It has been a week since Copenhagen was caught by surprise at the appearance of a form of violent Islamism in its’ midst. A young man, two weeks’ out of prison, opened fire on a cafe in Osterbro, before disappearing for a few hours to then unleash the same on the city’s main synagogue. Two people killed, a film maker in the cafe and a volunteer security guard outside the synagogue. Then, in the early hours of Sunday morning, Danish police shot dead a man who opened fire on them as they watched the suspect’s apartment in Norrebro, who was subsequently confirmed to be the culprit.
The reaction, or rather non-reaction of the Danes over the past week has been interesting. Is it the Danish sense of “well let’s just get on with it” or is it a collective shock? There has been plenty of coverage of various kinds in the Danish news media, the general reflection on the security services and state apparatus that these events cause. But the everyday people? The customary spring tradition (“Fastelavn” – Shrovetide) that this year fell the day after the shooting still took place, with children dressed up and having fun with the “cat in a barrel”, the Danish version of a pinata, in supermarkets and hassling their parents with bundles of twigs. I have only heard one Dane make reference to the entire incident, and that was actually to demonstrate a not-so-fun move that kept appearing in the roda at a capoeira class. Silence is a reaction to a shocking situation. But we should not apply “Anglo” pathologies to a culture which might look similar but is genuinely very different.
The key to understanding this is that Danes themselves, are on the one hand more relaxed about negative events (the “let’s get on with it” attitude), and that they have been bracing themselves for this for about ten years. It was through a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, that frankly the bulk of the Western world found out about the prohibition of the representation of a particular gentleman for about a billion people around the world. Add to that a less-than-smooth integration process in Denmark for foreigners and they unfortunately considered that it was not if, but when.
Nonetheless, the incident has raised interesting questions. The number of countries we can now tick off to have an incident, or more, surrounding this tension which has haunted this patch of the world for fifteen years or so, has had quite a few new members in the last year – Denmark, Australia and Canada. The events in France provoked horror and outrage in such measure it did make many of us finally have a serious consideration to ourselves the merits of free speech. But while in France, a clearly orchestrated plan with multiple assailants was executed, I submit that in Denmark, I disagree with Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s initial remark that this was a ‘cynical act of terror’. I think that rather, and not at all to diminish what happened, this was a single person’s act of desperation, exploited by some asshole in prison to bend it for his own ends.
The perpetrator was two weeks out of prison with a history of violence and gang association, a Danish citizen from a much maligned ethnic origin, growing up in a sketchy neighbourhood in a place that probably did not much appreciate his presence. He had a loving family, but clearly felt the weight of his Palestinian ancestry, if you read reports from various outlets from those who knew him. Bright guy who numbed his problems with hash, which is not really the marker of someone nailed into hardline Islam. Can someone with such a barrel-full of Freudian excuses have the genuine wherewithal to initiate a fully reasoned macropolitical act? Or is it more likely, that in this country, with that history, practically ensuring that his life was over, a far more cynical operator simply saw an opportunity in his prison cell and exploited it?
There is the terrorist you need to deal with, because that’s the guy who will make this happen again. In the mean time, the rest of us should follow the Danish example – on Monday at rallies in city centres across the country, Danes gathered to express their defiance at those who would try to intimidate them, but also to defend the minority communities at the centre of these events.