Yahya Hassan, the New Darling of Danish Literature and the Far Right; Talented or Just Controversial?

“I have always spoken my mind and suffered the consequences”

Yahya Hassan, a poet of Palestinian origin and current sweetheart of Denmark’s literary scene, faced a racism charge last year for his poetical critique of Muslims. Inundated with calls for his punishment due to the belief that if any non-Arab or Muslim were to speak as he has done, they would undoubtedly be sent to court. Mohamed Suleban, a local politician who brought forth the charge, told Politiken newspaper, “he says that everybody in the ghettos…steal, don’t pay taxes and cheat themselves to pensions. Those are highly generalising statements and they offend me and many other people.” His first collection of self-titled works sold 9000 copies in the first week and over 80,000 copies within the first year of their release. What adds insult to injury to many of those offended by his words is that his realistic criticisms of society have been overwhelmingly well received by the Dutch middle classes and his name is often cited by the right-wing.

Hassan’s work is at times heavy, disturbing, ultimately upsetting to read and is an unfortunate account of his childhood. Growing up in a deprived region of Arhus, he claims his life’s work (at the age of 18, now 20) is a result of the hypocrisies and violence that filled his younger years. His talent and literary strength still shine through translated versions of his poems. The manner with which he recites sounds like a religious chant. His skill is undeniable, yet I am unsure as to whether he would be so celebrated if he had never chosen to write about the Muslim community. His words should force internal revaluation by the community which he addresses, although behavioural, religious inconsistencies and extremities are not unique to the tiny Muslim population of Denmark.

arhus
A ghetto in Arhus

Regrettably, debate within the Muslim community has mostly revolved around his right to publish his work. The best way to address the issues raised by Hassan would be for the society that effectively caused his anguish to acknowledge the faults that exist within in order to protect future generations feeling so hateful towards those that are meant to protect them. According to Hassan, the Dutch authorities, society and the Muslim community were the cause for his anguish, having also been taken into state institutions to ‘correct’ his behaviour and alleviate his anger, where he was not exempt from abuse.

“I hate your misery, I hate your scarves, I hate your Koran and your illiterate prophets”, is reportedly the phrase that ignited the anger of Muslims in Denmark and is his most cited sentence, although his entire work is not steeped in negativity. As he reiterates in an interview, the violence, crime and hypocrisy he experienced is found in all environments and underclasses, but he chooses to remain silent on others as he prefers to only talk of what he knows.

"Frydenlund is one of 29 areas in Denmark that fulfills the requirements to be on the former Government’s so-called “ghetto” list. One of the criterion is to have at least 50% residents with an ethnic background– other than Danish. Frydenlund is not on the list anymore, now that it has fallen 2% short of the requirement. But the list makes no difference to the residents, who do not feel the area fits the stereotypical image of a ghetto."
“Frydenlund is one of 29 areas in Denmark that fulfills the requirements to be on the former Government’s so-called “ghetto” list. One of the criterion is to have at least 50% residents with an ethnic background– other than Danish. Frydenlund is not on the list anymore, now that it has fallen 2% short of the requirement. But the list makes no difference to the residents, who do not feel the area fits the stereotypical image of a ghetto.”

An initial reading of his most inflammatory phrases explains the furore he has caused. This hubbub has led many to automatically denounce him and his work. However, if one listens to his reasoning, Hassan is logical in his approach. Bending to the pressure of patriotism and nationalism, the state is partly responsible for failing to facilitate immigrants into employment despite incumbent societal barriers and prevents refugees fully thriving in their adoptive state. Ultimately, the young poet believes in individual responsibility and the state was neither the cause of his domestic abuse, nor was it behind his religious indoctrination.

Yahya Hassan may be brash, offensive and shocking, but that denies nobody the right to write. He has caused offense to others, but those who wish to shut him down immediately have failed to contextualise his work. Above all, he is worth listening to and I await more from him in the future.

Image: politiken.dk

“Placement number 6/Stateless and restless in another man’s sofa/with a Christmas present in my lap and visions unseen from a distance/You have never received Christmas presents before/but one day you get placed one place and another/You prance around the tree like a Dane/Get offered pork at every meal but still hold onto your beef/Next week you receive your Danish citizenship papers signed by a shitty politician/So what use is a circumcised dick and pork prohibition?/You don’t know and even though you are still unsettled/You can look forward to a Christmas present and a more physical presence abuse of force in the city of a noble laureate./I suppose the city gets their money’s worth/Now you eat bacon and only visit the mosque when your mother pays you for it/Your father cries and your Uncle only calls after robberies with his son/You see your cousins at the drug dealer’s or through the fence from opposite sides of a placement surrounded by part-time bouncers.”

Translation by Kuku & Al Agami, authorised by Gyldendal.

To watch the interview with readings translated into English click here.

Noora Ismail

Have you read his works, in their original language or otherwise? Do you believe he should be adding to the already heavy criticisms on Denmark’s suffering refugee society? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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