The Icelandic Problem

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I recently came across a article by Elias Thorsson that was posted to the Copenhagen Expats Facebook group.

Published less than a week after the terrorist murders in Copenhagen, the article titled “These People Should Just Leave Denmark” takes a swipe at the supposed hypocrisy of Danes (and their media) at time when one would expect the expatriate and immigrant communities to shows their support for their host nation.

I found the piece irritating at several levels. The unfair aspersions cast on Danes and Denmark, the schmaltzy PC claptrap , the logical fallacies, the hypocrisy decrying bigotry with bigotry and the raw snideness of a kicking his host country at a time when it is recovering from a terror attack.

As a fellow immigrant I want to respond .

Elias (who is Icelandic) starts off by painting a portrait of “a cultural diaspora”, later revealed to be Icelanders in Denmark. He lists typical immigrant and expatriate behaviours the world over: People migrate because the new host country is often a better place to live. Some cynically take advantage of state benefits. People seek out their own kind (a human given), which includes passing their cultural heritage, language and traditions on to their children. Some fail, or refuse,  to adapt and integrate. Some are criminals who embarrass their people when they commit crimes in their new host country.  His point? This group is guilty of all the stereotypical things we hear about immigrants, but he does not read about their wrongdoings in the Danish media.

This is the point where Elias leaves camp reality and suffers oxygen starvation in the thin air of the moral high ground.

Now I’m certain most of you thought I was talking about Muslims, Eastern Europeans or other groups often discussed in the media as “undesirables” for committing crimes and assaulting people in the streets. You know, people with radically different cultures and ideas about the world. The others.

But after almost seven years in Denmark, I know of only one person to be brutally assaulted in the streets of Copenhagen. The perpetrator was Icelandic. The incident didn’t incite an eruption of vile hatred and calls for the construction of an Atlantic Wall to keep these dangerous foreign elements out. To the best of my knowledge there are no Facebook groups called “Stop the Icelandisation of Denmark”, or “Fuck your dried fish, I want flæskesvær.”

Hardly. Rather, me and my fellow Icelanders with our blonde hair and blue eyes manage to blend in pretty well. When someone from this group commits a horrible crime, it’s excused as merely a  bad apple, rather than proof that these uncivilised barbarians streaming in from the north have no place in the country.

This is so convoluted and full of exaggeration that it is is actually hard to unpick what, exactly, Elias is trying to say. It is something like this:

You, dear reader, have a predictable bias. You will associate these negative immigrant behaviours (like benefit cheating and violent crime) not with blonde Icelanders, but only with “the others”, groups who are portrayed as “undesirables” and are targeted for an “eruption of vile hatred”  when one of them commits wrongdoings e.g. Muslims and Eastern Europeans.

The implication here is that Icelanders are at least as bad as these other groups, both in terms of criminality and failure to integrate,  but racist Danes excuse Icelanders whilst unfairly targeting other immigrants with vile hatred.

Is this true? Are Icelanders as criminal as other groups? Is the Danish media biased in their treatment of Muslims and Eastern Europeans? What evidence does Elias provide to support these serious claims?

He gives us a personal anecdote. The only person Elias knows who was beaten up on the streets of Copenhagen was…you guessed it….beaten up by an Icelander! This is obviously an example of the biased sample fallacy. The people Elias knows are not an accurate reflection Danish society nor is a single incident a big enough sample of street crime to infer that the Danish press and its readership are biased against non-Nordic immigrants. So this far his claims are completely unsupported.

So what are the facts? Are the Danish media showing a bias by reporting more on Muslim and Eastern European criminals instead of Icelanders?

No. The fact is that immigrants as a whole are heavily  overrepresented in the Danish crime statistics.  Some immigrant communities, however, are on average 2.5x more criminal than Danes (who are slightly under-represented). Some immigrant groups – mostly EU, US and east Asian –  are under-represented. Icelanders are so low on this index that they are not even on the list.

According to a 2014 Danish government report on immigrants in Denmark [PDF], of the top 10 most criminal nationalities in Denmark, 8 are majority Muslim countries, one is south Eastern European, and one is south Asian. High rates of criminality amongst Muslim immigrants has been a topic of discussion and concern in Denmark since at least 2009 1

Here is the Criminal Index for the top 10 immigrant communities (100 being average). These are adjusted for age and socio-economic factors.

Lebanon    254
Former Yugoslavia 192
Turkey    192
Morocco    189
Somalia    189
Pakistan    179
Iraq    166
Iran    133
Afghanistan 123

Danes  98

With only 18,000 Icelanders in Denmark and 270,000 Muslims, one would expect Muslims to be in the news significantly more than Icelanders, even if they were equally as criminal (which they are not). Given the crime statistics and the fact that Icelanders are legendary for their low criminality it is fully expected that they are hardly mentioned.  Elias’ core claim about Icelandic exceptionalism is rubbish.

