Poet’s Vollsmose event going forward despite police concerns

Odense Council reverses course and decides to move ahead with Yahya Hassan’s poetry reading and discussion despite threats of violence and chaos

Poet Yahya Hassan will be speaking Tuesday in the troubled Odense suburb of Vollsmose after all. 

The 18-year-old, whose collection of poems has set off a nationwide debate about immigration and Islam, had expressed his disappointment that the sold-out event was cancelled after police said they could not guarantee public order

“Who is it 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," Hassan told Politiken newspaper. "And yet they don’t have the balls to go out to Vollsmose. It’s a damned admission of failure. It’s bullshit.”

READ MORE: Event with high-profile poet cancelled over safety concerns

But now Odense Council's cultural spokesperson Steen Møller has told Politiken that the event will take place.

"It hasn't been cancelled. We plan on holding the arrangement on Tuesday," he said. "We are currently looking for other locations in Vollsmose. Right now we are meeting with police to discuss the security aspects."

Police had strongly cautioned against the event. The chief superintendent of Fyens Politi, John Jacobsen, told Politiken that police recommended the event be moved from Vollsmose's library because police could not guarantee order and safety. Jacobsen denied that they were unable to protect Hassan but instead said that police feared that general chaos could break out.

"We can handle Yahya Hassan's personal safety at any location," Jacobsen said. "This is about the concern for public calm and order."

READ MORE: Young poet threatened after TV appearance

Quick rise to fame
Hassan rose to national prominence after an initial column in Politiken newspaper critical of his parents' generation of immigrants That was followed up by a widely-seen appearance on the TV programme 'DR Deadline'. The attention he received led to an explosion in book sales and several speaking engagements. He has also been profiled by the Wall Street Journal and was honoured as the debut author of the year at a recent book forum. A translation of his poems into English is also underway.

The 18-year-old, who was born in Aarhus to Palestinian parents, was assaulted on Monday at Copenhagen Central Station by 24-year-old Isaac Meyer, who was convicted on terror charges in 2007 under the name Abdul Basit Abu-Lifa. Meyer admitted to attacking Hassan and witnesses say he called the young poet an "infidel" and that he "deserved to die". Meyer faces a potential three years for the assault. 

When Hassan spoke at an event at Politiken's lecture hall, he was wearing a bulletproof vest due to the threats of violence that have followed him ever since his emergence on the national scene.

Asked by Politiken if we was concerned that he could be killed, he admitted he was.

"Yeah, it could happen. But so be it," he said. "You cannot protect against everything. It's important to get out into those areas [like Vollsmose]. It is important to talk about freedom of speech."

The decision to cancel the Vollsmose library event was met with severe criticism from many quarters and from Hassan himself. 

“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 told Politiken. “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.”