The idea of free speech is, I guess, one of the things I grew up with and have been taking for granted most of my life. Only recently have I learned, just how willing some people are to try and suppress it, in any shape or form, that seem to bother them. It always takes me by surprise, because I always believed it to be one of my fundamental rights. To think, draw, write, what I felt like, as long as it wasn’t crossing any lines of slander and so forth. Mindful that free speech doesn’t give you to right to say anything your heart might desire, still, I am always surprised when someone attacks my right to speak my mind.
I guess that Denmark, as a nation, never really see it coming. Mostly, we are an ironic kind of people. We don’t care about who draws ugly pictures of who, truth be told, we hardly ever take offence to anything and more than once, one could argue that what has been printed in our papers, might actually cross the line of slander and deformation, but nobody cares. (I was a paperboy for years, I have seen my fair share of headlines…)
The truth is, we just don’t care. I remember when the Mohammed drawings first came out. I saw an interview with a refugee who was greatly offended by them and asked the journalist, how would we feel if someone drew pictures like that, of our Queen?
I guess that paints a very fair picture of the difference between how Danes and the middle eastern refugees has been raised. Because any Dane would instantly answer that it has been done. The Queen has been the object of stand up comic shows for years, in every possible way, and no one takes offence. That is who we are. We love crossing lines, just a little bit, and we don’t care about a few snide remarks or some slightly improper pictures.
Once it became clear that someone did care, we didn’t take it seriously. The idea that someone might actually turn violent over something as innocent as a few drawings is as foreign to us, as the drawings themselves might be to those who are raised differently. We never imagined that someone would actually pick up a machine gun and sh0ot at free speech. Things like that, just doesn’t happen in Denmark.
And when it does, it leaves us shocked. What happened yesterday makes someone like me think twice about everything I do. I mean, what if it was me, who had been the target of an attack like that? What if two men had died, protecting me, because I had said or written something that might offend someone? I realize that writing fantasy, I might not ever (I hope not) end up in a situation like that, but imagine for a second, what it would be like. To have someone die, because you stand on your right to free speech?
Is free speech worth human lives? I mean, is it really? Would it be worth my life, if it should come to that?
I want to answer yes here, because this is how I was raised. Truth be told, when Danish papers are backing down from printing drawings, for fear that their staff might get killed, our entire foundation is shaken and that is serious. Do we let violence dictate what our papers write? What our artists create? Speaking as an artist myself, do I scare?
I do. I wouldn’t want myself or anyone else to die for my right to speak my mind. Truth is too, that I am kind of stubborn though, and rather headstrong. Like most Danes. That is what people should not forget about us. We tend to become increasingly stubborn, the more we are pushed. An attack like the one yesterday, will make us pause for a second, and wonder what happened. And then, it makes us stubborn. Free speech is one of our fundamental rights. We have been there, people have fought for this before and we are not about to lose it now.
If I may add, to anyone who might think that shooting artists who draw pictures they don’t like is cool; think twice about it. Do you want to create a martyr? Someone who dies in the name of something we as a nation, believes in so strongly?
Denmark is an increasingly racist nation, most Danes doesn’t even hear it when they make racist remarks anymore. Something like this, is not going to make the public look in kind on our immigrants and that s a shame. An attack like this one is doing so much damage for the people who truly needs shelter in Denmark. Even yesterday, when the police had not found the suspect yet, they released more than one statement, calling him “Arabic, but of lighter skin than usual.”
A public statement like that resonates ignorance, it truly does. It opens the gates once more, for all the closet racists to hate on the Arabic, yet again. I don’t even know what to say, when I read something like that.
Truth is, there is always something someone can take offence to, if one wants. In Denmark, we just never imagine that anyone would actually shoot us for being who we are.
My heart goes out to the victims of yesterday, and I would like to remind everyone what they died for. Our right to say, write, draw, paint, create… All I can say, is thank you. I am sorry that it came to that, and on behalf of the entire human race, I hope it will never happen again. I would hope that in the future, we could talk about things, and explain them to those who were raised in a different way and who doesn’t take free speech for granted. I would hope to, that they in turn, would listen. Nothing good will ever come of something like this. For anyone. It is just pointless and cowardly.
On a more personal note, I believe that today marks the ten year anniversary of my friend Janis’ suicide. Knowing full well, that Denmark will be holding “one minutes silence” to remember the victims of this attack, tomorrow, a small part of me can’t help but find it fitting. For once, for the first time in ten years, the world does grind to a halt on this horrible day. I know that I have waited for that, somehow. I realize that I might be just one out of a small handful of people, who will remember Janis, but still. Ten years. It feels like yesterday.
I guess traumatic events never truly leaves you. This attack won’t either. Especially not for the families of the victims. Yesterday will never go away. And it shouldn’t. It should never have happened in the first place. Just like when a young, beautiful, talented woman takes her own life, society has failed somehow. We have failed here as well, being who we are; stubborn, ignorant, headstrong, ironic people. Someone should have explained better, made sure that those offended, understood this is our way of life and mostly, we mean nothing by it.
I can’t help but wonder how we all failed the guy who picked up that gun yesterday. How misguided he must have been. I am not excusing what he did, there can be no excuse for that. Still, we all bear some kind of responsibility when an individual resorts to violence. I guess that is something to think about.
As for all those I may have offended by this post, apologies. I am, like everybody else, a symptom of the world I grew up in. I cannot refrain from speaking my mind. I am a writer. This is what I do. I would like to add “please don’t shoot me,” but that does feel a little dramatic. Doesn’t it?