So there is no real evidence in his article that the Danish media unfairly portrays immigrants. The raw facts of the crime statistics shows that Danes are absolutely right to be concerned about immigrant crime (and yes, I am an immigrant). It is a matter of national concern and it is in the public interest for the media to report on it and for us all to debate the problem. Danes and non-Danes alike need to be able to discuss how, as a society, we handle newcomers who are not meeting our standards, breaking our laws and or otherwise causing problems. We need an open discussion on what the right is to immigrants who are not integrating, or threatening us or opposed to national values of democracy and free speech. This is not about defeating or harming or hating  picking on them,  but rather about figuring out how to live together peacefully in a pluralistic society.

Elias finishes of with a command: If you are going to “hate”, then hate everyone.

“So, all I ask is that if you are going to hate groups for being terrible citizens, for not conforming to society, for not blending in or swearing allegiance to Dannebrog and Dronningen, then be even handed – hate everyone equally.”

This implies that the Danes hate and yet they don’t. I think you will find your average Dane is extremely tolerant of immigrants, and would never dream of hating an entire group no matter how criminal or anti-social they are. Yes there are bigots, but in the scheme of things the Nordics are amongst the least racist and most tolerant places on earth.

I am sure there will be plenty who will probably be angry with Elias for taking an unfair dig at Denmark, especially at a time of national mourning for the murder of innocent people. I think he was trying to make some fair points: avoid stereotypes, remember the media accentuates the negative, don’t be hypocrite – but I think he let his own “ingrained historic suspicion towards Denmark and the Danes” ruin his article.

Postscript:  The title is a play on “The Irish Question”. In a follow-up post I will discuss what the Irish immigrants in Britain and America in the 19th century can teach us about how to handle immigration in Europe today.


Speaking up every time

Warren Farrell photo

By Warren.Farrell (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

[Update: Whilst browsing Eric W Raymond’s Google+ I spotted a post about Shanley Kane. Turns out she is pretty, well, nutty. And despite her rantings about “white males”, she has a history of extreme racism herself. Fascinating.]

Was clearing out my Instapaper backlog today and came across this very interesting profile of feminist published Shanley Kane by Elizabeth Spiers from July 2014. Called “Speaking up every. Fucking. Time”, it is an interesting glimpse into the life and tactics of a feminist campaigner in Silicon Valley.

By chance I also stumbled upon Mariah Blake’s profile in of former feminist, now Men’s Rights activist, Warren Farrell, called a “Mad Men: Inside the Men’s Rights Movement—and the Army of Misogynists and Trolls It Spawned“. The profile is deeply, deeply unfair it it’s characterization, but in fairness it does post responses both by Farrell and other men’s activists slandered in the piece.

One thing that struck me was that in both pieces there is a defence of sorts of the hard-line tactics used in anger by the campaigners:

As Spiers says of Kane:

“…it would be naïve to think that this would be accomplished entirely by the tonally appropriate, the consummate diplomats, the people who always control their anger in public and never call anyone a shithead. “Speaking up every. Fucking. Time,” as she puts it, is done in a variety of ways, and big societal advances are never the result of monolithic strategies or tactics. Someone occasionally has to “burn shit down.” And Kane is good at burning shit down

…What remains to be seen is whether her sometimes gleeful arson, which often seems like an end in itself, also puts what she’s trying to build at risk. It’s difficult to build a media operation while refusing to engage with the subjects of the stories you’re trying to tell. “

Here is Blake on Farrell:

“He also maintains that A Voice for Men deploys over-the-top language and tactics because it’s the only way to overcome public indifference and draw attention to the urgent problems facing men. “I don’t know a social movement that has made any progress without anger,” he told me.”

Farrell’s last word on this, in his response to the article, is anything but angry.  He comes across as a genuine and thoughtful man. I will be taking a closer look at his work.

On a personal level, I appreciate your accurate incorporation of some of my responses to your queries. Overall, though, I feel like I’ve been portrayed as the unwitting and sometimes witting inspirer of the gender equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan–of men who would rape or kill women. To me, this is like saying Mother Jones was a Communist who inspired the deaths perpetrated by Stalin. (Well, I’m getting on a roll here!)

I know the story as you wrote it matches the vision of the great majority of MJ’s readers, and that that is your source of income and ideology. I mistakenly thought that with more information, that you were a woman who would have the courage to move your readers to see what they were not seeing rather than further close their minds, deepen their fears of men, and widen the gender gap. Yes, many men’s rights men have done the same thing–but you, who are condemning that, are in your own way reinforcing that. Do you see that?

To me, Mariah, when a magazine calls itself liberal, radical or progressive, it ideally incorporates rather than excludes. Being progressive means using the skills of gifted writers such as you to articulate well what has been articulated poorly; to uncover the best intent of the angry and hurt.

As you know, when I was with the women’s movement, I tried to never allow books like the SCUM Manifesto–advocating a Society for Cutting Up Men by the woman who shot Andy Warhol–to blind me from seeing the women’s movement’s best intent. To me, that is what is required if we are to call ourselves progressive.

Please ask yourself, “will this article leave women angrier?”

And “will it leave men feeling unheard?”

Do you want to feed your son by creating a world with angrier women and unheard men?

Mad Men: Inside the Men’s Rights Movement—and the Army of Misogynists and Trolls It Spawned | Mother Jones

“Speaking up every. F*cking. Time” — Matter — Medium