Wednesday, February 27, 2013

27-Feb-13: In Denmark, they have been thinking for a decade about how to deal with racial intolerance. And gotten nowhere.

The mermaid statue used to represent Denmark. Far less benign kinds
of symbolism are at work in the new Denmark [Image Source]
A certain kind of moral rot is setting in to Danish society.

We wrote about this in a blog post nearly three months ago: "13-Dec-12: Europe's ongoing moral collapse: the next chapter". There, we quoted a call by the Israeli embassy in Copenhagen in which Denmarks' Jews were advised to take defensive measures and avoid being identified as Jews in their own liberal, open-minded and tolerant country.

And two years before that, we wrote here ["29-Dec-10: Five questions prompted by a cartoon, several riots and a thwarted massacre"] about the response of Denmark's prime minister to a plot by local Islamists to carry out a mass killings that was modeled on the Mumbai, India, massacre of 2008. This frustrated crime, said Denmark's leader
must not lead us to change our open society and our values, especially democracy and free speech.
Strong words. His statement about Denmark's vaunted 'open society' prompted us to ask at the time:
Is the essence of this frightening story really the struggle to defend free speech and liberal values, as the Danish prime minister said today? Or (which we believe) is it actually about the enormous life-and-death risks of hosting a militant minority within a democracy-minded, mild-mannered and liberal majority society while growing to understand (slowly, ever so slowly) that the hate-based values being incubated in their midst are not growing more moderate but rather are becoming sharper, more brazen, more toxic and more deadly with time?
A new development from Denmark, reported this week, seems to provide an answer to our question:
Dozens of protesters outside a school near Copenhagen demonstrated against the anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students. The protesters at Saturday’s rally outside the Rådmandsgades elementary school in Nørrebro, a suburb north of Copenhagen, held up Israeli flags and signs reading “Today we are all Jews.” The demonstration was in response to recent statements by Lise Egholm, a retiring headmistress of the Rådmandsgades school, who said the bullying of Jewish children by Arab classmates forced her to advise Jewish parents not to enroll their children in the school. “We have had some unfortunate incidents, which means that I have had to say to some parents it can be hard to have Jewish children in this area because there are many Palestinians,” Egholm told Dansk Radio [Source: JTA]
This extract comes from a report ["Dozens protest anti-Semitic bullying at Danish school"] published this past Sunday. It was republished by Jewish news channels and some blogs that focus on Islamism. But it has very little impact. To say that it has become a story with global legs and some influence would be a major over-statement.

Then we found something surprising.

Via some Googling, we happened across a similar report: the same kind of problem; the same city, the same institution, the same suggested solution: since there is so much hostility here in our school, we suggest that you take your Jewish children somewhere else.

What's striking about it is that this report is not from February 2013 but from 2001, i.e. a dozen years ago. It's from an academic paper published by a research center, the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, at one of Israel's universities. Here's part of it:
The heightened conflict between Israel and the Palestinians continued to have negative repercussions for the Jewish community in Denmark. An Arab driver tried to run over a worshiper in front of the Copenhagen synagogue in June, and in July, young Palestinians threw stones at two Orthodox Jews who were visiting a multi-ethnic urban development in Odense, the third largest city in Denmark. In August 2001, the apartment of an Israeli living in Sonderborg, Jutland, was burgled and vandalized following the publication of pro-Israeli comments he made to the newspaper Jydske Vestkysten. Unknown perpetrators spray-painted swastikas on the walls and smashed all the furniture. On the same day an American Jewish tourist wearing a kippa was attacked by Arab youths, receiving facial cuts. There were no arrests in connection with these attacks. Another consequence of the Middle East situation has been the refusal by Muslims to be treated by doctors with Jewish names. Further, in August 2001, the principal of Rådmandsgade School in the multi-ethnic Norrebro neighbourhood of Copenhagen said the school could no longer function with both Jewish and Arab children amongst its population, and asked Jewish parents not to enroll their children in her school [Source]
So here's our question. What can you say to a principal, to a school, to a city, to a country that watch while race- and religion-based discrimination is happening in schools over a decade or more, and then manage to arrive at no better a solution than to invite the discriminated-against minority students (i.e. the Danish Jews) to find themselves a different school?

For what it's worth, the Rådmandsgades School
has a very good reputation in addressing the challenges of multiculturalism, so much so that this year's Integration Prize was awarded to this school in the 'schools and education' category [source, from 2007]
Denmark will probably never again be what it once proudly was.

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