By Saadat Munir
38th birthday made me feel so unworthy and unwelcome.
June 1. I woke up quite early to help a friend with house-sitting while plumbing work was going in his bathroom. Since it took a few hours, I decided to clean his flat which is situated in a well-to-do neighbourhood. While I was watering the plants, I noticed a woman sitting in a park across the yard, whose curious and questioning gaze made me feel weirdly uncomfortable.
After the plumber left, I also hit the road to get to work. Listening to the radio, I stumbled upon Radio 24/7, which is considered a relatively liberal lefty radio station. There was a discussion going on about the compulsory preschool law for children in Denmark.
For the uninitiated, the Danish government’s new law states that all parents who live in certain low-income neighbourhoods with a high proportion of immigrants (described by the government as a ‘ghettos’) must send their children to preschool from the age of one. This is so that children can get mandatory teaching about democracy, Danish national holidays and other things to help them ‘integrate’ into Danish society. If so-called ‘ghetto parents’ do not comply, it could affect their right to government welfare.
One of the speakers, who called himself an anarchistic conservative, opposed this law, saying it lacked clarity. His argument was that the law should apply only to Muslims because they want their children to learn values that don’t align with ‘Danish’ ones. He also added that Islam is a violent religion before going on to use the words “fucking Muslims” and calling for a burka ban because he doesn't want his children to see “ghosts” (meaning burka-clad women) around them.
No one on the panel stopped him while he was making these racist remarks, yet later on they fell into discussion about his use of the f-word to refer to Muslims and how it’s not allowed on national radio. Their faux-concern about the f- and n-word in this context was so banal that it felt like they were not even bothered but simply had to mention it because of the radio station's policies.
The discussion continued and several race-based comments were comfortably aired on this national radio station. They talked more about ‘ghettos’ and mentioned incidents where police and ambulances were apparently too afraid to go to these areas. They questioned the so-called ‘parallel society’ of Muslim immigrants and assured themselves that all Muslims are violent, bad parents, unfit to be part of society and a threat to the supposedly happy Danish nation.
Then, another caller joined in to express his unease about this law, again suggesting it should only be directed towards the Muslim community because it may unfairly target other groups. His reasoning was that since he had grown up in a ‘Hindu ghetto’, he knew Hindus to be peaceful. At the same time, he also called the Hindu populated area a ‘garlic ghetto’, which amused the panelists. They responded by giving examples of other ‘peaceful’ race and faith-based minorities. By portraying these groups as the non-violent antithesis to Muslims, not only were they subscribing to the racist myth of a ‘model minority’, they were also harnessing the idea that the only way for racialised people to protect ourselves from injustice and prejudice is to conform to the standards set by the white majority.
So far during the radio segment, I had heard people putting me in a box, calling me a violent Muslim; an angry one who drives big Mercedes and is a potential threat to Danish cis-men on the street. If I ever became a parent, they implied, I'd fail to teach my children good values; instead I would teach them violence and encourage them to become criminals.
I am Danish and Muslim, and have lived in this country for almost all my life. I don't want to be discouraged. I want to have pride in my feeling of belonging to this land because I don't know any country any better than this one. I don’t want to be talked down to and decided for, I want to be free to decide for myself. I don't want the police, governmental employees and sometimes regular strangers telling me ‘In Demnark, we do this and that.’ I know what we do in Denmark and the ways that I, and others like me, contribute, and have been contributing, to this society.
What morals are we instilling in children by calling them names and seeing them as a threat? And beyond children, what are we doing to each other as human beings? As an adult, I felt hurt, angry, betrayed and alienated after listening to these radio hosts' views about me and my religion. I wanted to say: “Your statistics about Muslim immigrants and refugees show your own failure. They clearly reveal how little, as a nation, you are investing to make Denmark a safe home not only for white Danes, but for everyone.”
It makes me feel sad that on my 38th birthday, when I should be reflecting on my achievements, I am instead confronted by the harshness of society and feeling so little, unwelcome and unworthy in the place I call home.
Saadat Munir is a film festival curator and human rights activist. He organises festivals for the visibility of minorities’ issues and seeks possibilities to improve their rights through the mediums of film, art and dialogue.