“My home country lost its innocence”: reflections on the Danish terror attacks

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On Valentine’s Day, my home country of Denmark lost its innocence. A lone gunman fired an automatic weapon into the crowd of an event about freedom of speech. A 55 year old civilian died and three police officers were injured. The same gunman escaped the scene and later in the night murdered a man outside a Jewish synagogue, injuring two police officers as he escaped again. The police investigation led officers to his address within the same night, where the suspect opened fire on the police, who returned fire and killed the man. The man turned out to be 22 years old, Danish born and with Palestinian roots, who had a history of gang affiliation and had been released from prison just two weeks prior, serving a sentence for a violent attack.

Depending on your definition of terrorism, these were arguably the first victims of terrorism in Denmark in modern history. The innocence of a small Scandinavian country was tainted by the bloodshed in three different parts of central Copenhagen.

Thousands have gathered at memorials across the country in solidarity against terrorism
Thousands have gathered at memorials across the country in solidarity against terrorism

In a way, it was anticipated. Denmark has followed an activist military doctrine since 2003, engaging in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the bombings in Libya and of ISIL. Denmark has had a considerable number of young men travel to Syria and Iraq to pick up arms. Not to forget that Denmark became infamous in 2005 for having a national newspaper invite cartoonists to draw the prophet Mohammed.

With each of these events came a growing sense of being connected to the rest of the world. And with terror attacks in London, Madrid and recently Paris, the question was increasingly “when” and not “whether” it would happen in Copenhagen.

Most immediate reactions were predictable. Some were too predictable. Between the two attacks, foreign policy spokesman for the major center-right party, Søren Pind, suggested burying the responsible people “in the skin from animals that would prevent them from entering their so-called paradise”, while parliamentary candidate for the party, Kristoffer Hjort Strom tweeted that “the Left and others who supported Islam’s entry in Denmark should be held accountable”.

Let’s remember that the purpose of terrorism is not just spreading fear. It is to drive a wedge between groups of people that now, more than ever, should realize that they share the key to a peaceful future.

Most people however, reacted in an exemplary manner. Lipstick kisses were left on police cars to show support. 30.000 people gathered in Copenhagen this Monday to honor the victims. Different Muslim organizations were also quick to call for unity, with spokesperson Imad Malik stating that “terrorism has no religion” and that “we cannot be naïve to the fact that some people misuse Islam to further egotistical and political agendas” before finally asking for everyone to stand together in the fight for anti-radicalization.

Let’s remember that the purpose of terrorism is not just spreading fear. It is to drive a wedge between groups of people that now, more than ever, should realize that they share the key to a peaceful future. We live side by side and that is irreversible. Let us not live side by side in fear, but with mutual respect.

Toke Dahler

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