Event with high-profile poet cancelled over safety concerns

Yahya Hassan wants to speak directly to his contemporaries, but a planned event in Vollsmose has been cancelled; “an admission of failure”, the poet says

The poet Yahya Hassan was assaulted Monday in Copenhagen, but that hasn’t stopped him from wanting to take his message to the people. Specifically, the 18-year-old wants to speak directly to his peers in the immigrant community. 


He had planned to entered the lion’s den in Odense’s troubled suburb of Vollsmose. But a sold-out reading and discussion there has now been cancelled by organisers after police on Funen determined that the threat against “public order” was too high. 


(UPDATE: The event is back on)


Hassan, who now has to wear a bulletproof vest and receive protection from domestic intelligence agency PET at speaking engagements, criticised the decision to cancel the event as “an admission of failure”. 


“There can very well be verbal abuse, threats and a bad vibe, but it is out there [in Vollsmose] where I need to get my message out and explain what I am doing,” Hassan told Politiken newspaper. 


READ MORE: Yahya Hassan assaulted at Central Station


Not just for the "cafe latte segment"
The young poet, who has sold some 40,000 copies of his debut, said it is not enough to just keep preaching to the choir.


“I’ve spoken with Politiken’s cafe latte segment, now I want to go out and talk to people with my background and from my generation,” he said. “What do I get out of 300 white people standing and clapping for me? I already know we agree. What about the others? It is them who I need to reach.”


He went on to say that freedom of expression is not just something that should be protected when it is convenient. 


“The police don’t dare to go out there. Vollsmose library doesn’t dare [to hold the event]. It is just sad,” he continued to Politiken. “Who is it then that protects this freedom of speech we talk so much about? The library, the police, Politiken, the authorities, the council, ministers and politicians keep talking about freedom of speech and say that it matters above all else. And yet they don’t have the balls to go out to Vollsmose. It’s a damned admission of failure. It’s bullshit.”


Police: We can't guarantee order
The chief superintendent of Fyens Politi, John Jacobsen, told Politiken that police recommended the event be moved because police cannot guarantee order and safety. Rather than move the event, organisers cancelled it outright. 


Jacobsen denied that they were unable to protect Hassan but instead said that police feared that general chaos could break out.


Former imam Ahmed Akkari had rocks thrown at him and was subject to verbal abuse at a Vollsmose event in October. Things got even more out of hand at Aarhus’s Gellerup Parken housing estate, where 15 people were arrested. 


READ MORE: Islam critic refuses to back down despite rock-throwing incident


Several politicians criticised the cancellation of Hassan’s planned event. 


“[The cancellation] prevents Yahya Hassan from using his democratic freedom of expression, his own words and his own impressions in the poems he has written,” the culture minister, Marianne Jelved (R), told public broadcaster DR. “It is completely unacceptable. We need to hold on to what democracy is, or otherwise we reduce it day by day. Of course there should be discussions in Vollsmose and the police should make the necessary precautions to make it possible.”