Sunday, January 31, 2016

Denmark's Harsh New Immigration Law Will End Badly for Everyone

Rasmus Alenius Boserup,

Image from, with caption: A boat cruise along Copenhagen's harborfront provides views of the city — and of the iconic "Little Mermaid" statue.

Prior to the cartoon crisis of 2005-6, which arose after a Danish newspaper published a handful of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, Denmark did not have strong national brand recognition in the Middle East and North Africa. During numerous research trips to the region before the crisis I often heard questions along the lines of, "Denmark? Isn't that the capital of Oslo?"
Egyptians, for instance, jokingly used to refer to Denmark as "the country of cheese" (balad al-gibna), a reference to Danish dairy products exported to the region. Or they would take amusement from referring to a popular slapstick comedy starring a prominent Egyptian actor, Adel Imam, in which the plot is built around a Danish blonde in skimpy clothes. And there were soccer fans (quite a lot) who could name more famous Danish or Arab soccer players than I even knew. Beyond that, everything turned a bit hazy.
The cartoon crisis changed that. It instantly hurled Denmark into the Arab and Middle Eastern collective consciousness and tarnished Denmark with a reputation as a frontrunner in European xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Whether we find it fair or not, the dominant narrative about Denmark in the Middle East remains forcefully impacted by this experience. Danish businessmen know that and so do the Danish intelligence and foreign services. Over the past 10 years each has worked to repair and rebuild what Denmark's image lost in 2006. In the foreign service, for instance, the newly established regional reform program that I headed in Cairo from 2008 through 2011 had to scale down its reform agenda and instead focus on public diplomacy and "dialogue" activities.
The cartoon crisis not only created a branding challenge for Denmark in the Middle East; it also made the country weaker in the eyes of countries it normally compares itself with. The association with European xenophobia and Islamophobia had grave consequences for Denmark's capacity for international diplomacy and its exposure to international terrorism. Every incoming Danish government since 2006 has been forced to handle this structural weakness through the diplomatic, trade and security agencies.
But the current government has utterly failed to do this. Out of an eagerness to dissuade Syrian and other refugees to seek asylum in Denmark, the government, since it came to power about seven months ago, deliberately and proactively built an image of Denmark as a leader in European anti-immigration policies. ...

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