Danes, Muslims, Christmas and why immigration is always a religion-beat story

Danes, Muslims, Christmas and why immigration is always a religion-beat story

Know what’s new from the land of hygge and hot chocolate and high standards of living?

Denmark, which has consistently polled as one of the happiest places to live on Earth apparently isn’t so happy according to a spate of articles just out. 

The reason is about a quarter-million immigrants from the Middle East and Pakistan who have sought asylum there from nasty conditions in their homelands and for the rich benefits Denmark hands out to whoever’s fortunate enough to reside there. To the point where Danes are seeing their place as the world’s happiest place to live slipping by the day.

What’s not so apparent in some stories is how big a part religion plays in it all, being that the overwhelming percentage of these new arrivals are Muslim whereas Danes are Lutheran (at least in name). The Danish government says 4 percent of its 5.7 million population is Muslim, which comes out to 228,000 people.

This piece from CityLab sees a set of new rules as a rich/poor issue instead of a religious one. The word “Muslim” is mentioned only once.

Time magazine pulled the same trick in its reports on “parallel societies” that now exist in Denmark. Remember, Denmark just passed a "burka ban" law early last month.

So I turned to a July 1 piece in the New York Times, which had a more accurate account about what’s at issue here:

COPENHAGEN — When Rokhaia Naassan gives birth in the coming days, she and her baby boy will enter a new category in the eyes of Danish law. Because she lives in a low-income immigrant neighborhood described by the government as a “ghetto,” Rokhaia will be what the Danish newspapers call a “ghetto parent” and he will be a “ghetto child.”

Starting at the age of 1, “ghetto children” must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in “Danish values,” including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are free to choose whether to enroll children in preschool up to the age of six.

Denmark’s government is introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.

This sounds to me like some pretty desperate measures that are just short of kicking all these immigrants out.

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Blasphemy charges in Muslim Indonesia. No big surprise. But Denmark? That's news -- or should be

Blasphemy charges in Muslim Indonesia. No big surprise. But Denmark? That's news -- or should be

Some news stories elicit a kind of weary "not again" response. Others elicit a, "is this really happening?" response.

Consider the following two recent stories, one from each category but linked by Islam and religious blasphemy as a legal concept. The first story comes to us from Indonesia. The other -- the "is this really happening?" story -- is from Denmark.

Here's the top of the Indonesia story.

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Back in his days as a badminton coach with the Indonesian national team, Ahmad Mushaddeq traveled the world on the state’s dime. But after he became the spiritual leader of a back-to-the-land organic farming movement on the island of Borneo, regarded by his followers as the messiah who succeeded Muhammad, the government locked him up for the second time on charges of blasphemy.
This week, an Indonesian court sentenced him to a five-year prison term, and gave two other leading figures of Milah Abraham, the religious sect he established, prison terms as well. The sentences, delivered on Tuesday, were the latest in a continuing crackdown on new religious movements across Indonesia that has alarmed human rights groups.
“The verdict is another indicator of rising discrimination against religious minorities in Indonesia,” said Andreas Harsono, the Indonesia representative for Human Rights Watch. He called for a review of state institutions that “facilitate such discrimination, including the blasphemy law office.”
Indonesia’s blasphemy laws have become a focus of debate ever since Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the hard-charging Christian governor of Jakarta, was indicted on charges of insulting the Quran in November. While his case has drawn the most attention, a significant portion of the more than 106 people convicted on blasphemy charges since 2004 are not Christians or even unorthodox Muslims, but self-proclaimed prophets and their apostles.

Need some context?

Indonesia is a multi-ethnic/multi-religious southeast Asian island nation, that -- despite being overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and home to the world's largest Muslim population -- has a reputation for moderation in its approach to religious pluralism.

But global Islam, you may have noticed, is going through a period of crisis.

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The two Denmarks and how coverage of Muslim immigration both divides and links them

The two Denmarks and how coverage of Muslim immigration both divides and links them

Two recent stories out of Denmark published in The Guardian and The New York Times are good examples of the bedeviling complexities connected to the issue of Muslim immigration in the small Scandinavian nation, and how it's covered by international news media.

But the complexities can only be fully appreciated if you read between the lines of both news pieces -- which is what all serious news consumers should do anyway. Remember, your average news story nearly always fails to include all relevant contributing factors. So provide them yourself to the degree you can.

In short, take nothing you read or hear in the news at face value. Think critically. There's always more to the story.

Here's what I mean, starting with The Guardian story, the first of the two pieces to be published. It's about the Miriam Mosque, the first Muslim house of worship in Denmark to feature a female imam, or prayer leader.

Actually, it has two female imams. Here's a chunk of the story:

The Mariam mosque opened informally in February, and it took six months of further preparation before the first Friday prayers could be held. “We’re still in a process of learning. We’re on a journey and we’ve only taken the first step,” said [Imam Sherin]  Khankan.
Even so, the past few months have seen five weddings at the mosque, and three more are in the pipeline -- including some inter-religious marriages, frowned upon by traditional mosques. There have also been a couple of divorces, one of which was conducted after prayers on Friday.

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Ongoing Europe migrant crisis story: Sorry, but a public pork blitz alone won't fix it

Ongoing Europe migrant crisis story: Sorry, but a public pork blitz alone won't fix it

Ever hear of the subset known as gastronomical Jews? They're not religious, or at least not when it comes to mainstream Judaism. They don't connect to Jewish communal organizations. Israel's problems -- well maybe they're problems for the cousins, but not them. Why bother with all that craziness?

But boy, do they love to eat "Jewish." To which I say, what's not to like?

There's juicy hot pastrami on rye spiced with mustard (above), chicken matzoh ball soup and matzoh brei. There's also proper New York-style (always boiled first then baked) bagels, lox and cream cheese, and various kinds of pickled herring -- to name just a few of my favorites.

For end-stage gastronomical Jews, the taste of their favorite childhood foods is their last meaningful tie to their Jewish roots. For some, that fragile tie finally snaps when some cardiologist says it's time to cut back on the carbs, salt and artery-clogging fats packed into the traditional Ashkenazi Jewish diet.

In short, food is certainly a cultural and religious marker, which is why holiday food stories are a staple of feature section religion journalism.

But -- in a world where frozen, commercially pre-packaged (and comparatively tasteless, I might add) bagels can be had virtually anywhere there's a freezer -- food alone is no guarantee that a culture, any culture, will live on in its fullness.

Which brings me to Europe's ongoing attempts to manage its migrant crisis (click here for an exhaustive update) and a recent New York Times story about a Danish town's attempt to cope with it by eating pork.

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