Gaza comes to Denmark

You may have seen a brief news report from the BBC last Friday about the recent shooting in Odense of two visiting Israelis by locals of Palestinian heritage. Kellie Strøm has discussed the story, and included a very literal English translation of an article published in the respected Danish broadsheet Politiken. Few details have been published in English, but accompanying the following video clip from a DR1 TV news bulletin is a text commentary in English from Henrik Clausen:

Another clip, this time from TV2 news, features one of the wounded Israelis speaking in English.

This is a troubling development. Denmark’s Jewish community is small, having never recovered [or rather fully recovered; see comments below] following German occupation in World War II. While shootings are rare, anti-semitic violence is on the rise, and not just in Denmark. But there is a wider issue here concerning the assimilation into Danish society of immigrants, and in particular the role of the education system.

It doesn’t surprise me that Odense is at the centre of the Danish intifada. The city can be a depressing place at the best of times, and some would say that its concrete box and symmetry-loving planners deserve shooting. Odense is well-known for its Palestinian community, but there are sizeable Arab ghettos in other parts of the country. I am thinking in particular of sink estates in Copenhagen suburbs such as Ishøj and Brøndby.

“Integration” is a highly sensitive political topic in Denmark, and social democrat politicians across the water in Sweden use it as a stick with which to beat their centrist Danish counterparts.

What we are seeing now in Denmark is a consequence of political decisions made years ago regarding the tension between the assimilation of “nydanskere” on the one hand, and the cultural cohesion and wellbeing of immigrant communities on the other. It is a complex, multipolar debate, and there are no easy answers.

I have a friend in Copenhagen who works as a pedagogue in an inner-city infant school. For those readers unfamiliar with Denmark, I should explain that “pedagoger” are professional teachers, as opposed to classroom assistants in the UK, or in more general terms graduate teachers without a specifically education-focused diploma.

My pedagogue friend specialises in working with children of Muslim heritage. When we spoke of the challenges involved in her work, my friend would often, and quite uncharacteristically, shrug her shoulders. That small gesture spoke volumes. She was clearly dedicated to her charges, but at the same time was frustrated, and more than a little worried about rising racial intolerance and consequent developments on the political front.

In some ways Denmark comes across as more genuinely multicultural than plural monocultural Britain. But at the same time one sees worryingly large concentrations of ‘national’ communities in particular housing projects. With the relatively large numbers involved, Denmark’s small and dispersed Jewish community is left exposed.

The Odense shooter has been charged with attempted murder.

As for Gaza itself, a BBC News article published today has caught my attention, as have the incisive comments of Tony Blair. Shame on those British politicians who demand an immediate and unconditional ceasefire [by implication by the Israelis alone]. And the same goes for Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, who no doubt thought he was being terribly clever when he answered a reporter’s question about his Israeli counterpart’s war-on-terror rhetoric by saying: “We all know about election campaigns.”

Hamas may be an evil entity that deserves grinding into the Gazan dust, but this does not give Israel the right to broaden the definition of ‘enemy combatant’ beyond that which is accepted in the rest of the civilised world. And as Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch says, “Even if you have a legitimate target you can’t just drop 10-tonne bombs on it.”. We demand a higher standard of Israel as it is a righteous nation.