I suspect that to the blogosphere, the Muhammad cartoon crisis is so February, but there are a number of problems related to the crisis that still merit systematic analysis.
A blog isn’t the right place to do a thorough investigation but you can at least point to some facts and observations which should be analysed in greater depth.
A Bunch of Fascist Racists!
One phenomenon which has interested foreign commentators is the apparent racism in Danish politics and society. The ever-forgiving Swedes took the most passionate stance: Led by columnists in Dagens Nyheter and Aftonbladet, Swedish media were happy to describe “the Danes” as a bunch of crypto-Fascist racists.
That probably says more about Swedish media than about Danish society.
The U.S. TV-network CBS took a more balanced stance in a story broadcast in the prestigious news magazine “60 Minutes”. I haven’t watched the story but judging from the transcript on the CBS homepage, CBS journalist Bob Simon paints a picture of a society – and a political system – that have experienced a number of problems adjusting to a globalised world where migrations are a common phenomenon.
One thing which is a little distressing to a political scientist is that there exist a number of opinion polls and research into public opinion but the media have made very little use of it and focused on examples of extreme individual behaviour instead. During the crisis in February, I tried to read a little of the data on Danish opinion with regard to ethnic and religious minorities and I will try to give my picture of the situation.
The fastest way to get information has been through the newsletters of the Rockwool Foundation Research Unit which ran a research project about immigration and the welfare state (the newsletters can be found through this page) and some of the Eurobarometer polls carried out twice a year for the European Commission. Back in 2002, professor Jørgen Goul Andersen of Aalborg University presented this review of Danish attitudes to immigration at a Nordic conference.
If you flip trough previous posts, you will also find links to Danish polls made during January and February.
For the sake of readability, I will split this discussion into two posts: One about the Danish opinion as such and one about Danish opinion in a European perspective.
Internally: A Divided Opinion
The opinions polls that were carried out during January and February all suggest the same story: There is not “a” Danish opinion about the cartoon crisis. Rather, the opinion was divided between one segment that wanted a soft stance against foreign and Muslim criticism and one segment that supported Jyllands-Posten and the government.
And as so often in Danish politics, it was a 50-50 thing and it was a left-right thing: If you were to the right, you supported the government and Jyllands-Posten and if you were to the left, you criticised the government and Jyllands-Posten.
One party lost support because of the conflict and another party gained support: The Danish People’s Party owns the immigration/multiculturalist issue while the Social Democrats have no authority whatsoever with regard to this issue.Electoral research and other kinds of opinion surveys tell us that the segment where anti-immigrant/multicultural attitudes have the strongest support is the segment containing unskilled workers and more generally people with a low degree of social and political trust.
On the other hand support for immigration and multiculturalism is strongest among people with higher education (and a high degree of social and political trust, I would guess).
The politics of immigration policies and the Muhammad cartoons are to a large extent determined by the competition for the votes of unskilled workers. They are natural Social Democrats but playing the immigration card will get them to move to the right side of the political spectrum.
Does that mean that workers are racists?
The people from the Rockwool Foundation project argue that economics also play a role. In general, immigrants – and especially immigrants form non-European countries – are less likely to have work than Danes. In this way immigrants compete with workers about transfers and social services from the Danish welfare state. And when immigrants work, they are more likely to have blue-collar jobs which means that Danish workers feel that they are subjected to competition about jobs in a way people with higher education don’t. (Political scientists and sociologists suspect that education has an independent effect on how a person views foreigners).
I should also note that when Danish researchers have proposed tighter immigration laws and a harder regime with regard to welfare benefits and the like, the motivation has always been economic. The arguments have been that a) due to the high level of Danish benefits, the “premium” for or motivation to taking a job has been smaller than in the U.K. or the U.S and b) first generation immigrants cause a net loss to the Danish economy which means that resources that could have been used to social services are squandered.