Political Rhetoric divides Danes and immigrants – University of Copenhagen

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25 February 2009

Political Rhetoric divides Danes and immigrants

Over the last thirty years politicians have grouped Danes and Muslim immigrants into ‘us’ and ‘them’, according to a new research project which concludes that such rhetoric has been central to political change and had negative consequences for public opinion of the ‘new Danes’.

The research results have been made public in PhD fellow Brian Arly Jacobsen’s dissertation ‘Religion as Foreignness in Danish Politics’.

Jews and Muslims

According to Jacobsen the harsh rhetoric in the current debate about Muslim immigrants is not new. In his dissertation, he documents the way in which politicians, from both sides of the political spectrum, described the Russian Jews who came to Denmark at the beginning of the twentieth century in just as stigmatising terms.

“The story of the immigrants is constructed out of a political reality that mirrors the dominating societal narratives of the day. Danish culture is not a natural opponent of Jewish or Muslim culture,” explains Jacobsen.

According to Jacobsen, ‘we’ constitutes a defence for the conception of ‘our’ cultural unity in contrast to ‘them’, the others. In this way the debate comes to be one about ‘our’ identity, about the survival of Danish culture.

History repeats itself

Jacobsen has reached his results by comparing the references to Jews in parliamentary dispatches from 1903 to 1945 and references to Muslims in parliamentary dispatches from 1967 to 2005. It is the first time that the political debates about Jews and Muslims from these different historical periods have been analysed.

“There are naturally big differences between these two religious minorities. But both groups have experienced being labelled as the absolute contrast to the particular ‘Danish values’ of politicians debating in parliament, either as a threat to the Danish economy and workforce and/or as a cultural and national threat,” says Brian Arly Jacobsen, who defended his dissertation on 19 February.

The dissertation can be obtained by contacting the author.