Northern Europe

Northern Europe is often regarded as more tolerant and liberal towards immigration and Muslims but recent events have led to counter-jihad activists painting countries like…

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Chapter : Northern Europe

Northern Europe is often regarded as more tolerant and liberal towards immigration and Muslims but recent events have led to counter-jihad activists painting countries like Sweden with relatively friendly refugee policies as ‘failed states’ with multiple ‘no-go zones’.

When Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed dozens of teenagers and destroyed a government building, partly because the government allowed Muslims to settle in Norway, it created debate in the media over Muslim immigration, terrorism and how welcome immigrants should be made to feel.

Several tabloids peddle the narrative that Islam is a threat to the traditional way of life. The fact that a majority of immigrants in Northern Europe are recent arrivals and have not fully grasped the native languages hampers more useful exchanges.






The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim hatred in Denmark has become an increasingly worrying problem in recent years.

The country has long had stricter immigration laws than its neighboring Scandinavian countries but these are becoming more clearly expressed in anti-Muslim terms after the influx of immigration from the Middle East in 2015.

The radical right and anti-Muslim Danish People’s Party proposed a bill in February 2017 defining non-Western immigrants and their offspring as non-Danish. The bill was passed by parliament with 55 against 54 votes. During a parliamentary debate, a Danish People’s Party member said that Muslim immigrants are the main problem.

In the run up to elections that year a prominent Danish professor, Uffe Østergaard, stated he had changed his mind on ‘foreigners; in Denmark, saying that ‘Muslims must become Lutherans, or else we are screwed’ which paved the way for a former minister of the Social Democratic Party (the largest in the country) to state that the party had been wrong regarding immigration. He then said that ‘Muslims were a bigger problem than anticipated’.

Several policies explicitly targeting Muslims have also been proposed during 2017 and 2018. This includes a ban on face-covering Islamic clothing, proposed by the Conservative party, despite a lack of evidence that the small number of women wearing such clothing are doing it against their will. Limitations have also been imposed on the possibility to pray in Danish schools and universities, with the removal of prayer rooms being backed by, among others, the large Social Democratic Party. All in all, these developments show a clear mainstreaming process of anti-Muslim ideas in Denmark.

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Foto: News Øresund – Johan Wessman
© News Øresund(CC BY 3.0)

Having been relatively open by European standards, political rhetoric in Sweden changed with regard to immigration and Muslims during 2015 following wider events. The New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany turned much of the immigration debate from a question of capacity to one of cultural differences between ‘natives’ and immigrants.

The debate in Sweden became increasingly anti-Muslim and was revived time and time again in relation to new mosque constructions and discussions on the headscarf. This was exacerbated by an increased international focus on supposed ‘no-go zones’ around the country where police and non-Muslim’s could not enter safely. The notion was dismissed by the police but nonetheless levied by public commentators and some politicians.

The Sweden Democrats, a radical right and anti-Muslim party, are the third largest in the country, polling between 16%-20%. One member, Martin Strid, was dismissed in 2017 after saying: ‘On one end you are 100 percent human, a person, everything that’s part of that concept. At the other end, you are 100 percent Mohammedan’. He later added that Islamic State members were ‘close to being 100 per cent Mohammedan’ but that ‘all Muslims are somewhere on that scale’ and that ‘if you are an ex-Muslim you have come quite far towards being fully human’.

Worryingly, some of the established parties now make use of similar anti-Muslim rhetoric. The conservative Moderate Party (Moderaterna), for example, ran a fear-mongering campaign with anti-Muslim undertones in early 2018 against the so-called ‘no-go zones’. Such popularisation has seen the Swedish radical right shift further rightward still, and has led to the emergence of a debate around repatriation as supposed to just reducing immigration.

Hate crimes against Muslims in Sweden remain high. During 2017, three mosques were set aflame and other types of vandalism against Islamic meeting places and associations where common.

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During the election campaign of 2017, the immigration and integration minister Sylvi Listhaug from the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), made use of anti-Muslim stereotyping and fear-mongering rhetoric similar to that of the counter-jihad movement. For example, saying that ‘Fundamentalists who hate our Norwegian system are coming to exploit the boundless Norwegian naivety’. The party received 15.3% of the votes and is part of a coalition government with the Conservative party.

Norway has also seen an increase in the activity of anti-Muslim organisations and groups, especially on social media. However, public expression of anti-Muslim hatred is usually covered critically by mainstream media and typically expressed in relatively veiled terms by politicians. A far-right politician was convicted for hate speech after commenting on a murder of a white woman and a young Muslim by saying that it didn’t matter that he died since he would have ‘become a terrorist anyway’.

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