by Judith Bergman
Whether Danish parliamentarians wish to acknowledge this problem or not, they are up against far wider issues than that of religious incitement in mosques by radical preachers.
- "All the bullying happens in Arabic... The hierarchy of the Arab boys creates a very violent environment. ... I have filmed the particularly vile bullying of a Somali boy. You can see the tears in his eyes. They are destroying him; it is very violent. " — From a dissertation by Jalal El Derbas, Ph.D.
- Danish teachers are the least respected and are spoken of in denigrating and humiliating terms.
- "I am not saying that all the Arab children did ugly things, but we witnessed on a regular basis... using derogatory Arabic language towards Somalis and girls." — Lise Egholm, former head of the Rådmandsgade school in Copenhagen.
After the television documentary, "Sharia in Denmark", embarrassed Danish authorities by revealing how widespread the preaching of sharia is in mosques in Denmark, the Danish government, in May, concluded a political agreement about "initiatives directed against religious preachers who seek to undermine Danish laws and values and who support parallel legal systems".
"We are doing everything we can without compromising the constitution and international agreements," Bertel Haarder, the Minister for Culture and Church, said about the political agreement.
The agreement centers on a number of initiatives, which are supposed to compensate for the detrimental effects of all the years in which sharia was allowed to spread in Denmark while most authorities paid only scant attention to what was happening. Part of the new effort, therefore, will be the mapping of all existing mosques in Denmark.
It will now be obligatory, according to the agreement, for all priests, imams and others who are not part of the Church of Denmark, and who wish to be able to perform weddings -- as well as for foreign preachers who apply for residence permits -- to learn about Danish family law, freedom and democracy. At the end of the course, all will have to sign a statement that they will accept Danish law, including freedom of speech and religion, gender equality, freedom of sexual orientation, non-discrimination and women's rights.
The government will examine how to create more transparency in foreign donations to faith communities in Denmark, including controlling and, if necessary, preventing such donations. As part of this work, on May 4 the government presented a law making it a crime to receive funding from a terror organization to establish or run an institution in Denmark, including schools and mosques.
Another element in the political agreement is the establishment of national lists with the names of traveling foreign (non-EU) religious preachers who will be excluded from entry into Denmark on the grounds that they are a threat to public order in Denmark. These named preachers will not be granted an entry visa and will be denied entry at the border. In addition, a non-public list, containing the names of such preachers who are EU citizens, will be established. The purpose of this list is to create awareness of the existence of these preachers, as, due to EU rules on free movement, they cannot be denied entry.
The final component of the agreement is the criminalization of certain speech. According to the agreement, it will become illegal explicitly to support terrorism, murder, rape, violence, incest, pedophilia, the use of force and polygamy as part of religious training, and whether or not the speech was made in private or in public. Both the activities of religious preachers and the activities of others, who speak as part of religious training, are included in the criminalization.
The political agreement is expected to become law when the Danish parliament reconvenes after the summer vacation.
Danish parliamentarians are aware that it will be difficult to measure whether these initiatives have any effect -- how do you measure whether religious preachers are indeed not explicitly supporting terrorism, murder, rape and pedophilia, unless you place them under constant surveillance? But lawmakers are nevertheless confident that the new initiatives will have an effect. "This will have an impact on what people put up with from their religious leaders." Culture and Church Minister Bertel Haarder says.
Another parliamentarian, Naser Khader, who appears more realistic, says,
"We are well aware that more initiatives are needed. But this stops hate preachers from coming to Denmark, preachers who only want to come here in order to sow discord between population groups and who encourage violence, incest and pedophilia."
After the documentary "Sharia in Denmark" embarrassed Danish authorities, the government reached a new a political agreement, which Danish Member of Parliament Naser Khader supported, saying, "this stops hate preachers from coming to Denmark, preachers who only want to come here in order to sow discord between population groups and who encourage violence, incest and pedophilia."
While Danish politicians have taken yet another step on an uncertain road that may or may not succeed in stemming the rise of sharia in Denmark, other problems abound, which compound the impression that this initiative will not amount to much more than a symbolic band-aid.
