By Christopher Manion
Political correctness. Two simple words that brought together verbally or in text seem to invoke an impassioned response from many, dividing friends, communities and countries. For the camp that cry the rhetoric of ‘political correctness gone mad’, the very notion of respecting shifting cultural paradigms is an affront to the innate right of western countries to ‘freedom of speech’. Whilst the opposing camp more than likely still champion the benefits of free speech, they take an approach which respects beliefs and differences within society, especially as the world shrinks in the era of globalization.
The divide is becoming glaringly apparent within many European countries at this point, no less so in Denmark. With the immigration debate taking a poignant position in the recent elections, it’s clear that Denmark is in the throes of a seeming cultural identity crisis. Such as expressed by Danish Peoples Party MP Alex Ahrendtsen, who vocalised his concern over the degradation of Danish into what he coined as ‘Pizza Danish’, derived from the Danish spoken in pizzerias by individuals from ethnic backgrounds.
Whilst one may defend such comments by advocating the preservation of a nation’s culture, history and language, there is a need to draw a line in the sand where generalisations and jokes in bad taste end, and where you enter overt racism, xenophobia and dangerous levels of hatred. Whereas a joke in a bar that enforces stereotypes of Jewish financial capabilities is hardly nuanced or savoury, it will be dismissed by peers or reinforce previously held prejudices. The serious danger lies in the institutionalisation of malicious views and their propagation to young impressionable individuals.
This form of institutionalised xenophobia and racism was, in my seemingly naive eyes, a relic of the Hitler youth within the European Union, especially in the liberal haven that is Scandinavia. This perspective changed dramatically after a trip to a Danish youth camp run by FDF (Frivilligt Drenge- og Pigeforbund).
The aforementioned FDF is essentially a Christian scout camp organization which my girlfriend’s brother had been attending for several weeks before I was kindly invited to see a show that was being organised by the camp. Being fond of experiencing as much as I could of my newly adopted Danish culture, I leapt at the opportunity to involve myself in the event and joined her and her family to the camp near Mesinge, on the island of Fyn.
After an enjoyable picnic in the grey Danish summer sun, the show began. At first it was a smorgasbord of adorable comedy shows and generally a display of childlike innocence that is yet to be corrupted by the toils of work, rent and relationships. Alas, after an hour or so of frolicking amongst the wooded scenery, the children took to their seats and one of the camp organisers slinked off behind an outhouse.
The day was becoming long, the children from the ages of three to eighteen were looking as equally tired as their parents. This changed when the aforementioned camp organiser ran out from behind the outhouse dressed in a mock Burka shouting what was either imitation Arabic or Farsi.
As my time machine malfunctioned, I found myself imprisoned in a time warp of a mid-nineteenth century blackface minstrel show….all in Danish. The ‘Muslim woman’ proceeded to speak in what Mr Ahrendtsen would call ‘pizza-Danish’ as the crowd around me laughed and revelled in the spectacle, toddlers and pensioners in equal measure.
As my mind grappled with the sight I was witnessing, the famous last words raced through my mind; ‘It can’t get any worse’. But it most certainly did, in a most insidious manner.
A selection of four or five blonde Danish children aged from about six to twelve lined up and proceeded one by one to lift up the Burka, whereupon witnessing the ugliness of the vile Muslim female, fell dead. As the demonised Muslim woman stood surrounded by the corpses of innocent Danish children, a heroic Nordic man arose from the crowd to banish the evil, all to the laughter and applaud of three generations of Danish citizens. This was all followed by the Lord’s Prayer, advocating charity and loving thy neighbour, I do believe. The irony was not lost on me as I began to pick up my jaw from the floor and started assessing what had, most undoubtedly, been by far the most racist experience of my existence, bar none.
The experience left many questions racing around my mind, which were further exacerbated when I was informed that the ‘show’ was performed several times to the children at the camp during their stay there. One of the most nagging questions that has concerned me to the core is why none of the forty or so parents spoke out against the blatant xenophobic indoctrination of their darling offspring, but rather laughed and affirmed this racialization?
It is hardly a revelation that children are impressionable at such a delicate age, especially when it comes older figures of authority guiding them into adulthood. Teachers, parents and camp leaders all place their hand in creating the next generation of tax paying citizens, for better or for worse it is in their hands, no one else’s, and with what I witnessed I must confess I am far beyond concerned for the future of what I had thought to be a great country.
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