Solidarity and division in the wake of terror

Omar El-Hussain killed two people before being shot dead by police this weekend. While many Danes call for solidarity, his religious motivation will undoubtedly feed into a toxic and divisive immigration debate

Despite the bitter cold, thirty thousand people joined together in Østerbro last night to mourn the dead from this weekend’s shootings in Copenhagen. Torches lit up the night sky, their embers soaring into the air above the sombre and subdued affair.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Danes are determined to not let this event redefine them, and from all corners a resounding message of solidarity and resilience has been voiced. But some voices are already breaking the partisan silence and defining the attacks through their political filter. With an election expected within the next seven months, the fallout of this weekend’s attacks may leave a lasting impact on Denmark’s future.

Solidarity but no consensus
The attack is widely regarded as a copycat of the shootings in Paris last month, which targeted free speech and the Jewish community. How then to prevent further attacks against Jews and cartoonists? Despite the calls for solidarity, there is no consensus on how to move forward.

In the public debate, carried forward by newspaper columnists and politicians, two main themes have emerged. The first is to downplay the religious angle. Before setting out on Saturday afternoon, the alleged gunman Omar El-Hussain posted a video celebrating Jihad. But reports have since indicated that he was not a practicing Muslim, and that while some friends remember him as clever and helpful, others recalled a young man with violent tendencies – he was only recently released from prison after stabbing a man on a train in an unprovoked attack in 2013.

Police stand guard outside the theatre Krudttønden, the site of the first attack. Photo: Peter Stanners

Speaking to the gathered crowd last night, PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt stressed that the attacks do not demonstrate a battle between Islam and the West.

“This is not a fight between Muslims and non-Muslims. This is a fight for freedom for each of us against a dark ideology,” she said, adding that Danes needed to hold hands and take care of each other, and not give in to fear.

Thorning-Schmidt also addressed the Jewish community and stressed their value in the Danish society. Dan Uzon was murdered on Saturday night as he guarded the city’s synagogue while a Bar Mitzvah was underway. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has seized on the incident, just as he did following the Paris attack, and called for mass immigration of European Jews to Israel.

But the Danish PM was clearly not interested in using the attacks to deepen existing religious divides. Neither was Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, chairman of Jew Community, who took to the stage and called for solidarity, before thanking the Danish society for its support.

He also thanked Muslim organisations that had sent messages of condolence. The Danish Islamic Board, Danish Muslims Union and the Muslims for Peace (MFP) all denounced the actions of El-Hussain and argued that terrorism can never be justified. Imad Malik, the spokesperson for MFP, stressed that the Islamic community will continue their fight against radicalisation of young Muslims.

People pay respect outside the synagogue in central Copenhagen, where Dan Uzon was murdered on Sunday morning. Photo: Peter Stanners

Parallel societies
To some, however, the attacks arose from a parallel society that fosters a hate of Jews and those who insult Islam. Writing in Politiken newspaper, MP Søren Pind, from opposition party Venstre, wrote that the attack was predictable and that the PM was naïve for urging Danes to carry on with their lives as usual.

“We are at war and we should act accordingly. We should be clear about that, instead of pretending that we can carry on like normal,” he wrote.

On DR’s Deadline programme last night, MP Marie Krarup, from populist Dansk Folkeparti, came straight out and blamed poorly integrated immigrants for posing a threat to the Danish society. It was fuel on her fire that a friend of El-Hussein’s told TV2 News that he sympathised with the deceased’s actions.

“If you draw the prophet with a bomb on his head, then you deserve to be killed,” he told the news anchor.

He was standing on the spot where El-Hussain was shot and killed early on Sunday morning. Images of his lifeless corpse lying on the street were broadcast, which the young man took offence to – why did the media show El-Hussain’s body, but covered Uzan’s body with a white tent? To him, this demonstrated a discrimination against Muslims in favour of Jews that was normalised in Danish society.

More than 30,000 people attended the memorial on Sunday night in honour of the two who were killed over the weekend. Photo: Alban Grosdidier

Uncertain legacy
The alienation of young men like El-Hussain is a deep social issue that the next government will inherit. But whether the approach will be compassion or suspicion, remains to be seen – the political and cultural impact of this weekend’s attacks has only just started to unfold.

Typical of terrorism, the greatest impact of the attacks may be felt in the aftermath. It’s not unimaginable to think that newspapers will shy even further from publishing offensive cartoons, and legislation will arise to shutter immigration and sacrifice civil liberties in exchange for increased surveillance.

One thing we may all agree on, is that the police – particularly the five injured on duty this weekend – deserve praise for minimising casualties and risking their own lives in the process. But despite whatever genuine sense of solidarity exists, there will be calls for changes in Denmark following this attack. Agreeing which direction to go will be undoubtedly be a politically fraught and divisive affair. M

Features, News

By Kristina Møller

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