Danish Transnationals: Reconciling “Roots” with “Routes”

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Danish Transnationals: Reconciling “Roots” with “Routes”

  • January 30, 2020
  • By Admin: Osman
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

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In January 2020 the world commemorated the 75th anniversary of Soviet liberation of Auschwitz. During the holocaust, the Germans erected the largest extermination camp ever in the modern world. Despite the persistence of proportionally lesser, but also cruel genocides against innocent peoples, societies largely acquiescence on the prevention of such man-made horrors. People, however, tend forgetting history except the traumatized victims and their relatives who continue to remember and resist. Among them include Danish transnationals. There exist at least two types of Danish transnationals, the historic ones and the more recent ones. Although the communities differ on the magnitude of inflicted persecution against them and subsequent endurance, Danish transnationals share certain survival characteristics, multiplicity of identities/belongings as well as constant concerns of existential uncertainties.  

In 1940s, Bent Melchior, the former chief rabbi of Denmark was in his early teens. Together with his family and other community members he fled to Sweden- then a presumed neutral country[i]. Bent’s community remains one of the most historic and vibrant Danish transnational communities. The community carries the burden of a history with exodus and violent persecutions. Regretfully, resurgent antisemitism across Europe currently unleashes anxieties and violence.

Despite persistent intimidation, transnational communities overcome victimhood and passiveness. Both Melchior and Herbert Pundik, the late renown Danish media editor, simultaneously contributed to the transnational development of diverse homelands/states. The state they both fought for and defended was originally designed as a “social democratic project” to ultimately eliminate antisemitism and provide homeland for the scattered transnational communities[ii]. Obviously, people could not have imagined that resolving one community’s suffering might lead to the uprooting of another community. Consequently, two transnational communities, that successively experienced enormous loss and grief, seem currently dialectically entangled. For most analysts the conflict revolves around statehood, nation and territorial disputes etc. In contrast, for the late social and political critiquer, and a Palestinian—American transnational, Edward Said “Most Palestinians are indifferent to and angered by stories of Jewish suffering… conversely most Israelis refuse to concede that Israel is built on the ruins of Palestinian society… yet there can be no reconciliation, no possible solution unless these communities confront each other’s experience in the light of the other… there can be no hope of peace, unless the stronger community, the Israeli Jewish, acknowledge the most powerful memory for Palestinians, namely the dispossession of an entire people”[iii]       

Though not comparable, recent Danish transnationals also engage in multiple contexts and identities. Such transnational communities also find themselves in the arduous trajectories of rescuing fellow relatives/countrymen while trying to survive in a world dominated by state structure- in which belonging to a nation-state institution remains pivotal. In practical terms, therefore, transnational connections, though beneficial in certain contexts, create certain dilemmas for communities.

For instance, the Iranian-Danish transnationals remain divided among those that tolerate the regime in Iran- and those that oppose it. In early January 2020 the world was on the brink of a major war. It was a military retaliation and counterretaliation between Trump versus Khomeini. The confrontation left many around the world scared. Particularly people with Iranian background- a vibrant community scattered across the world. Such communities maintain connections despite time and space differences. Binding them together include bonding and bridging ties that exist both in their host societies as well their homeland[iv]. For the opposition exiles, the Iranian regime represents a theocratic dictatorship suppressing freedom, democracy and peaceful coexistence within Iran and beyond. For them only a transnationally organized counter-revolution could lead to a peaceful and prosperous Iran. In contrast for the sympathizers, the regime confronts foreign aggression and imperialism. Though imperfect, they suggest, people should stand by their nations.

Although lesser dramatic and conflictual as abovementioned cases, recently Danish authorities also initiated minor projects that could facilitate transnational community encounters and connections within and beyond Denmark. The first initiative seeks diaspora potentiality among the Danish transnationals abroad. Denmark wants to recruit its own diaspora as human resource- so they could link and eventually return to Denmark. If successful, this will mean human capital injection into the Danish economy and development[v].

From the civic transnational perspective, Danish Refugee Council- a transnational Danish NGO, hosts numerous community mobilizing projects. Such projects target transnational diaspora and refugee groups who want to return and reconstruct their war-torn homelands. Compared to what transnational groups informally and voluntarily undertake in helping their homelands, the initiative seems minimal[vi]. Authorities might underestimate how transnational communities establish themselves in their host societies. Communities intend to remain transnationals in a world where mobility is a resource where restriction to a single country/nation might represent an ontological risk[vii]. In addition, among others Gilroy and later Clifford urge us to reconsider the often-presumed dialectical approach of transnational “roots” and “routes” or “origins” and “itineraries” need not be mutually exclusive[viii].       

Research also shows that such communities practice what scholars refer to “double consciousness”. On one hand they deal with the imposed consciousness (whether friendly or hostile) by societies. On the other they pursue their own pragmatic practical consciousness in which they resolve numerous transnational issues that confront them in different forms, in daily lives and in multiple contexts. No contradictions exist at different levels as people imagine maintaining demanded citizenship loyalty to a host nation while simultaneously committing to transnational ties to other nations[ix].

Though transnational communities still remain minorities in most countries, their subordinate status does not mean they don’t contribute to history and thereby development-including the establishment and transformation of civilizations. Arnold Toynbee, and before him Ibn-Khaldun argued that civilizations were often formed and developed by minorities-occasionally by the oppressed ones[x]. The common experience of harshness, exclusion and suffering strengthens the perseverance of such communities- letting them imagine and create a better future for their communities and beyond.  

[i] https://www.globalatlanta.com/holocaust-remembrance-event-praises-danes-for-their-courage-in-saving-jews-in-wwii/

[ii] https://politiken.dk/kultur/art7449178/%C2%BBJeg-er-under-st%C3%A6rk-indflydelse-af-j%C3%B8disk-etik.-Og-den-tillader-dig-ikke-tilskuerens-rolle.-Den-kr%C3%A6ver-handling%C2%AB

[iii] Said, Edward. 2000. “Invention, Memory, and Place.” Critical Inquiry 26 (Winter): 175– 92.

[iv] https://www.information.dk/moti/2020/01/lyttede-tre-herboende-iranere-ringede-hjem-familien-hoere-hvordan-gaar

[v] https://www.diasporadenmark.com/recommendations

[vi] https://flygtning.dk/internationalt/diaspora

[vii] Larsen, J., & Urry, J. (2016). Mobilities, networks, geographies. Routledge.

[viii] Gilroy, P. (1993). The black Atlantic: Modernity and double consciousness. Harvard University Press.

[ix] Du Bois, W. E. B. (1995). WEB Du Bois: a reader. Macmillan.

[x] Irwin, R. (1997). Toynbee and Ibn Khaldun. Middle Eastern Studies, 33(3), 461-479.

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