Inger Støjberg. Photo: Jens Nørgaard Larsen/Scanpix
Inger Støjberg is some kind of spokesperson for Venstre, Denmark's centre-right party and the current favourites to head the government after the next general election.
I don’t know if it’s the heat, but once a year, usually around summer time, Støjberg pops up to share her reflections on the immigration debate.
Last week she hogged the agurketid headlines with her annual outburst: an opinion column in Berlingske in which she suggests that it would be sensible if, from now on, Denmark's immigration policy differentiated between Western and non-Western immigrants based on their religious beliefs – between “a Christian from America” or “a Muslim Pakistani”, as she put it. In Støjbergland one group would be waved through with a cheery smile, the other cattle-prodded back on the plane to whence they came.
Then, the next day, perhaps encouraged by all the media attention, Støjberg had another little vacation-time rush of blood to the head and suggested that the local authorities close all schools with too many immigrant students. Just close them. That'll teach them. (Or not). Støjberg didn't feel inclined to commit herself to exactly what percentage of immigrant students constituted 'too many’; clearly she's one of those 'big picture' thinkers who prefers to let others number-crunch the finer details of policy.
What to make of this? On the one hand, perhaps Støjberg’s tirades are part of a cunning strategy on the part of Venstre, either to appeal to potential Danish People’s Party (DF) voters, or to the DF leadership itself, upon whom Venstre will depend to form any kind of functioning government. Alternatively, maybe Støjberg is simply taking advantage of the fact that most of her party leadership is on holiday, giving her the chance to vent pent-up frustrations. Judging by the condemnations of her proposals which have come from the likes of high-ranking Venstre members like Uffe Ellemann-Jensen and Birthe Rønn Hornbech, I’m guessing it’s the latter.
But does Støjberg have a point? Should the Danes just get rid of the vertical white bar on the Dannebrog and turn it into a No Entry sign, at least for Muslims? Is that possible? While we’re at it, should we consider adding the Chinese to the list, after all they are Communists. Bombing children isn’t a particularly Danish approach to international relations, so why not put Israelis on the list of undesirables too?
Irritatingly, however, freedom of worship is enshrined in the Danish constitution so Støjberg will find herself thwarted on the Muslim front by the small print. As for offering preferential treatment to arrivals who ‘share Danish values’, what about those Danes who might disagree with Støjberg’s interpretation of those values? What would become of such dissidents I wonder? Anyone care to show the Hells Angels the door? And in terms of her cunning Western/non-Western distinction – where does that leave Japanese people, or Singaporeans?
A cartoon about the Støjberg affair in Politiken cleared up the matter effectively I think: it showed a group of Klu Klux Klan members – Christian, and American – being welcomed at Danish immigration.
Of course, most reasonable people would agree that immigrants to Denmark – regardless of their religion – should respect Danish culture and traditions. But as the Social Liberals’ Zenia Stampe pointed out in her response to Støjberg in Politiken, the vast majority of Muslims do just that: like the rest of us, most simply want to get on with their lives in peace and look after their families as best they can.
It is true that there exists a problem with criminality and people with non-Danish backgrounds. But is this a problem of faith, or rather something more complex, something which, at the end of the day, Støjberg might find tricky to package into an agurketid soundbite solution?
Michael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle.