By Jamie Jackson and Sarah Plauborg
As we make our way through town on an overcrowded warm bus, we finally arrive at our destination. The topic that we had begun to discuss on the way there was Nørrebro in the news. Being from two different parts of the world, often gives us an advantage when discussing aspects of Danish society. Sarah being an ethnic Dane, and Jamie a South African. We discussed how the area in question had fallen privy to heated debate the summer prior. Specifically, how the Islamic community of Nørrebro were at odds with the possibility of permitting the pride parade to take place in the main street. Also, how an ominous helicopter circled the area from above in response to gang related violence. There was no doubt that the area in question was a hub of both controversy and culture. When you solely perceive Copenhagen in terms of the little Mermaid statue, or Amalienborg, you forget that it does in fact contain a mosaic of people.
As we emerge from the bus, the sun tickles our faces and you just cannot help but smile at the area. The air is clear, crisp and abuzz with life. To an outsider who has only ever visited the inner stretches of Copenhagen, it is almost as if you have been transported to an entirely different country. What is particularly astounding is that you can physically see the separation from the inner city of Copenhagen. This is seen through the immediate shift in stores and people. The local shop signs have Arabic writing. The restaurants erupt with the smell of cheesy manakeesh and Kibbeh. Women walk modestly through the streets draped in colorful hijabs.
Often Islam is handled rather indelicately within Danish secular society. For instance, the newly accepted, but not yet implemented law that prohibits the veiling of one’s face in any shape or form within society. A burka ban is illegal to implement in Denmark due to paragraph 70 in the Danish constitution which states that official discrimination based on faith is forbidden. Such a prohibition was proposed in 2009 by The Conservative Party, but the justice ministry ruled it unconstitutional. Therefore, it is necessary for the government to propose a complete masking ban in order to successfully implement a law that bans the use of hijabs and niqabs in the public space in Denmark.
The new ban seems like another attempt at an exclusionary policy that is in fact directed towards Muslims in Denmark. The attempts to place a physical line between the Muslim community and the ethnic Danish community echoes De Sousa Santos theory of “Abyssal Thinking”. The Muslim communities are still considered to be “Other” within Denmark. By choosing to enact policies that in many regards express outright disdain for the hijab, it creates an environment that seeks to make the uncomfortable invisible and hidden. This is similarly exemplified in the community being pushed further and further outside of the city.
Although Nørrebro is very much a hipster up and coming area, it is merely emblematic of the wider hegemonic practices at play. Yet, what you can see is that as the area begins to develop, the Arab community is pushed further and further out of the city. The discomfort felt in relation Islam is palpable. In many regards, the ideology that grounds Islam is a polar opposite to Danish society. This discomfort is a driving force that attempts to try and push the “Other” out of sight.