Denmark pays its respects
It’s actually quite hard to describe the feeling in Copenhagen this morning. People are going about their business as usual, that much is clear; but as soon as I left the house I could see something different in people’s faces.
On the train I watched a guy scold another for banging in to people with his bike. When the man with the bike apologised, the complainant looked him square in the eye and told him it wasn’t just once he’d done it, but several times. The trains are always packed at 9am, so I thought it was a unfair of the passenger to get angry with the cyclist. But looking around the train it’s obvious that everyone was thinking about the shootings, and anger and confusion go hand in hand.
I stepped off the train at Nørreport Station, as did the angry man, and we remained side by side as we climbed the steps together. It was at this station that video footage emerged of people being evacuated as the gunman went on the run after shooting his second victim. I couldn’t help but visualise this as I carried my bike up the stairs; imagining the panic wasn’t difficult, but coming in and out of this station daily made it that much more surreal.
Normally I would’ve gone straight ahead and walked the 150m to my office, but instead I took a slight left and seemed to slip in to a stream of people all heading the same way, including the angry man, who was now toking hard on a newly-lit cigarette. In silence everyone headed down Fiolstræde towards the junction of Krystalgade, where we were met by the sight of two armed police officers standing on the corner.
Now, I’ve been in this situation before. Documenting the news means just that, and emotions aren’t really meant to come in to it. Being impartial and telling a fair and unbiased story is important and feelings can get in the way. But even I was genuinely surprised at how I felt when I came round the corner. It was like hitting a wall of sadness. On a street that is usually alive and thriving with pedestrians, it had now become a solemn shrine of remembrance where the wounds were still fresh and all too easy to feel.
Carefully I removed my camera from its bag and watched as the angry man paused to pay his respects. He looked genuinely moved as he wrapped his scarf even more tightly around his face and pulled the collar of his long jacket up to his ears. He took one look at me as my lens clicked in to place and continued his journey.
The role of the media
Of course I wasn’t the only one there with a camera. Reporters and journalists from DR, TV2 and even Sky News were talking live to their audience, bathed in warm lights on an otherwise grey and dull morning. In the background, colourful flowers, bottles of beer, candles and even signed basketballs lined the pavement outside the synagogue where 37-year-old Dan Uzan was shot dead.
Sensitivity will always be an issue when covering stories like these, and I’ve met plenty of people who are shocked and disturbed when the media arrive to do their job. You can feel it, too; a look from someone that says, “How dare you profit from this situation.” I felt it this morning, and I wondered whether these individuals felt the same way about the dozens of other people taking photos with their Smart Phones and pocket cameras.
It doesn’t change anything, though: terrible incidents occur and people react. Our reactions are what make us human and every story needs that angle. How we deliver it is what is important.
The weekend terror attack in Copenhagen may not be on the same scale as London, Paris or New York, but that doesn’t make it any less of a disaster. This city I’ve been calling home for over two years feels more like a large urban village than a sprawling metropolis. There are no skyscrapers and many of the streets are still paved in cobbled stones; many of the buildings still standing from the 18th century. Often I recognise the same faces passing by as I cycle through the streets. And, because so many of us cycle, it means we feel a connectivity to most if not all areas of “town.” From Valby in the west to Østerbro in the East, every part of Copenhagen connects to the other in both a physical and emotional way.
Many Danes simply aren’t aware of how important Copenhagen is on the world stage, but speaking from an outsider’s perspective I can say that it’s huge. Denmark leads the way in the fashion, architecture, climate and entertainment industries around the world, and it’s no coincidence that the capital is seeing such a huge influx of people right now. Its green living, family-friendly society and low levels of crime and violence make it a desirable place to live.
Nothing should change that.
The violent actions of a small minority should never change the way we live our lives. If anything they should make us stronger; more in touch with one another. Petty arguments on the train pale in comparison to the bloodshed of innocent victims. But this is just stating the obvious.
Freedom of Speech / Dissing Religion
Despite the deaths of these two men, Copenhagen must continue to defend freedom of speech. Sadly the Swedish government has been quoted as saying that cartoonist Lars Vilks – probably the gunman’s original target – is on his own. “He got himself in to this,” they said, “he can get himself out of it.” Thanks Sweden.
Would they be so flippant with their comments if the catalyst for the shooting had been football or politics? Doubtful. If a Swedish man decided to shoot me in Stockholm because I once took the piss out of Copenhagen FC, is that still “my problem”? I don’t think so. Telling someone to tidy up their own mess in the world of Fundamental Religion is a dangerous and slippery slope, and governments around the world would do well to remember it.
For my part I’ll choose to remember all the peaceful and caring Muslims I’ve been fortunate to meet over the years. The majority, I call them. My landlord in Nottingham, for instance, who made no profit on the house he rented out to me (even though there were pigeons living in the ceiling and shitting everywhere). And the Muslim teenagers who fed and watered my colleague and I at 2am whilst emergency services tended to their sick mother on the sofa. Despite my atheism, I still respect anyone who thinks of others before themselves.
It’s not a skill many of us possess in the 21st century.
So don’t be afraid, Copenhagen. Take action and deliver justice where necessary, and never forget those who have died needlessly. But above all else, keep doing what you do best. Provide welfare to those who need it; welcome those who choose to come here and live a better life; give people a platform to express their opinions without the use of force or violence; and set an example to countries around the globe, that Copenhagen is one of the safest, cleanest, least corrupt, and most hospitable places to live on this crazy planet.