My Facebook feed was dre-nched in outrage last month. The government had apparently decided that you can only be Danish if your parents are Danish too.
The news prompted a viral video in which young Danish children with foreign-born parents were filmed as someone told them they were not Danish. The video, which captures their shocked and tearful reactions, has been watched more than two million times.
But it seemed a bit far-fetched. It would mean, for instance, that MP Naser Khader from the Conservative People’s Party – a member of the coalition government – would also have his Danishness revoked. Why would they do that?
It turned out that the government hadn’t passed a law, only a so-called Forslag til vedtagelse, which is really not much more than a statement of intent.
“Parliament notes with concern that there are areas in Denmark where the proportion of immigrants and descendants with non-Western backgrounds is over 50 percent. It is Parliament’s position that Danes should not be the minority in Danish housing projects,” they stated, before committing to continue to tighten immigration.
There are 170,000 descendants of immigrants living in Denmark, and two-thirds hold Danish passports. Reading the Forslag til vedtagelse, it does suggest that the government doesn’t see them as Danish.
The signals a government sends matter. And it is tragic that Danes with foreign-born parents should ever have their right to live in Denmark and participate as an equal in the society challenged. Sadly, it’s commonplace, and minority Danes are still fighting to be acknowledged as equals. Last month, the organisation Ansvarlig Presse (Responsible Press) released a study that showed that minority Danes made up only four percent of news media sources, despite making up 12 percent of the population.
This problem must be addressed through reason, debate and persistence. And there’s good reason to be optimistic. Ten years of research by Christian Albrekt Larsen from Aalborg University has found that Danes are becoming increasingly tolerant about who should be considered Danish. Religious practices and a person’s heritage mean much less than they used to.
“Danes are slowly but surely becoming less nationally-conservative and increasingly republican,” Larsen states on the university website. “The conception of an authentic Danish culture is becoming less and less important.”
Have we arrived at this point because of viral videos with sad piano music and crying children? I would argue, no. These sorts of videos are even counter-productive for promoting inclusive multiculturalism.
Tugging at heartstrings is easy. But you can’t judge a political message by the strength of emotions it elicits. To see the damage that emotional reasoning can cause, just look at the nativism and populism that has swept Europe. Far right leaders appeal to sentimental ideas about identity and the nation state in order to justify bigoted policies – feelings can makes us do bad things too.
We can’t tackle regressive populism by copying the strategy but changing the message – the strategy is part of the message. People are increasingly supporting a broader definition of Danishness because it makes sense – because it is reasonable that a country and its inhabitants change and that change doesn’t have to be bad.
By making an argument for an inclusive society – rather than an emotional appeal – I also think we are better at shaping the society when conflicts do arise. And the government isn’t wrong when they suggest that we risk social and economic marginalisation when housing developments have high densities of immigrants.
But instead of the government’s response, to blame the mere fact that there is immigration, the alternative response is simple: investment in better education and programmes to ensure that regardless of where a child is born, they all have the same opportunities.
So lets stop sharing emotional propaganda. Through open and critical debate we can build bridges within and between communities to find consensus and shared interests, and ultimately become even more invested in each other’s success. M