Immigration: A Danish third model?

Ali El-Shamy , Wednesday 11 Jul 2018

Denmark’s new approach to multiculturalism is not the answer to Europe’s problems of integration

Immigration has become a hot-topic issue plaguing the European Union and Europe as a whole. Just this past month, both Malta and Italy have rejected a boat carrying 59 migrants across the Mediterranean before it was finally given permission to dock in Barcelona in Spain.

The issue of migration has also led to many divisions within the European political sphere, as far-right populist parties have started to gain support.

It seems to have more popularity in Eastern than in Western Europe, since the populist Law and Justice Party of Poland currently holds the majority in both houses of the Polish parliament, while Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz Party has a majority in the country’s National Assembly.

It should be noted that most analysts are still uncertain about designating these two parties as far right. While they exhibit some of the features of far-right populism, such as nationalism, they are not nearly as xenophobic as other far-right parties such as the British National Party (BNP) or the French National Front.

Western Europe is more of a mixed bag. In the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), there are virtually no signs of far-right populism, while in France National Front leader Marine Le Pen made it to the second round of last year’s presidential elections before losing to current French President Emmanuel Macron.

This loss served as a blow to the National Front and encouraged Le Pen to rebrand the party as the “National Rally” in order to breathe new life into the movement.

The 2017 German federal elections saw a massive victory for the recently created right-wing, anti-immigration and ultra-nationalist Alternative for Germany Party, which won 94 seats in the German Bundestag, the country’s parliament. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which gained 12.6 per cent of the vote in the 2015 general elections in the UK, only mustered two per cent of the vote in last year’s snap general elections.

Since UKIP had campaigned heavily on exiting from the European Union, something the current UK government has committed to fulfilling, it seems that UKIP has ceased to have a platform. The resignation of the party’s charismatic leader Nigel Farage has further led to its downward spiral.

One of the major causes behind the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in Europe is the fact that many migrants into Europe choose not to integrate into their new societies.

These migrants in turn pass on their own cultural traits to their children, who also do not fully integrate into society. This results in the creation of “parallel societies” within the larger European society.

One has to ask why European governments have not made greater attempts at preventing this from happening. The answer lies in the concept of “multiculturalism” and the ways in which different states approach the phenomenon.

It is generally accepted that there are two main schools of thought when it comes to multiculturalism: the “melting pot” model and the “mosaic or salad bowl” model. The melting pot model contends that immigrants should assimilate into their new home countries and embrace its societal values, helping to maintain the homogeneity of society as a whole.

This model is championed by the United States. In the most extreme cases of melting pot multiculturalism, migrants are encouraged to leave behind their old cultural identities and fully embrace their new ones.

On the other hand, the mosaic model of multiculturalism recognises the differing ethnic and religious backgrounds within society and encourages individuals to embrace their differences without fear of prejudice or deportation.

Nevertheless, migrants are still expected to assimilate into the larger society as a whole, and like the rest of society they still have to respect and abide by the laws of the state.

Canadian writer John Murray Gibbon came up with the idea of a “cultural mosaic” in his book The Canadian Mosaic, which welcomes the idea of recognising differing ethnic and cultural identities within Canadian society, while criticising the melting pot model for forcing people to cut their cultural ties.

This model was later championed by former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s government in the early 1980s, and to this day it is still the model the country follows. 

European Models

When it comes to Europe, it is evident that it has embraced the mosaic model of multiculturalism, and unfortunately it is in Europe that its drawbacks have begun to be seen. 

Because many migrants have not been encouraged to embrace their new cultural identity, they have not fully assimilated into society. These migrants in turn create communities that follow their own rules and norms that may clash with those of the rest of society. It should be noted that this is not a problem with all migrant communities in Europe, though it is a problem with some religious communities, many of them Muslim.

In France, some Muslims have had trouble embracing the French constitutional principle of laicité (secularism) and have rejected laws that attempt to ban the burka, or full face veil for women, in order to preserve core principles of French society.

In London in the UK, Muslim and Jewish communities have congregated into certain neighbourhoods and have decided to enforce their own rules in their parallel societies.

For example, some British Muslim neighbourhoods have established “Sharia courts” in which legal issues are resolved by Muslim Sharia Law. These courts also issue fatwas, or religious rulings, for individuals in the community to abide by.

This should not be allowed to happen for two reasons.

First, an English court system open to every citizen already exists, and the establishment of separate Sharia courts could implement laws that clash with English laws.

Second, and more importantly, no body of law in England should be placed above the nation’s common-law system.

However, this appeal to other bodies of law is not just a problem with British Muslims. Recently an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect in London forbade women in its community from driving, which evidently clashes with British norms and laws.

It is evident that there have been many shortcomings in Europe’s multiculturalism experiment. However, a recent article from the New York Times seems to suggest that Denmark is attempting to create a “third approach” to multiculturalism that enforces assimilation among migrant Muslim communities that are among the poorest in society and are given the official term of “ghetto communities” by the Danish government.

While there are some positive aspects to this new approach, there are definitely many others that are detrimental in it. To encourage assimilation, the Danish government is planning to separate children in these communities from their parents for at least 25 hours a week, so they can be taught Danish values, the Danish language and Danish traditions such as Christmas and Easter. If parents resist, they may stop receiving welfare payments from the state.

This measure might seem extreme, but it could help to make migrant communities in Denmark more respectful of societal values and norms and in turn prevent them from enforcing their own rules that clash with those of the surrounding society.

However, there are also other measures that cannot in good conscience be defended, one such being allowing courts to double the punishments of guilty parties if they happen to commit a crime in one of the 25 neighbourhoods designated as “ghettos.”

Furthermore, the official use of the term “ghetto” by the Danish government is eerily similar to Nazi Germany’s designation of areas lived in by Jewish and other minorities, something that Danish MP Yildiz Akdogan noted in the New York Times.

Migration is a challenge that Europe must deal with sooner rather than later, and it is critical that each state enforces its own migration and integration policies to the benefit of both society and the migrant communities themselves.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Immigration: A Danish third model? 

Short link: