We did not learn about the Copenhagen shootings until we lay in bed, checking facebook on the Ipad. We heard sirens when we strolled around the lakes after dinner, but this is normal given Riget (the hospital of Lars von Trier’s tv series) is quite close by. We saw nothing out of the ordinary to reveal the horror that was happing around us: three people, including the offender, killed and several wounded right here in our local area.
The first incident was on Østerbro at an event to debate art, blasphemy and freedom of speech to mark the 26th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Police attended due to participation of the Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, who has given name to the organising body of the event, The Lars Vilks Committee. In 2007, a couple of years after the Danish Mohammad cartoons, Vilks drew a picture of Mohammad as a dog, following on from a participatory art installation movement in Linkjoping in Sweden, also known as Rondellhund. Following terror threats, his protection by police is now constant. This event followed a similar event last year and watching the YouTube clip of it is like watching a prophecy of what happened at 3.30 pm on Saturday 14 February 2015. A man with a machine gun shot randomly into the cafe and killed a man – Finn Nørgaard, a Danish filmmaker, who was attending the event. Three police officers were also wounded.
The second incident took place at the synagogue in Krystalgade in the inner city of Copenhagen. The Jewish community was celebrating a Bar Mitzvah. In the early hours of Sunday morning, a young man, seemingly drunk, walked up close to the 37-year-old guard, Dan Urzan, who was protecting the entrance of the synagogue. The young man shot Urzan with a gun and two police officers were wounded, while the offender escaped.
At about 5am on Sunday 15 February 2015, Police confronted a young man, 22, on Nørrebro. He opened fire against the police officers and was promptly killed. Police expect him to be the gun man and are still investigating if the actions were part of organised terror against the Danish people, or whether it was the actions of an unstable person acting alone.
As police continue to investigate, there are many reactions possible. As we walk the streets of Copenhagen, there is little evidence that anything is different. People still walk the streets, rush by on their bikes and stop to feed the swans at the lakes.
Like many others, I went past the Synagoge on Monday morning. I don’t know if it was the number of people, the masses of flowers and lit candles in front of the Synagoge, the eager news reporters and photographers reporting in a variety of languages, or the police officers with machine guns, but I was deeply affected by the mood, the situation. While machine guns displayed in public is disconcerting, I left with an overwhelming sense of solidarity and even security in this mass of people of very diverse backgrounds who came to show respect.
How do we react to protect this wonderful country from future threats? I believe we need to do three things:
- We stand up for freedom of expression. We cannot be bullied into fear and quiet. And we must not stand by silently when others are persecuted, no matter their religion or ethnic background. Freedom of expression, by the way, includes the right to wear religious or cultural symbols.
- We resist the temptation to engage in divisive Us and Them narratives. It is not Christians against Muslims. It is not immigrants against Danes with pedigree. It is not right against left politics. We need to embrace diversity with empathy, inclusion and solidarity.
- We hold on to the social trust that is Denmark’s greatest asset. All people living in Denmark must extend trust and hence respect to a greater diversity of people in the community. If we shift the Danish foundation from trust to fear, we could find ourselves in a very different community, with security gates, segregation, firearms for protection and rising inequality.
Denmark must not lose this trust that builds social capital. As French Ambassador to Denmark, Francois Zimeray, said our trust-based society is valuable and a role model to the world. It is what makes Denmark such a wonderful place to visit and make home.
Thank you to the dedicated police officers who protect us. Sincere condolences to all who have lost loved ones. I wish speedy recovery to those who have been wounded. And speedy recovery to this country, this town. I am sure we can grow it stronger, together. Peace.