When I arrived in Copenhagen as a Rotary fellow in 1966, I was told that the best place to meet people was the International Student Center. There, I met a young man from Palestine who said he was a Christian and state-less.
“Surely,” I said to myself, “all people have a state, don’t they, and aren’t all Arabs Muslims?” (Only much later did I learn that a majority of Arab Americans are Christians.) I don’t remember this fellow’s name, but do know that he found a career and a new home in Denmark.
Later that year, I met an Iranian by the name of Khalid. We double-dated several times, and I later learned he had trained to become a ship’s captain. Persians in Denmark have integrated exceptionally well and are employed in many highly skilled jobs.
When I returned to Denmark in 2007, I was driven from the airport by an Iranian youth. His father purchased a number of Mercedes Benzes for his taxi company. The son was studying for a business degree; his brother and sister were in professional programs as well.
The first stop on my tour of the Nordic countries last month was Iceland, where I met a number of ambitious young immigrants. The first night I met a Polish waitress who had dreams of becoming an actress in New York. The next night I met a Philippina at another restaurant and she aspired to become an airline attendant.
The immigrant with one of the most interesting histories was Lena, who worked in my hotel in Iceland. She fled the violence of her native Honduras, and emigrated to Spain where she married. She found herself unhappy with her in-laws, and she was working long hours at low pay. Now, in Iceland, she and her husband have had a child and are making much more money and working fewer hours in their new jobs.
In Copenhagen I was taken to my hotel by a Lebanese man named Aiman. In 1991 he had fled the civil war in his country and had married a Dane. They have three children: a daughter studying to be a nurse, a son in medical school, and a younger daughter in college preparatory school.
At my Swedish hotel there were a number of immigrants working at the breakfast buffet. I fell into a conversation with a young man from Bangladesh. We bemoaned the fact that the British had divided his proud Bengali people into Hindu and Muslim factions. His goal was to study business and start his own restaurant.
I was driven to the ferry (as large as a cruise ship) to Helsinki by an Iraqi Christian who fled his country in 2006. Sweden has accepted more Iraqi Christians than any other country.
My driver reminded me that Sadaam Hussein had protected the Christian population and that his foreign minister was a Christian. Our invasion led to the rise of Al Qaeda and later ISIS, who murdered thousands of Christians and drove millions into exile.
My driver said that his family had been welcomed by the Swedes, and his three children were doing well in school. He was personally uncomfortable about the Swedes’ liberal view of things, especially sex education in the schools.
He felt bitter, having been a high school math teacher in Iraq. He had tried to get a position in the Swedish school system, but even after years of gallant effort his Swedish was not good enough to teach in such a technical subject.
This good Christian man was most upset that he was forced to leave his native country. He spat out the following names as curse words: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. I found myself joining him in these condemnations.
Nick Gier taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Email him at email@example.com.