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August 15th 2014 print

Andrew McIntyre

In Denmark, a Bruising Multiculturalism

The statistic is shocking: some 70% of Danish youths in detention are Muslim. As psychologist Nicolae Sennels (left) learned when he set out to discover why, the reasons have much to do with an insular community's disdain for what, other than welfare payments, a modern and liberal Western nation represents

sennelsAs a regular visitor to Europe I have long pondered the delicate question of Muslim immigrants’ ability to integrate in the West, particularly in France the Netherlands, Great Britain and Scandinavia. In preparing for a planned trip to Denmark last year, I came across the outstanding work of Nicolai Sennels  (left), a clinical psychologist working in youth prisons in Copenhagen, and his recent, thought-provoking book, Among Criminal Muslims. A Psychologist’s Experiences from Copenhagen Municipality.

Not yet published in English, the book is based on ten years’ intensive clinical work with around 150 Muslim and 100 non-Muslim Danish youths. It provides a unique understanding of the culture and minds of young Muslim offenders, their often violent behaviour and the high crime rates that characterise their communities.

The highly controversial publication by Jyllands-Posten of satirical cartoons of Mohamed put Denmark on the world stage overnight, but that occurred nearly a decade ago, so I went to Copenhagen to get a closer look at how things have developed since then. I was able to speak briefly with Sennels by phone, following up that encounter with emailed questions. After our brief discussion and subsequent exchange of emails, I find it hard not to think of Shakespeare’s Marcellus and his observation that there are indeed some things rotting in the state of Denmark.

Sennels set himself the mission of learning why violence and criminality figure so prominently in the Muslim community, and further, why Muslims appear to have difficulty integrating into Western society generally. According to Denmark’s Bureau of Statistics, some 70% of inmates in Danish youth prisons come from immigrant backgrounds, and almost all of those were raised in Muslim families. In terms of numbers, the top seven nationalities listed for criminal behaviour come from Muslim countries.

Through hundreds of hours in a clinical setting, Sennels came to realise that he had to understand the psychological differences between Muslims and Westerners in order to understand such disproportionate statistics. He sets out his analysis of the behavioural problems under four headings:

  • anger versus weakness
  • honour versus security
  • victim-hood versus self-responsibility
  • Muslims versus non Muslims

Sennels explained that in these four areas Westerners and Muslim are quite different — even diametrically opposed in their attitudes.

With the first area, concerning anger, we in the West see threatening expressions of anger as the quickest way to lose face, perceiving it as a sign of weakness. However, among Muslims, Sennels found that anger is not only accepted, it is seen as a sign of strength; indeed, anger in itself is regarded as an argument. In his anger-management classes he observed his Muslim clients believed, just as they had been taught, that “aggression is an accepted and often-expected behaviour in conflicts.” In addition to his own observations, he drew upon a recent study conducted by the Criminal Research Institute of Lower Saxony in Germany, where 45,000 teenagers of both Muslim and non-Muslim origin were interviewed. “Boys growing up in religious Muslim families are more likely to be violent,” Sennels said.

The second area for Sennels’ attention concerned self-confidence. He points out that Westerners mostly regard criticism as, while perhaps unpleasant, an honourable thing when offered honestly andon its merits. Accepting valid criticism is, in other words, a sign of trust in oneself and what one stands for. Westerners thus manage to handle criticism in a relatively unemotional fashion — perhaps even with an expression of gratitude if the critic’s observation is right, or a shrug on the shoulders if not.

By contrast, in Islam and Muslim culture generally, criticism is seen as an attack on one’s honour, with the lack of a aggressive response considered dishonourable. In the West, what we would regard as an insecure and childish response to criticism is seen by Muslims as fair. Sennels’ professional experience led him to understand that demands for integration by the wider society fuel many resident Muslims’ feeling of being criticised, leading them to develop an enmity towards the non-Islamic society that surrounds them.

The third psychological difference that Sennels talks about concerns self-responsibility and what, in psychological terms, is called “locus of control”. Inner Locus of Control is fostered in Western societies, where most people see their lives as the result of their own choices. In the West we have a whole industry, of which he is very much a part, which sees people pay good money to therapists for advice on how best to solve problems and attain goals. Within Islam all of life is ins’Allah — ordained not by individual choice but the will of Allah. Meanwhile, the daily lives of the Muslim delinquents he counselled  were primarily governed by sharia, cultural traditions and male family members. The experience is of being controlled. Personal wishes, democratic impulses and individual choices are disregarded, even punished.

