“Dialogue with the female imams”
Politicians should pay special heed to the study reported in Chapter 5 showing that the difference between Sikhs, who have successfully integrated into English society, and Pakistanis, who have not, comes down to one major factor: cousin marriage. So far, only one country in Europe has taken into account this integration-inhibiting, and often rights-infringing, practice. On September 18, 2003 , the Danish government, Social Democrats, and Danish People’s Party agreed on a compromise policy to the effect that new marriages between close relatives – either first or second cousins – will be rejected as a basis for immigration.
This policy change reflects a recognition that very many such marriages clearly involve force, that such marriages hamper immigration, that immigrants feel compelled by family loyalty to arrange such marriages, and that the risk of birth defects in children born to such marriages is (as research has established) not inconsiderable. HRS has pointed out on many occasions the need for precisely this sort of policy reform. The reaction from the immigrant group in Norway that would be most affected by it, Pakistanis, has been entirely unsympathetic – in public. Behind closed doors, however, other attitudes emerge. There are Pakistanis who want change. They wish to be freed from the pressure to bring family members over to the West. But they cannot easily say this out loud – because by doing so they would risk ostracism and possibly sanctions from their own community. At the same time, Muslim leaders want Norwegian authorities to take them seriously. They are regularly invited to so-called “dialogue meetings” on integration. In our observation, these leaders have consistently avoided discussion of those aspects of their communities that are open to criticism, though it should be acknowledged that the situation has improved slightly, and that more and more community leaders (though not religious leaders, strictly speaking) have admitted that their communities are afflicted with “minor” problems.
Yet some Muslim leaders, eager to prevent Denmark-like reforms in Norway, appear to be working hard to cloud the debate and to misrepresent the reality of their own sisters’ and mothers’ lives. It is not easy to understand why leaders who do not honestly grapple with their communities’ real problems continue to be invited to discuss community issues with government officials. (It should not be surprising that this frustrations state of affairs gives rise to wry jokes: immigrant women connected to HRS have suggested that the next time government officials decide to meet Muslim religious leaders for “dialogue,” they should instead have a “dialogue with the female imams").
Though Europe is for the most part still reluctant to address immigration and integration problems frankly, this reluctance is, in Denmark , on its way to being history. The fact that a majority of Danish politicians, and of Danes generally, support the country’s radical policy changes means that Denmark is well ahead of the rest of Europe as far as the possibility of achieving real integration is concerned. We at HRS have no doubt that Denmark is the only country in Europe whose leaders have a real understanding of the aspects of immigration and integration policy that tend to harm individuals rather than protect them.
It has taken courage for Denmark to introduce such profound changes over such a short period of time. In addition to these changes – which went into effect in 2002, and which include real support and residency requirements, a 24-year age limit for transnational family reunification in cases where families are being newly established, and a requirement that a couple seeking family reunification have a stronger aggregate attachment to Denmark than to any other country – further measures are now being introduced. Some of these measures are designed to address inadvertently unfair consequences of the new policy: for example, the connection requirement, which provoked anger in many quarters because it prevented some ethnic Danes from moving back to their own country with already established foreign spouses or partners, has been dropped in cases where the individual has been a Danish citizen for 28 years or has lived in Denmark for 28 years. (This new exception will allow spouses or partners in genuine marriages to live in Denmark , but will at the same time be difficult for visa traders to exploit.)
Some of the new initiatives serve to augment the restrictions introduced in 2002 – for example, it will now be harder for immigrant parents to send their children to their homelands to unlearn ”Danish values”; and imams will be required to demonstrate Danish language skills and a dedication to democratic values. All in all, then, Denmark’s new immigration and integration laws are more child- and woman-friendly, and integration-friendly generally, than any other European country’s policy in this area. It is worth noting, moreover, that the new policy is supported by immigrant leaders both at the grass-roots level and in national politics.
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