If a politician’s integrity is judged by her consistency, then Pia Kjærsgaard might be in trouble. The values spokesperson for the Dansk Folkeparti (DF) is an unapologetic defender of Danish culture, but her views on minority rights and protections have been brought into question following two seemingly contradictory statements made this summer.
“Women wearing headscarves should reflect on the situation and realise that if they continue to be met with reactions in public, then they can just take the head scarf off,” she told Politiken, before telling TV2:
“It can be incredibly dangerous to wear the traditional Jewish yarmulke […] because of the risk of violent assault. […] I think it’s sad for Europe and sad for Denmark.”
On the face of it, it seems that Kjærsgaard is suggesting that while Muslim women should accept that headscarves are provocative, Jewish men shouldn’t ever feel under pressure not to wear a yarmulke in public.
Kjærsgaard was called in to defend her statements on DR2’s debate programme Deadline, where anchor Martin Krasnik (see interview on page 8) grilled her on the difference between the two religious symbols. She argued that Denmark was witnessing a rising anti-Semitism following the conflict in Gaza, and claimed that while the Muslim headscarf is a political manifestation symbolising the oppression of women within the Muslim community, the yarmulke, on the other hand, is simply a religious symbol that signifies the wearer’s faith.
DF’s antipathy toward Muslims is well known. The party has expressed concern over the number of people from Muslim countries that have obtained Danish citizenship, and it wants immigration from these countries reduced.
But the issue at hand wasn’t immigration; it was the right of individuals in Denmark to express their faith through religious symbols. Why should people of some faiths accept harassment while others shouldn’t?
Kjærsgaard’s statement about the harassment of Jews living in Denmark came after a journalist from Radio 24Syv experienced verbal threats while wearing a yarmulke in Nørrebro, which is known for its large Muslim population.
The issue was taken up by Rasmus Jarlov, leader of the political party Konservativer in Copenhagen City Hall, who organised a march through Nørrebro in support of the right to wear Jewish religious symbols openly and without fear. Around a thousand people marched without incident through the neighbourhood, but detractors argued that the march should have addressed religious freedom in general, rather than the rights of one particular group. Muslim women in Denmark are also subject to religiously motivated abuse, while Muslim men have been shown to be systematically discriminated at nightclubs – but neither Kjærsgaard nor Jarlov have held rallies to condemn this discrimination.
Kjærsgaard stepped down as DF’s leader in September 2012, but two years on her influence is still being felt in the political debate. Her party has almost doubled its support to over 21 percent since the 2011 election, and is a contender to be the most popular party at the next election, due within a year. Denmark would then be led by a party that argues that while religious freedom is an inherently Danish value, some religions are more equal than others. M