To ask a Muslim about his own choices has little relevance, Sennels told me, as his clients do not see it as their responsibility to integrate into Danish society. Somehow, they expect the the state to make that happen, changing its ways to match their own. In relation to the crimes with which the young men he studied were charged, they tended to view the victim as being at fault for “provoking” their response.  Sennels is alive to the argument within many professional circles as to whether Muslim culture — by creating an outer locus of control in the individual — creates psychopathic tendencies, or if the lack of empathy for outsiders and abrogation of personal responsibility is simply a superficial phenomenon.

Finally, there is the matter of Muslim identity versus the non-Muslim — the issue at the centre of the fourth point, concerning tolerance. Westerners are taught that tolerance is both good in itself and a defining characteristic of a decent citizen. Within Islam, intolerance of non-Muslims, members of sexual minorities, women, non-Islamic authorities and secular laws is expected. This spawns parallel societies, along with alarming crime statistics, terrorist activity, and the all-pervading suppression and oppression of women.

As many before Sennels have pointed out, including the Australian writer Mark Durie, Islamic scriptures underline the concept of the “infidel”. Among his Muslim clients a mere handful thought of themselves as Danish. Most saw themselves as Moroccans, Somalis and Pakistanis, etc., who happened to be living in another country. Almost all felt alienated towards Danes and said they were in opposition to Danish society. This shocked Sennels, as many of these clients were from second- or third-generation immigrants families.

Statistics bear this out. In Denmark, only 14% of resident Muslims identify with the organisation Democratic Muslims, whose charter avows that Muslims can be both democratic and Danish. Sennels notes that this strong experience of “us” and “them” has very concrete consequences, most of all to non-Muslims who are the victims of violence, robbery and attempted murder are non-Muslims. The exceptions were violent acts directed at rival Muslim gangs or so-called honour-related violence.

Sennels amasses some convincing confirmatory data. Whilst he acknowledges a nexus between anti-social behaviour and poverty, he is emphatic that crime and anti-social behaviour lead to poverty, not the other way around. Research by the Danish Centre for Knowledge about Integration (Randers, Youth, education and integration”, May 2005) shows that 64% of all schoolchildren with Arabic backgrounds are so poor in reading and writing after 10 years in the Danish school system that they are not able to succeed with further education — double the rate of Danish students from other backgrounds. In addition, Muslims’ failure to reach IQ levels acceptable for recruitment into the Danish military is three time higher than among native Danish applicants.

Sennels discusses other cultural factors, notably that their countries of origin place less emphasis on knowledge and education. According to 2003 article in Nature, the world average for production of published articles per million inhabitants was 137, whereas in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference countries the number was just 13. According to a large survey in Turkey, “70% of Turkish citizens never read a book”. Research published by the UN’s Arab Human Development Reports (AHDR) points out that “the cumulative total of translated books since the Caliph Maa’moun’s time (the ninth century) is about 100,000, almost the average that Spain translates in one year.”

Sennels makes the obvious deduction that not being able to read and write, dropping out of education and coming from a culture that, in general, has very little interest in science and knowledge severely minimise one’s chances of getting a well paid job — or any job at all. This leads to anti-social and criminal behaviour, and ultimately to poverty and welfare dependence.

Immigrants need three things in order to integrate, Sennels notes. They must want to be part of the host society, they must be allowed to join that society, and they need to have the capacity do so. Very few Muslim immigrants meet all three criteria.

The Danish government has not been completely idle in addressing the problems of an unassimilated and crime-prone minority. Without fanfare it introduced two basic policies: individual repatriation and reduction in child support. The repatriation policy targets unintegrated immigrants and pays them 1,000 euros, a one-way ticket to their homelands, free medicine for a year and extra money if they intend to start a business. This expense is reckoned to be cheaper than paying the 300,000-plus euros a non-Western immigrant is estimated to cost the state over his lifetime. The policy is administered through local municipalities and sees hundreds returning every year to their countries of origin.

The second policy, limiting child support to no more than two children per family — the average of all Danish families — was introduced to discourage both immigration and welfare dependency. However, the policy was scrapped the day the new Social Democrat Government assumed power in a minority coalition in 2011.

While other Western countries face similar difficulties to those afflicting Europe, it would appear that the problems are less acute in the United States, Australia and other migrant destinations. Nevertheless, with news report of Muslim-Australian jihadis lopping heads in Syria and Iraq and drive-by shootings increasingly common in Sydney’s West, Sennels’ insights would seem to have a definite Australian relevance, most particularly to any debate about the wisdom of ongoing Muslim immigration.