This is a text montage, a text-collage of articles on Yahya Hassan, a recent young literary phenomenon in Denmark. Everybody knows about him. I just left Denmark’s community of words, and then this fucking happens, someone stole my breakthrough. He is a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon lashing out on his own kind in the Muslim ghettos of Aarhus, Denmark where he grew up, blaming his parents for their lack of care towards their children. For that he got an enormous amount fame in Denmark, no poet/writer has ever accomplished such attention in that short time.
It ran in a Danish newspaper. I saw/listened to the recitation and while I did that, death threats were pouring into the comments section. And a fiery debate was going on. I was curious.
Translated into English:
“You don’t want pork meat,
may Allah praise you for your eating habits,
you want Friday prayer till the next Friday prayer,
you want Ramadan till the next Ramadan,
and between the Friday prayers and the Ramadans,
you want to carry a knife in your pocket,
you want to go and ask people if they have a problem,
although the only problem is you.”
I have never been at a literary event with so many people, or guarded by police and PET (Danish secret service). It was like going to the concert of a well known band (with a lot of girl fans).
Hassan – the 18-year-old controversial poet is the son of immigrants who are Muslims. He is of Palestinian descent and grew up in a western suburb of Aarhus, Denmark in a home marked by violence. He is now creating his own media sensationalism with brand of controversy amongst Islamic circles and elsewhere with a new book of poetry that was published in Denmark last month. The writing student’s self-titled book contains around 150 poems, many of which are severely critical of the religious environment he grew up in of the immigrant community, which he accuses of bad parenting. Eighteen-year-old Yahya Hassan is angry, very angry.
Hassan is a product of this culture, born in what he refers to as a “lower class place, a ghetto” in Western Denmark. He says his parents, who came to Denmark from a refugee camp in Lebanon but consider themselves Palestinian, would talk about the horrors they left behind in the Middle East.
Before emerging as a poet, he was part of the local rap scene and was applauded by Denmark’s cultural elite when he delivered the message ”I have a single bullet for Messerschmidt” (MEP Morten Messerschmidt is among The Danish People’s Party’s most popular and successful representatives).
He rose to prominence after an initial column in Politiken newspaper followed up by an appearance on the TV program ‘DR Deadline’. The attention he received led his publisher Gyldendahl to expand the run of his first poetry book from 600 to 17,000. He was honored as the debut author of the year at a recent book forum, and a translation of his poems into English is also underway.
The young poet was attacked (fist in face) in Copenhagen when seeing a friend off at a train. A 24-year-old man, identified as Isaac Meyer, allegedly shouted that Hassan was an infidel and should die, attacked him from behind.Hassan’s safety is on the line.
His book has been a surprise strong seller since it hit the relatively small Danish market Oct. 17, with 32,000 copies being sold in about two weeks. The publisher, Gyldendal, says books of poetry in Denmark are lucky to hit 500 copies. In televised interviews, Hassan has been anything but tempered in his comments about what he views as a culture of hypocrisy underpinning Denmark’s Muslim population. His words have prompted arguably the largest debate on religion in the small Scandinavian nation, after reciting one of his poems, titled “LANGDIGT,” or “LONG POEM,” (he writes in capital letters only) on a Danish television station a few weeks ago, he received 27 death threats and police are investigating what they perceive as the most serious ones.
I caught up with Hassan about a week after his book was published. His black hair tied back in a ponytail, the young poet discussed his work as he worked through a pack of cigarettes.
At first glance, Hassan looks like a typical Danish teenager of Middle East origin. His white T-shirt is covered by an elegant dark coat; his stylish blue pants are paired with brown leather shoes.
“There’s something wrong with Islam,” Hassan, a self-proclaimed atheist, says. “The religion refuses to renew itself.” It needs a “reformation.”
His poems carry titles like “CHILDHOOD” and “DISGUSTED,” dealing with issues like the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, child abuse, and the interplay between violence and religion. Profanity and vivid analogies help carry his work.
FIVE CHILDREN IN A ROW AND A FATHER WITH A STICK
MULTIMOURNING AND A POOL OF PISS
IN TURNS WE PUT A HAND FORWARD
FOR A PREDICTABLE FAULT
THIS SOUND WHEN THE PUNCHES HIT
A SISTER THAT JUMPS SO SUDDEN
FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER
THE PISS IS POURING DOWN HER LEG
FIRST THE ONE HAND THEN PUT OUT THE OTHER
TOO SLOW AND AND IT WILL HIT ANYWAY
A HIT A SCREAM A NUMBER 30 OR 40 ON OCCASIONS 50
AND THE ASS GETS SMACKED GOING OUT THE DOOR
HE TAKES BROTHER BY THE SHOULDER AND GETS HIM UP
CONTINUING TO COUNT AND HIT
I LOOK DOWN WAITING FOR MY TURN TO COME
MOM SMASHING PLATES IN THE STAIRWAY
WHILE AL JAZEERA IS BROADCASTING
HYPER ACTIVE BULLDOZERS AND CHARRED BODY PARTS
THE GAZA STRIP IN SUNLIGHT
FLAGS ARE BEING BURNED
IF A ZIONIST DOESN’T ACKNOWLEDGE OUR EXISTENCE
IF WE EVEN EXIST
WHEN WE SWALLOW THE FEAR AND PAIN
WHEN WE STRUGGLE FOR AIR OR REASON
IN SCHOOL WE CAN’T TALK ARABIC
AT HOME WE CAN’T TALK DANISH
A HIT A SCREAM A NUMBER
Hassan’s biggest complaint seems to be with his own peer group. “There is a massive group of Arabs – Muslims — – that commit crime on a big scale. They steal things, they sell stolen things, or they deal hash. But how can you call yourself a Muslim if all this is forbidden?”
