Muslim immigrants in a town near Copenhagen have forced the cancellation of traditional Christmas displays this year even while spending lavishly on the Islamic Eid celebration marking the end of Ramadan.
The controversy has escalated into an angry nationwide debate over the role of Islam in post-Christian Denmark, where a burgeoning Muslim population is becoming increasingly assertive in imposing its will on a wide range of social and civic issues.
The latest dust-up involves the Egedalsvænget housing complex in Kokkedal, a town situated some 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Copenhagen where Arab and Turkish immigrants now comprise more than half the total population.
At a recent meeting of the Egedalsvænget tenants’ association, the Muslim majority on the Board of Directors refused to authorize spending 7,000 Danish kroner ($1,200) for the community’s annual Christmas event.
The vote came shortly after the same Board of Directors authorized spending 60,000 kroner ($10,000) on a large communal celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid. Five out of nine of the board members are Muslims.
A Muslim member of the board, Ismail Mestasi, defended the decision to cancel the Christmas tree and party, arguing that no one had offered to organize the celebration. “No one wanted to take on the responsibility. A vote was taken and it ended as it ended. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I was asked to get the tree. And I didn’t want to.” But a non-Muslim board member, Karin Leegaard Hansen, refuted him, saying that she herself had offered to take on the responsibility, but that she was overruled by the Muslim board members.
The dispute, which is the latest in an ever-growing list of Muslim-related controversies in Denmark, was first reported by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) on November 7. Since then, the issue has snowballed into a national scandal and has become a key topic for public debate in the Danish media as well as in political circles.
A spokesman for the Danish Conservative Party, Tom Behnke, says he fears there are people who want to convert Denmark into a Muslim country. In an interview with DR News, Behnke said: “I think it is deeply alarming that our integration efforts are so ineffective that the moment there is a Muslim majority, we do away with good-old Danish traditions and introduce Muslim traditions instead. We are living in Denmark, and people have to adapt to the situation that applies here.”
When asked whether housing associations with a Muslim minority should sponsor an Eid party, Behnke replied: “We have to remember that in the past, an Eid festival was the Muslims’ victory celebration after they had slaughtered the Christians, so I don’t know how much there is to celebrate in Denmark. Still, people should be allowed to celebrate whatever festivals they want to, but they also must respect the festivals in the country they have come to.”
Behnke added: “There is no point in wanting to convert Denmark into a Muslim country because you yourself have a Muslim background. That must never happen. On the contrary, we must have mutual respect for one another. This is a lack of respect for Danish traditions and culture. We must not have a Denmark where Danish traditions disappear as soon as there is a Muslim majority.”
Danish police are now investigating an accusation of racism made against the Muslim board members. In an interview with the Copenhagen Post, police spokesperson Karsten Egtved said: “It needs to be determined to what extent the decision by the Muslim members of the board to first vote ‘yes’ to a 60,000 kroner Eid party, then ‘no’ to a 7,000 kroner Christmas tree to celebrate Christian traditions, violates laws by discriminating against Christians and their traditions.”
The Christmas tree controversy took an ominous new twist on November 12, when a van carrying two journalists from TV2 News was attacked by 25 masked hoodlums. The journalists had gone to the Egedalsvænget housing complex to film a report about the story, but immediately upon their arrival their van was bombarded with bricks and cobblestones. The attackers destroyed the van and chased the hapless journalists out of the area.
According to TV2, the perpetrators were Muslim youths who were seeking to silence media coverage of the Christmas tree dispute.