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Paris Attacks Spark Fear of Ethnic Polarization in Denmark

It might be time for action, but that doesn't mean we should make any rash decisions.

Photo by Etienne Rouillon. ( Photo via VICE News)

Last week, terrorists tried to bring France to its knees with the horrid attacks on the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Instead, they brought Europe to its feet. Social media blew up with the supportive phrase "Je Suis Charlie", which made it as far as Times Square.

Islam is the second-largest religion in Denmark with 4.6% of the population being Muslim. A study has shown that there are 236.000 Muslims in Denmark, composed of 84 different nationalities. This makes the debate on Islam and radicalization all the more relevant in Denmark. To no surprise, Danish politicians reacted swiftly to the Charlie Hebdo massacre with many commenting on the events on Facebook on the day of the attacks. In addition, the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt flew to Paris along with several other world leaders to participate in the march where more than 2.000.000 people took to the streets to show their support for the victims.


However, Fatih Alev, President of the Danish Islamic Center, fears that the politicians will use and distort the events as political propaganda: "The political debate can become fringed, with the consequence being that citizens will become increasingly polarized. This clash of values - with Islamic values on one hand and good democratic Danish traditions on the other - will blur the lines."

PEGIDA activists in Berlin (Photo via VICE Germany)

Fatih went on to speak out against the notion that normal muslims should condemn the attacks explicitly: "I've openly criticized Lars Løkke Rasmussen because he wanted Danish Muslims to publicly dissociate themselves from the events in Paris with quotes like, 'It seems like someone has raped one of the world's biggest religions and killed innocent people in a completely fanatic manner. Every part of Danish society has to distance itself from that and especially those who hold dear the religion that today has been abused in these murderous attacks'.

I strongly believe that we shouldn't blame particular citizens on accounts of their religion by default just because some fools yell Allahu Akbar before massacring innocent people", Fatih Alev told VICE.

Known for her radical opinions and statements, the leader of The Danish People's Party, Pia Kjærsgaard, wrote on her Facebook page on the day of the attacks: "When will Western leaders realize that our democracy is seriously threatened? This could have happened in Denmark where Jyllands-Posten - and later Politiken - printed the drawings of Muhammed for the first time in September 2005". She even went as far as saying: "It is a matter of our survival as free people in free Western nations. The threat has never been greater than it is now. Our politicians have to protect the population. It's their responsibility to secure the security and freedom of the Danish people. That involves fighting the ones trying to destroy our country with everything we've got. The first natural step would be to close the mosques that preach hatred and recruit 'sacred murderers'. Everyone who participates in the death brigades of Islamic State must immediately have their Danish citizenship revoked as we must deport imams and others who encourage attacks on the West and our freedom."


Fatih Alev is of a different opinion. According to him, it wouldn't solve anything to close down the mosques, as they aren't the places where young Muslims become radicalized in the first place: "What often happens when young people start to become religious is that they seek a community in which to practice and explore their religious identity. If there [aren't] any moderate religious youth communities they might end up with radical groups. The radical groups are very attractive for young people because of their very strong and simple messages and solutions to complicated political and personal questions regarding life and society."

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On the day of the attacks, Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, the leader of the far left wing party Enhedslisten, wrote on her Facebook page: "I want to warn against making important decisions in a state of affect after the horrid events in Paris. It's essential that we keep our cool. Especially when it comes to suggestions that will affect our legal rights or privacy. After the attack on the World Trade Center, far too many decisions were made in a state of affect and without thorough discussion."

About the mosques in Denmark, Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen stated: "I can't find words to describe how ghastly it is that the spokesperson from Grimhøjmoskeen sits behind his desk in Aarhus and condones that young Danish men travel to Syria and Iraq to blow themselves up". She went on to say: "Thinking closing the mosque [will help] is naive. Those opinions don't come from [buildings]. The opinions come from people. [If we close the mosque] we risk that the fanaticism goes underground and becomes more difficult to fight."

According to Fatih Alev, the solution is to prevent rather than prohibit: "I don't fear that something like what happened in Paris could happen in Denmark, but it is a possibility. The way the political system and media institutions handle their responsibility to convey information about Danish Muslims polarizes both the society and the political discourse."

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