A recent Ph.D. dissertation by Jalal El Derbas, as reported by the Danish newspaper, Berlingske Tidende, shows that in several Danish schools with Arab students, the latter, mainly boys, use Arabic as a means to sexually and racially harass and bully other students as well as their teachers, especially girls, Somalis and ethnically Danish teachers, who do not understand the insults hurled at them in Arabic.
According to the article, El Derbas was shocked when he went through the video footage of 12- and 13-year-olds in two different Danish public schools with a majority of pupils with minority background. The purpose of his Ph.D. was to examine the possible causes of why bilingual boys -- who speak both Danish and Arabic -- continue to lag behind other Danish students. He wanted to see what those bilingual boys actually do in the classroom. The footage was taken over five months and it displayed a world characterized by hierarchy, sexual and religious harassment, bullying and racism, in which the first language of the students, Arabic, played a central and leading role. According to El Derbas:
"I could see that the students used Arabic as a secret code and they only used it negatively to disturb the schoolwork. If they did not want to do the work, they simply shifted to Arabic. The schools were very flexible and allowed the students to use Arabic both inside and outside the classroom. But all that this freedom accomplished was that the students shifted from Danish to Arabic if they were getting into a fight and if there was a teacher nearby whom they did not want to understand what they were saying."The video footage also revealed a hierarchy consisting of sexual harassment and racism, because the Arab boys consider themselves higher-ranking than girls and Somali students.
"All the bullying happens in Arabic. All the ugly and mean words are uttered in Arabic. The hierarchy of the Arab boys creates a very violent environment. I have video footage of severe sexual harassment against Arab girls and I have filmed the particularly vile bullying of a Somali boy. You can see the tears in his eyes. They are destroying him; it is very violent."According to El Derbas, Sunni and Shia Muslim strife is also imported into the grounds of these Danish schools. With the majority of the boys being Sunni Muslims, they look down on the Shia Muslim students and a teacher who is a Shia Muslim is called "Satan" or "witch", whereas a Sunni Muslim teacher is addressed courteously as "uncle" or "aunt". Danish teachers are the least respected, and are spoken of in denigrating and humiliating terms.
El Derbas, stressed that the pupils come from ghetto areas, saying:
"Many of the teachers have given up on engaging the parents in any way, but if this is to change it has to happen through the parents. Maybe it would help if the parents took turns of being present in the classroom to see how their children behave. Most of them [the parents] are not working or studying anyway. I think that could lead to an improvement. Because no parents will accept that their children behave in this manner".The results of the dissertation come as no surprise to Lise Egholm, now retired, but who for 18 years, until 2013, was the head of Copenhagen's Rådmandsgade school, which has many Arab students.
"I am not saying that all the Arab children did ugly things," says Egholm, "but we witnessed on a regular basis exactly the phenomenon of using derogatory Arabic language towards Somalis and girls... Back then the biggest group of children in the school was Arabic speaking, and the words which in Arabic mean 'whore' and 'f--- your mother' they all knew."
In a written statement to Berlingske Tidende, Minister of Education, Ellen Trane Nørby, wrote,
"It is never all right to bully, whether this happens in Danish, Arabic, or in a third language. That is why I have initiated a large initiative, which has as its purpose to prevent and combat bullying. The teachers have to signal very strongly that there has to be room for all children and that you have to treat other pupils with respect. If some pupils do not understand this and speak in 'code language' or use a language that excludes and bullies other pupils, the schools must intervene. Danish is the language used for teaching in Denmark, and pupils should not be excluded or bullied because of parallel languages in school".However, what the minister of education fails to mention is that the problems with this kind of behavior are not likely to remain inside the school, but will inevitably spill into the streets. Then what? No amount of lists of radical religious preachers and laws is going to change that fact.
Whether Danish parliamentarians wish to acknowledge this problem or not, they are up against far wider issues than that of religious incitement in mosques by radical preachers. Notably, El Derbas's findings have not caused any debate remotely resembling that, which was caused by the "Sharia in Denmark" documentary. They should.
Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
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