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Teen Poet Sparks New Debate on Islam in Denmark
Yahya Hassan was about 10 years old when cartoonist Kurt Westergaard attracted passionate criticism from Muslims world-wide with his insulting cartoon. It ran in a Danish newspaper.
Hassan – the 18-year-old son of Palestinian immigrants who are Muslims – is now creating his own brand of controversy in 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.
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 since the Westergaard cartoon.
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.
Speakeasy 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.
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.
A translated excerpt from “LONG POEM:”
“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.”