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Scientologists are ‘rearming’ in Copenhagen: researcher

Scientologists have opened a new, major church in Copenhagen, and its location in the Danish capital is no coincidence according to an expert researcher.

Scientologists are 'rearming' in Copenhagen: researcher
File photo: franky242/Depositphotos
The new church, strategically placed in Copenhagen's iconic Nytorv square, opened last weekend, reports Politiken.
 
 
According to the organisation itself, more than 2500 people attended the opening day celebrations. The Church of Scientology stated its new building in Denmark was “the next step in the growth of the church.”
 
Peter Birkelund Andersen, an associate professor of cross-cultural and regional studies at the University of Copenhagen, who has studied Scientology for many years, calls the move a “rearmament.”
 
“They went for a central location. And it's a deliberate move to open the church a stone's throw from (the pedestrian street) Strøget, with lots of passers-by which the Scientologists want to get in touch with,” Birkelund Andersen told Politiken.
 
“This is a sign that they are rearming for something they believe could become a new expansion,” he said.
 
 
Copenhagen is also the home to the Church of Scientology's European headquarters, with members from all over the world visiting the course centre on Jernbanegade. 
 
Apart from the new Nytorv church, there is one more church in Copenhagen, and one in Aarhus. But the new church stands out from the others, according to Birkelund Andersen, in that it invites passers-by to come inside from the street.
 
“I believe that to be a strategic choice, which gives you a good picture of what Scientology wants: to get more people inside and show that they have beautiful and newly-refurbished premises, compared to the yellow exhibition tents with folding tables at Strøget, for instance, where they have invited people until now,” he said.
 
 
According to Anette Refstrup, head communications at the Church of Scientology in Denmark, the organisation employs around 1000 people in the country, 170 of whom work at the new church in Nytorv.
 
She also stated that the Church, which is not recognised as a religious community in Denmark, sends out members' magazines to around 25,000 people in the country. But not all of these are active members.
 
“I would estimate that around 4000-5000 have been active lately,” Refstrup told Politiken.
 
But Birkelund Andersen thinks the figures are exaggerated, estimating Denmark has a total of 2000-4000 Scientologists.
 

“The Church of Scientology itself would say that they have a large and steady membership growth here in Denmark. They stress that there's a constant expansion. But I find that hard to see, even though it is true that there's recruitment happening all the time,” he told Politiken.

 

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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