Imam Mundhir Abdallah is a good example of the dilemma facing Danish politicians when they respond to extremism among the country’s 300,000 Muslims, most of whom are first- or second-generation immigrants.
In May 2017, the Danish Jewish community filed a complaint against Abdallah for a sermon he delivered two months earlier, in which he implored Muslims to kill Jews on “Judgment Day” and urged the “liberation” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem from “the filth of the Zionists.”
Danish authorities had been aware of Abdallah for at least two years before that. In February 2015, a man named Omar al-Hussein attended Abdallah’s mosque in Copenhagen; two days later, he embarked on an armed terror rampage, gunning down Dan Uzan at Copenhagen’s main synagogue before being shot by police. So when audio of Abdallah’s 2017 sermon surfaced, the reaction was forceful — and not only from Jews.
Speaking for the government, minister of immigration and integration Inger Støjberg denounced Abdallah’s words as “horrible, anti-democratic and abominable.” Columnist Tarek Ziad Hussein wrote in the newspaper Politiken, “It is with a heavy heart that I must admit that we in Muslim circles have serious problems with anti-Semitism.” Addressing the core of the matter — in a country famous for resisting the Nazi deportation of its Jews — Hussein asserted against anti-Semites that “Danish Jews have the right to be treated equally, regardless of their political views [on Israel].”
There are 7,000 to 9,000 Jews in Denmark. Even compared to other small Jewish communities in Europe, Jewish Danes constitute a tiny fragment —0.16 percent — of an overall population of 5.5 million. And yet for much of this decade, they have endured anti-Semitic attacks and abuse wildly out of proportion to their numbers.
Most of that hostility comes from the Muslim community. Surveys conducted in Denmark during the last decade show that Muslims are much more likely to hold anti-Semitic beliefs, with one poll demonstrating that 75 percent agree with statements such as “Jews incite war and blame others,” and “Jews want to dominate everything.”
Yet anti-Semitism in the wider population is relatively low, with a 2015 ADL survey revealing that 9 percent of Danes hold anti-Semitic views, compared to 29 percent of Spain’s population and 37 percent of France’s.
In Denmark, as elsewhere, the rise of anti-Semitism among Muslim communities is closely connected to other alarming trends, most obviously terrorism. Along with Copenhagen, Brussels and Toulouse are two other cities that have witnessed terrorist attacks on Jewish targets in recent years. After the week of terror in Paris in January 2015, which began with a terror operation against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and ended in a hostage-taking siege at a kosher supermarket, Europeans were faced with the realization that a rise in anti-Semitism can result in attacks on the general population as well.
Many European countries have now introduced extensive civic education programs for immigrants, but it is the pending legislation in Denmark that has led to a wave of concern about racism and discrimination.
In part, that’s because of the unique conditions that prevail there. New welfare benefit laws passed at the end of the 1990s effectively froze immigrant populations in the urban neighborhoods where they originally settled by assigning them to a specific municipality in order to receive welfare payments. As of 2013, these 25 areas — where crime, unemployment and government dependency are primary features of daily life — are known officially as “ghettos.”
Understandably, the use of the word “ghetto” has been widely criticized as insensitive, and does the government no favors in persuading critics that its policies are not racist. But the policies in themselves, part of a plan to break up the ghettos by 2030, should be welcomed by anyone who has observed the havoc wrought in Europe by Islamist extremism, as well as anyone concerned that the far-right will capitalize on tit.
Included in the proposed legislation is mandatory instruction in “Danish values” for ghetto children, starting from age 1, for 25 hours per week. Parents who force children on extended visits to their ancestral countries, where the work of integration can be rapidly undone, could face prison sentences. Families who do not send their children to school or who do not comply with the new rules stand to lose their welfare benefits — in Denmark, a generous package that covers all essentials of life.
Some critics have lambasted the proposal as an exercise in racial profiling. One commentator even compared the policy to Australia’s repression of its Aboriginal population. But racist legislation by definition targets specific groups; in this case, all residents of the ghettos will be governed by the same rules, with the goal being social assimilation instead of further marginalization.
Talking about mass “Christianization” or mass loss of citizenship obscures the real debate: whether these measures will introduce peaceability and a degree of prosperity to mainly-Muslim immigrant communities. Many Europeans, not least the continent’s Jews, will be hoping they do.