Perhaps Denmark’s most talked about poetry reading ever happened without drama yesterday evening, as outspoken poet Yahya Hassan read from his self-titled debut publication to a crowd of about 250 at an Odense school.
One man was arrested and 15 were turned away by police outside the school.
Several hundred uniformed and plainclothes officers had the school under observation since Sunday and began securing the area around noon. In what police officials called one of their biggest operations ever, students were dismissed early, a complete sweep of the area for bombs was conducted and road checkpoints were established. A no-fly zone was also established in a 5km radius around the school.
According to police estimates, security for the event cost about one million kroner. The cost, they said, was more than the amount spent on security for high-risk football matches.
The reading had initially been slated to be held at the public library in the Vollsmose council estates, but was cancelled by police out of fear that Hassan, 18, would be in physical danger due to his critical comments about Islam. Earlier this month, he was assaulted in Copenhagen’s central station and has since lived under police protection.
City officials eventually rescheduled the reading and moved it to the school, which police felt would be easier to secure, after protests by Hassan and others that the police were limiting the poet’s freedom of speech.
Hassan’s poetry collection has become a best-seller and been lauded with praise by critics. Over the past several weeks he has become a media fixture for his critical statements about his Islamic upbringing. He said he intended last night’s poetry reading as a way to speak directly to the people who shared his own background.
“Instead of continuing to speak about these people, it is important for me to speak with them,” Hassan said as the event began.
Only a handful of the attendees last night were Muslim, but the majority appeared to have a white-middle class background.
Most Muslim residents of Vollsmose who spoke with the press appeared not to support Hassan’s views, but felt he had the right to express them. Many said the public appearance was unnecessarily provocative.