Turks in Denmark

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Dec 18 08:18:14 MST 2000

NY Times, December 18, 2000

For 'New Danes,' Differences Create a Divide


AARHUS, Denmark - This is a love story with its share of pain. It begins in
a Turkish village where geese roam the dusty streets and days turn to the
rhythm of harvest and prayer. It ends in this bustling Danish port town
where passion undid tradition and cultures of East and West clashed.

Ali Simsek started it all. Like millions of Turkish immigrants drawn to a
Europe that needed laborers, he turned his back on the harsh hills and
hushed nights of central Anatolia to become a "guest worker" in a Danish
timber factory near here. That was back in 1970, and as befits a "guest,"
he did not plan to stay forever.

So much for plans. His wife and four children soon joined him - a simple
procedure at the time. He worked hard, made money, obeyed the law. But Mr.
Simsek never learned a word of Danish or forsook Turkish customs. So when
his oldest son, Bunyamin, turned 17, it seemed natural to arrange a
marriage for him.

Back in Turkey, the daughter of Mr. Simsek's closest friend was waiting, a
modest young woman in a traditional headscarf who knew nothing of life
outside the village. The couple were married in a month. "I did not know I
could say `No,' " Bunyamin says. "What my parents said was the truth. So I
said `Yes.' "

But the arranged marriage would collapse, undone by the sharp cultural
differences between Bunyamin, a Dane in all but name, and his Turkish
bride. For millions of second-generation immigrants in Europe, people who
are often tugged between strict tradition and freewheeling Western habits,
the failure is an emblem of the unsettling contradictions of their lives.

European governments, uneasy about an influx of foreigners, now say these
immigrants must resolve the contradictions by embracing the culture of
their adoptive lands. The bureaucrats have focused on arranged marriages as
disastrous: they hinder integration, offend Western values and encourage
immigrant ghettos, or so officials say. They also bring more immigrants
because "family unification" is one of the few legal ways left to get into

"Immigrants must adapt to Danish cultural norms, which include free speech
and the right to choose your spouse," said Nils Preiser, a senior Interior
Ministry official. "Arranged marriages are a problem because compulsion is
unacceptable and because if generations of immigrants find their spouses
back home, ethnic groups remain separate."

Certainly division seems hard to overcome. In many ways, Bunyamin, now 30,
is a Dane. He was 2 when he arrived in Aarhus; he is a Danish citizen; he
speaks fluent Danish. Unlike his father's cautious generation of newcomers,
this second-generation immigrant is at ease with the brisk give- and-take
of Western society.

But he is olive-skinned, black-haired and dark-eyed. No Viking, he. Four
portraits of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, hang
in his living-room. He is a Muslim; no Danish bacon for him. This year, he
is fasting for Ramadan. Some people call him a "Nydansker," or "New Dane,"
a term that sets him and others like him apart.

"Like many second-generation immigrants, I have two identities," he says.
"An outside face for my Danish friends, and an inside one for my family. I
cannot give up one or the other. With my name, my religion and my
appearance, I will never satisfy people here that I'm a Dane. And I know
these calls to become Danish are dishonest because we are always presented
with a moving target."

Full article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/18/world/18MIGR.html

Louis Proyect
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