Chris Manion is a 23-year-old student at the University of Southern Denmark. Originally from Northumberland, England, Manion has been in Denmark for a year and says he generally likes living here.
But Manion thinks that the Danes are in the midst of “a seeming cultural identity crisis” that often manifests itself in racism and xenophobia. Earlier this week, he wrote a column for the university’s student magazine Rust about an incident he witnessed over the summer that he thinks symbolizes a major problem in what he “had thought to be a great country”.
Manion accompanied his Danish girlfriend and her family on a trip to a youth camp run by the Christian organization FDF (Frivilligt Drenge- og Pigeforbund) near Mesinge on the island of Funen.
The camp put on a variety show that included a skit featuring a camp staffer dressed in a burqa and speaking what a Danish People’s Party MP has deridingly labelled ‘pizza Danish'.
“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 burqa, 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 [sic] of three generations of Danish citizens,” Manion wrote.
He called the spectacle “by far the most racist experience of my existence, bar none.”
But the general secretary of FDF told The Local that there was nothing at all racist about the skit and it had been misunderstood.
“The sketch in question is a variation of an old skit ‘The ugliest man in the world’: A man is led on stage with a blanket over his head and presented as the ugliest man in the world. Children from the audience (whom are already in on the act) take turns going up on stage, looking under the blanket, and 'dropping dead'. Hereafter there is a call for a brave volunteer from the audience [who] goes up on stage and looks under the blanket, which then makes ‘the ugliest man in the world’ fall to the ground dead,” Morten Skrubbeltang told The Local.
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The skit is popular in scouting circles and hundreds of video variations of the bit can be found online.
“The joke is not about the person under the blanket, but about the volunteer from the audience, who then must be the 'ugliest man in the world'. We understand that, without this reference to the old sketch, the sketch can be misinterpreted,” Skrubbeltang said.
Skrubbeltang said that FDF, which has 380 independent clubs across Denmark, is an organization for that focuses on solidarity and “has space for everybody, as it should be”.
He apologized that some may have found the sketch offensive and said that FDF will now reconsider the use of burqas.
“When we can see that some people were offended, then in hindsight we can see that it was inappropriate to use the burqa. It was meant to be a prop just like any other prop used in entertainment, but some interpreted it in a way that was not its intention,” Skrubbeltang told The Local.
“The debate it has spurred has had an impact on us and we will take it into consideration that this could have been misunderstood. One should always think twice and we are sure that this instance will make us do that from now on,” he added.
Manion, however, maintains that it was not a simple case of cultural misunderstanding. He told The Local that his Danish girlfriend and her brother “were shocked at the events and profusely apologized”.
He added that even if the sketch was merely a new spin on a scouting classic, symbolism matters – especially in front of children.
“If we began re-telling George and the Dragon in England, but replaced the Dragon with a Jew, Muslim, Indian or even a Dane, would that be acceptable? With the current climate across Europe, changing the show in such a manner was at the very least severely ignorant,” Manion said.