In a letter published in the Danish newspaper Politiken on July 11th, Aya Baram shares her experience of living in Denmark for sixteen years as a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf.
An excerpt of her experiences reads:
I have been punched on the street, after which I’ve been told to “take my f… scarf of”. The police wouldn’t even press charges, because my husband was my only witness. I have witnessed an entire bus yelling that they would vote for the Danish People’s Party and get the Muslims out of the country, because a girl with a scarf happened to hold the seat in front of her, when the bus turned, whereby she touched another girl’s hair.
I have had a guy suddenly let loose on my then-three-months-old nephew’s stroller with punches and kicks, after which another guy abused my sister with words like “terrorists” and other choice words, spat her in the face at a packed Nørreport [Train] Station, while everyone watched without helping.
The only remark we got was from a couple who told my crying sister “but they didn’t mean it personally”.
The crux of her article beyond sharing her stories from living sixteen years as a Muslim in Denmark is to encourage Muslim women to speak up for themselves, and not let others speak on their behalf.
The full translation of her letter can be read here.
After Baram’s letter, Politiken went on to do a follow-up article.
The Danish People’s Party Responds
Not one to pass on an Islam-related discussion, Pia Kjærsgaard from the—aforementioned—Danish People’s Party (DPP) chimed in with an entry on her blog1.
But before we get to her comments, some background on Kjærsgaard and her party in the context of Danish politics today.
Today’s Danish People’s Party
The nationalistic DPP is no niche party nor a group of people riding a political wave; the party is currently trailing the two largest coalition parties, polling in the low 20s, compared to the 12.3% it managed at the last election.
It has never polled higher, since it was founded in 1995 by Pia Kjærsgaard and entered parliament in 1998. Kjærsgaard was the party leader, until 2012, when she passed the torch to Kristian Thulesen Dahl. She then relegated herself to the position of the party’s spokesperson on values.
Recently, the euroskeptic party emerged victorious in the election to the European Parliament, where they doubled their MEP seats from two to four with 26.6 per cent of the vote, sweeping the nation as the biggest party in the election.
The DPP are currently in the opposition to the incumbent government, but an impending change of administration seems a done deal in light of how the opposition has lead in every single poll since the last election in September 2012, aside from one intermittent bump in the road in May–June that soon petered out.
Said bump, a scandal surrounding Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the leader of the opposition’s biggest party, Venstre, has suddenly eroded Venstre’s dominance in polls and levelled the playing field between the party and the DPP.
The Danish People’s Party are no longer in a position of tipping the balance of power in Denmark; they now are contenders for claiming it for themselves.
Pia Kjærsgaard’s Blog Entry
Returning to Kjærsgaard’s entry in which she does not mince words on her position on the plight of Danish Muslim women.
This Friday, [Danish newspaper] Politiken reported how Muslim women who wear headscarves felt overwhelmingly subjected to persecution, rudeness, and jeers on the street. I personally have never experienced such a thing, nor have I ever heard anyone talk about it, so perhaps the extent has been slightly exaggerated. I generally know the Danes as a well-mannered people, who, even though they do not feel great sympathy for the Muslim headscarf, naturally will not resort to foul language against the wearers of the headscarf.
Those Muslim women feel provoked by the reaction their headscarves elicit. I feel provoked, too. By them and their choice of the scarf over the Danish society!
And no ground is ceded in the discussion over headscarves, as Kjærsgaard ends her entry:
Fact is that the scarf in all its variants is a symbol of Islamic fundamentalism and a declaration of war against women’s right to equal right and equal value. Thus, there is every reason to criticize the headscarf. Muslim women who choose the scarf must therefore not expect to smoke peace pipe with me. On the contrary. When you choose to distance yourself from the Danish society, you must also come to expect that the Danish society distances itself from your choice. This is how it is.
Read the entire entry translated here.
Politiken got a hold of Kjærsgaard for an interview. In it, they pressed her for a response to the actual subject of violence raised by Aya Baram, which Kjærsgaard had glossed over in her diatribe against the Muslim headscarf.
When interviewed, Kjærsgaard continues to express empathy for the people reacting to the women in public.
Interviewer: In a debate concerning violence against women with [head]scarves, shouldn’t you address the violence, which is the central topic?
Kjærsgaard: Just because I haven’t written in bold type that I abhor violence, it doesn’t mean that I support it. I am writing that I feel provoked by women with scarves. That others feel provoked by these women I can understand. That they have been subjected to comments, I can understand just fine.
And in closing, Kjærsgaard is unwaivering in doubling down on blaming the victims.
Interviewer: You must be a victim, when you as an innocent person are subjected to violence?
Kjærsgaard: Yes, but women with scarves could also just think through the situation; if they keep getting those reactions on the street, they could just take off the scarf. Then they would also signal that they want to be a part of the Danish society.
Read the full interview.
Kjærsgaard decries public intolerance and harassment by Muslims in her weekly party newsletter from November 24 2003.
In the interim, we back home will work to get back [the capital district] Nørrebro.
So that once again, tolerance and free-mindedness can come to the north of Dronning Louise’s Bridge.
2014 report by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights on violence againt women.
- Aya Baram’s letter to Politiken (full translation)
- Politiken’s follow-up article
- Pia Kjærsgaard’s blog entry (full translation)
- Interview with Pia Kjærsgaard (full translation)
Pia Kjærsgaard’s blog is hosted by Danish TV network TV 2 on tv2.dk—not privately nor by her party. ↩︎