Pluralism or Non-conformity?

A remark in a letter to the editor in a Danish newspaper caught my attention. The letter itself was fairly irrelevant in the global scheme of things, and it could easily be dismissed as yet another rant against change, playing on not-so-subtle xenophobic trends. But just shrugging off people’s ignorance makes little difference. Instead, I savour one remark as central for a greater struggle between ideologies.

The debater is arguing against building a mosque, and arguing that Islam is a threat to the Danish way of life. Consider this quote:

“I don’t believe in a multicultural society, I believe in a cultural society where the end result is that way in which we live here in Denmark.” (in JP-Århus, my translation)

Behind this statement lies a belief that there is one way of life in Denmark; that there is a single culture supposedly encompassing all people and streams of thought in this country.

It may have been like this earlier. At least until religious freedom was guaranteed in 1849, but also far into the 20th century. Traditionally, Denmark has been influenced by a culture of fellowship and public service. Tellingly, the state church is actually the People’s Church, public school is the People’s School, and so on. This is not exactly socialism, although it may sound like it. But it is an idea that everyone, no matter their ideas and beliefs, can fit into one single, common system. This may work well, but for the obvious flaw: what if your belief is that you want to be a part of something else?

Postmodern people choose their own allegiances and connections. We don’t want to be forced into a certain way of doing things, and we don’t someone telling us what is normal, or what is Danish. Anyone holding a Danish passport and abiding by the law is leading a Danish way of life. There are some 5 million of us – that’s a lot of different people, and a lot of different opinions. I don’t mind letting people have other opinions, but they shouldn’t tell me what is Danish and what is not; what is true and what is false.

The larger issue here is (yet again) the clash between postmodernity and modernity. The quoted debater might as well have said, “I don’t believe in postmodernity, I believe in a society where one thing is true, and the rest is false.” Tough luck – the world’s not like that anymore, and it’s not for you to decide. Open your eyes to the 21st century, and try embracing it instead. It’s not as bad as it looks.


Author: Kenneth Mollerup Birch

Living north of Copenhagen, Denmark. MA in Information Science. Interests include communication, internet, sociology, language, politics, religion, theology, travel, music, and food.

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