Ian Black, The Guardian, Feb. 19
Denmark is tightening its immigration rules to make it harder for fundamentalist Muslim clerics to settle in the country and establish radical communities.
The move is designed to encourage Muslims to integrate into wider Danish society but is bound to attract criticism that it is discriminatory.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister, said the measure would affect all religious groups, but a rightwing political party admitted it was principally intended to tackle Islamic extremism.
Denmark’s 170,000 Muslims account for 3% of the population and are the second largest religious community after the Lutheran church, followed by four-fifths of the country’s 5.3 million strong population.
“Access to obtaining a Danish residence permit for foreign missionaries has been too easy up until now,” Mr Rasmussen said. “That is why we are putting forward new requirements for residing in the country.”
Critics complained that the influence of radical imams had been exaggerated, while the government said it merely wanted to encourage integration.
“This is to make sure that they are worthy of the trust society shows by letting them in,” a spokesman said yesterday.
Supporters of the measure accuse foreign clerics of urging Muslim immigrants to stick to customs such as wearing the veil, female circumcision and stopping women from working and learning Danish.
Mr Rasmussen’s minority centre-right government relies on the anti-immigrant Danish People’s party’s to pass legislation. The proposed changes are part of a deal reached last year with the People’s party and the opposition Social Democrats.
The new rules will require any person coming to Denmark on a religious visa to show that they are a “worthy” candidate, are educated, financially self-supporting and connected with one of 200 recognised religious communities.
The DPP, which proposed the changes, confirmed they were aimed to curb the activities of Muslim clerics, or imams. “In theory, these rules concern all clerics from all religions,” said Peter Skaarup, a party spokesman. “But in practice, they target the imams.”
Like France, the Netherlands and other western European countries, Denmark has been struggling with Muslim issues since before, but especially after, the September 11 attacks on the US.
Danish media have reported the case of an imam who praised Osama bin Laden in his Friday sermons.