Muslim Immigration in Denmark

Last fall I spent some time in Denmark. I asked Danes about Muslim immigration, a topic that any fellow reader of The Gates of Vienna will recognize as important. That Denmark now has a large Muslim population is evident to every visitor; it was obvious in Odense and Copenhagen, the cities I visited. The responses surprised me. Visitors notice mostly the Muslim women, who wear hijabs and traditional Muslim clothing. But the women, my interlocutors invariably said, weren’t a problem. In fact, girls have few options but to sit at home and study. Consequently, Muslim girls excel in school and are good candidates for admission to the universities, where they tend to do well. As they succeed, they become more ambitious, and want to take advantage of the opportunities that Danish society offers them. In short, they want, in many respects, to assimilate.

That creates tensions, for Muslim families don’t want their daughters to assimilate. Muslim boys, who have something of a culture of entitlement, don’t do very well in school, and have few options in Danish society. They tend to become disaffected and, sometimes, violent. Crime rates in Denmark have soared over the past decade; property crime is especially common, not only due to immigrants, but due to foreign gangs that are able to take advantage of the EU to cross borders and evade police. The traditionalism of Muslim parents, and the unpromising futures of Muslim boys in Denmark, lead to arranged marriages to men back in the old country. Muslim girls resist this, but in many cases have few options.

My Danish friends were not hostile to Muslim immigrants—far from it—nor were they opposed to such immigration per se. They joked about the Danish cartoon incident, but seemed reluctant to denounce either side. They did, however, feel compassion for immigrant Muslim girls, who, as they saw it, were being put in an extraordinarily difficult position. Western societies challenge the gender-based discrimination of traditional Muslim culture by offering people opportunities that Muslim women are much better placed to seize than Muslim men. Since Islam prohibits Muslim women from marrying outside their faith, and since those women can find few marriageable Muslim men, gender-based tensions rise. As tensions within the Muslim community rise, violence against Muslim women rises, as does the crime rate as Muslim men find themselves in a hopeless situation.  It’s hard to see how this can all end happily.

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