In a country that is staunchly protective of people’s right to speak freely, it should come as little surprise that few questioned the benefit of spending a million kroner to provide police protection for Yahya Hassan during his poetry reading in the Vollsmose council estate this week.
And had the reading accomplished its stated goal of allowing Hassan to discuss his controversial poetry with the people it is about – Muslims, just like the 19-year-old himself – then the money might have been well spent.
But as it turned out, the majority of those attending were middle-class whites. Despite Hassan’s good intentions, the image in the media quickly became one of police protecting a building filled mostly with whites from the threat of “terrorism” in the form of young Muslim men angered by what they feel are Hassan’s insults against their religion and their culture.
Instead of offering police protection to the tune of a million kroner to provide security at such an event, Odense authorities ought to have considered whether the money would have been better spent on programmes to help angry young men without Hassan’s talent as a writer to get an education, find jobs, stay out of crime and generally improve their situation.
Despite the unfortunate situation on Tuesday, it’s worth noting that Hassan wasn’t interested in speaking to a cultural elite predisposed to agreeing with his criticism of Islam. His book may be a bestseller, but it’d be a good bet that most of those buying his book don’t share his background.
But as Hassan underscored ahead of Tuesday’s appearance, he wants to deliver his message to the people who live in the same reality he describes. Some of his peers have challenged that reality, and an open discussion about whether his experiences are the norm would help clarify whether his poetry is more fiction than fact.
Given his upbringing in a housing estate dominated by immigrants, Hassan has earned himself a reputation as a ‘ghetto poet’ who uses his writing talent as an outlet for his anger about his troubled youth. Hassan has become wildly popular (as far as poets go), but it is unclear whether it is his message, his talent or his choice of genre that sets him apart from other, equally angry, young people from ‘the ghetto’.
Had Hassan been a rapper or an average teen simply there to speak about the experience of growing up Muslim in Denmark, it’s unlikely many would have taken note. Had that been the case, then maybe his peers would have made an effort to tune into what he had to say.