Religious crackdown in Denmark

Copenhagen – Denmark’s right-wing government on Friday published plans to restrict the activities of radical religious leaders, which apparently targets Islamic clerics in the Scandinavian country.

The proposals are part of a package of strict new immigration laws announced late on Thursday by the government.

The package has the support of the government’s far-right ally, the Danish People’s Party (DPP), and the opposition Social Democrats and is therefore expected to sail through parliament when it returns from the summer recess in October.

Under the new rules, religious leaders will be obliged to be self-supporting, speak Danish and respect “Western values” or risk being declared persona non grata.

The rules are apparently designed to deter radical Islamic clerics from establishing bases in Denmark and clip the wings of those who already live in the tiny country.

Although the new rules do not specifically target Islamic leaders, which would leave the government open to accusations of religious discrimination, politicians who commented on the measures refer exclusively to Islamic leaders and make no mention of Christian, Buddhist, Jewish or other religious clerics.

“Imams have negative influence”

“The imams (Muslim clerics) have a very negative influence on both parents and young people,” Integration Minister Bertel Haarder declared in the Friday edition of daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Haarder told the paper he believed a number of Muslim clerics would be forced to leave Denmark because they would not be able to fulfil the demands of the new rules and would therefore not be able to obtain residence permits or renew them.

“I think the most fundamentalist of the imams, who are poorly educated and speak Danish badly, will end up having to go back home,” he said.

The Social Democrats – which lost power in November 2001 after a campaign dominated by the issue of immigration – told AFP on Friday it sided with the liberal-conservative government and the fiercely anti-immigrant DPP on the issue.

“It is necessary for the imams to prove they have had a religious education, respect human rights and sexual equality, show they are worthy of the Danish public’s confidence, be aware of Danish society’s values and speak Danish before they can be given the right to perform marriage ceremonies,” insisted spokesperson Anne-Marie Melgaard.

“Moderate interpretation of Islam”

“It is also equally important for the imams to give a moderate interpretation of Islam so they don’t have an out-dated influence on their communities.”

“We don’t want them to undermine our efforts to integrate immigrants,” she said. “Immigrant Muslim girls change their behaviour and start wearing headscarves when a new imam from their (home) villages comes and gives Friday prayers,” she alleged.

The DPP, which played a key role in the drafting of the new rules, said it was “essential for imams to be self-supporting because there is a tendency for some of them to live at the expense of the Danish state and the state benefit system,” said DPP spokesperson Peter Skaarup.

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