It began on Saturday, February 14, 2015. We had all expected it. Politicians have been warning us of the big, bad wolf since the infamous cartoons from Jyllands-Posten were published in 2005. They said Copenhagen will be next. And then we heard the terrible news of a gunman attacking a cultural center, where a Swedish cartoonist whose drawings were published in Jyllands-Posten was attending a debate about art, blasphemy, and freedom of speech.
Later that night, a gunman – the same gunman – opened fire at a Copenhagen synagogue.
It began with one dead and three wounded. By Sunday morning, the casualties had risen to two dead – three, if you include the alleged perpetrator – and a total of five wounded. Denmark was mourning. We were in shock.
Hours went by, and then we learned who the shooter was; a young man, merely 22-years-old. Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein came from a non-religious family and struggled his entire life to find a place to belong. He tried several times to join an infamous gang, but even they rejected him. He had a history of violence. We first heard of him last year, when he was wanted by the police for stabbing an innocent young man on the train. In court, he explained he suffered from anxiety attacks, that under the influence of drugs, he was convinced the guy was out to hurt him. El-Hussein was sentenced two years, but was released after one.
Two weeks after his release, we once again saw his face splashed across the news – this time, for murder. His religion was the most important factor now – his drug abuse, long criminal record, anxiety, and violent nature irrelevant. The quest for answers reached its peak.
The final answer? He is a Muslim. He is a terrorist.
As the dust and shock settled, the Muslim community was tense with fear of retaliation. We feared leaving our homes, being shouted at, being attacked, becoming victims of someone’s revenge for sharing the same religion as the perpetrator. Guilt by association.
Public debate over the last 18 years has stigmatized discourse about minorities, making polite speech and tolerance taboo and a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s made ridicule, mockery and hate speech the stronghold of its values.
This was no exception. As the hateful comments by politicians took their course, as warmongering editors declared war on Muslims, and as the common Dane wrote hateful comments from behind his computer screen, another voice began to appear. A voice that has left an everlasting imprint on my heart.
Mosques began receiving heartfelt letters from our fellow Danes, letters that spoke of peace, of love, and of respect. Letters that sought to reclaim Danish values as the open, tolerant, and heartwarming people we know our countrymen to be. Letters that sought to disown politicians’ eagerness to continue hate speech through their high positions as public representatives, to divide us as a people and to let hate and fear manifest in our hearts. Our fellow Danes have been spotted on the streets of Copenhagen with signs stating: “I love Muslims – stop the hate.”
Our fellow Danes have come to the mosque and handed out flowers. Our fellow Danes have smiled, questioned, and been critical of the black-and-white picture portrayed by media and politicians.
By standing together, by critically analyzing the past two decades’ discourse of stigmatization and division, by questioning how some politicians claim Muslim are less integrable than Western immigrants, by examining how some politicians see Muslims born in Denmark as second-generation immigrants, by not excluding each other from Danish society, then we can grow stronger.
When we raise questions, we will find answers.
We need to start raising these questions, so maybe – just maybe – our politicians will start listening and reproduce the same discourse.
Maybe they will start working for a unified Denmark, where we accept each other across color, religion, and differences.