Nordic Bishops Conference, Anna Mirijam Kaschne, told the Catholic News Service: “All church congregations, free church congregations, Jewish congregations, everything we have here in Denmark — 40 different religious communities — will be placed under general suspicion by this law… Something is happening here which is undermining democracy”.


She added: “If you really want to tackle problems of hate speech and attitudes to the democratic state, it’s much better to show appreciation for faith communities who are committed to integration”.

Question. Do you think such a law is needed to stop radical Islamism?


Answer. The law aims to protect our community from the growth of radical Islamism, but the law will probably not be effective in that regard. Radical groups tend to establish themselves on the margins, in a parallel society, and never apply for official recognition. I do not think a new law will affect them in any way.


  1. Will the law restrict religious freedom? What unwished consequences could it have for other faith groups?


  1. The law will have negative consequences for many religious groups, such as evangelicals, moderate Muslims, and other officially recognized communities who now have to spend time and money on translations. I do not consider the law a direct breach of international standards on freedom of religion or belief, but it is still a significant step in the wrong direction.


  1. What would you suggest to the government in helping the integration of all religious groups in Denmark?


  1. The first step is to acknowledge the role and potential of inter-religious dialogues and direct dialogue between the religious communities and the lawmakers. Legislators should seek constitutionally appropriate ways to explore the impact of religious practice on society and, where applicable, recognise its role.


Other reactions


Earlier in December, the Council of Churches of Denmark, which includes 58 faith Christian groups, had already expressed its opposition to the draft law considering it “discriminatory and ill-considered”.


According to Council, the rule reflected a “suspicion of denominations across a broad spectrum” and would impose “significant burdens on economically weak minority churches for no reason”.

Photo: A Danish flag. / Markus Winkler

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