He is careful to clarify the target of his criticism. “I speak about the lower class, the ghetto areas.”
It’s no exaggeration that Yahya Hassan’s unambiguous statements on Islam have left the left wing, the multiculturalists and the educated public in general in a state of panic and since then they have strived to give the impression that Hassan is only criticizing aspects of Islam or that he is critical of all religions.
He dropped out of school at 13 and soon ended up “living out of a duffel bag” traveling from institution to institution because of behavior problems, including theft. During long periods of isolation – imposed by authorities and his father – he took time to read and grew to love literature, he said.
Danish media has already lauded him as a role model for his generation.
Hassan, however, knew that publishing his unfiltered thoughts on the Muslims would create problems. “I knew when I would tell my story it would break many taboos and many people would get offended and my parents would get angry. But my premise was that I would have to tell it as it is.”
Hassan’s book was published in mid-October, but his name became popular earlier in the month after one of his first big interviews became an online sensation in Denmark. Politiken published a piece titled “I F***ing Hate My Parents’ Generation,” which became the most shared story to ever run on the Danish daily newspaper’s website.
The writer is quick to blame his parents and their contemporaries as the reason he got involved in robberies and quit school. He says his father was physically abusive in his ways of “reprimanding” the family, and the experience shows up in his writing.
Hassan’s parents could not be reached for comment, and have stayed out of the media spotlight. But Hassan says his poetry is only a generalization, and he wants to move past debates about whether he is a racist or role model. “People can say what they want to about my poems,” he says. “They can call them Islam-criticism, they can call them poetry, but that has nothing to do with the author; it has nothing to do with me.”
In addition to targeting hypocrisy, his poetry, he says, speaks to the problem of Muslims “exploiting the society they live in.”
He sheds light and understanding on what it can be like coming from another country and religion, trying to make a living in Denmark.
”The ghettos are full of stupid Muslims, who run around in jogging outfits”
On free speech, Hassan says “Muslims love to take advantage of (it), and as soon as there is someone else saying something critical against them, they want to restrict it.”
“They go to Friday prayers but spend the other days of the week stealing, fencing, drinking booze and going to bed with Danish girls. When they are in prison, they will leaf through the Koran, get themselves worry beads and accumulate good deeds so they can start anew with all the forbidden stuff.”
”Is it any wonder that we are faced with a generation of stupid people when their parents are so idiotic? They have exempted their children from Christianity and sports.”
”Just the fact that they are not allowed to bathe together with Danish children creates a physical distance. It is ‘us’ and ‘them’ all the time.”
Kassem Rachid, an Imam from the Danish city of Aabenraa, said he respects the poet’s right to air his views, but prefers Hassan take a different route.
“I can understand that he grew up in a problematic surrounding, but that does not have to do with religion…of course I know families like the one he describes in his book, but those you find among immigrants as well as native Danes.”
Hassan welcomes dialogue, saying he didn’t become a poet to “build a career” and has “no political agenda.”
As for his harsher critics who have threatened to hurt him, Hassan says “I know these people.” After stubbing out another cigarette, he leans forward putting his elbows on his knees, shivering slightly in response to the cold Scandinavian evening setting in. “They can’t handle criticism…they’re not interested in dialogue.”
These past few days, Yahya Hassan has left his former admirers among the cultural elite in deep trouble. Yahya Hassan is no longer aiming his gun at the Danish People’s Party or the ”system”.
He now thinks that immigrant parents have failed and he has become extremely critical of Islam. Last week he astonished the country by reading a poem on the television program Deadline including these lines:
”I piss on Allah and his messenger and on all his useless disciples”
In another poem he writes about his father:
”He made five children with bitter hearts/And found a new head scarf and made three more.”
Suddenly I felt connected. We both had problems with our abusive parents, we were both writers, I once lived in this ghetto of his, and now we swapped countries. He went from here in Lebanon to Aarhus in Denmark and made a name for himself as a writer. Then I thought, maybe I could reverse it, and do the same. Go from Aarhus, Denmark and to Beirut, Lebanon becoming an acclaimed writer/poet.
I have to be angry about something they can understand down here, then the fame will come. I have to use my parents’ failure as a reason for blaming even bigger issues, like religion and ideology. Maybe this is only the way to do it if you are Yahya Hassan, putting it on the edge. I felt cheated on. Leaving Denmark, him taking my place. Wondered If I could make it here in Beirut in the same way. Probably not. Maybe there is a new fame uprising for Lebanese refugee poets in Denmark. I wonder if it goes the other way around. Does Lebanon need Danish refugee poets right now?
I could maybe get some tricks from Yahya, and implement them in Lebanon and see if it works.
Well, I’m going to Denmark for Christmas, and I have the time to stalk him down. To be continued…
Stefan is a Danish art student studying in Beirut this year. He’s also a writer and contributes to 2Famous sometimes.
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