There has been a massive outpouring of support for Lars Hedegaard in the wake of yesterday’s failed assassination attempt. Geert Wilders was prominent among those expressing their solidarity when he tweeted: “Murder attempt on my friend and Islam critic Lars Hedegaard this morning in Denmark. My thoughts are with him. Long live Lars!”
Last night and this morning the Scandinavian coverage of yesterday’s events was notable for its omission of any mention of Dispatch International, the newspaper recently launched by Lars Hedegaard and the Swedish journalist Ingrid Carlqvist. (Full disclosure: I do occasional English-language editing for this excellent publication.)
Dispatch tackles issues the Swedish press dares not touch, and does so in Swedish, Danish, and English. It has thus become a thorn in the side of the Swedish establishment, and to a lesser extent the elites in Denmark. It is demonized and denigrated in the Swedish press — in much the same way the Sweden Democrats are — when it is not ostentatiously ignored.
I’m told that the Scandinavian media silence about the existence of Dispatch was broken this morning by BT. The context for the break in the cordon sanitaire was the fact that the Danish police are now tracking a possible “Swedish connection” in their search for the would-be assassins. The story of the Swedish half of the investigation could hardly be told without reference to Dispatch International, since that is the only possible motive that a “Swede” could have for attempting to murder Lars Hedegaard. Thus, the silence has been broken.
I’m also told that a surveillance video of the suspects has now been discovered. There’s no word yet on whether the footage shows them leaping over the fence into the hippopotamus compound of the Copenhagen zoo, as they are reported to have done.
Below are excerpts from the latest English-language report in The Copenhagen Post:
Media and politicians rally around Hedegaard
While Hedegaard’s attacker remains at large, many speculate that his attempted assassination was to silence his controversial views on Islam
Yesterday’s assassination attempt on historian and journalist Lars Hedegaard elicited a strong reaction from Danish media outlets and politicians, who uniformly offered the 70-year-old their support.
Hedegaard is well known for having a low opinion of Islam and in 2010 he was charged with racism after making scathing and derogatory remark about Muslims and Islam in an interview – after being found guilty by the Eastern High Court, he was let off by the Supreme Court last year.
Hedegaard’s gunman posed as mailman before pulling a gun and firing a shot that missed. Hedegaard claims to have fought back against his attacker, who fled after repeatedly fumbling his weapon and now remains at large.
But while the assassin’s motivations remain unknown, Danish media and politicians, including PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne), found it hard not to make a connection Hedegaard’s controversial views.
“The attack against Lars Hedegaard is a deplorable action that I highly condemn,” Thorning-Schmidt wrote in a comment to Ritzau. “[But the attack] is even worse if it was an attempt to stop Hedegaard from using his freedom of speech.”
Annette Vilhelmsen, the business minister and the leader of Socialistisk Folkeparti, echoed Thorning-Schmidt.
“Any form of assassination attempt is unacceptable, but political assassinations belong to a category of their own because their goal is not to target an individual person, but rather our entire democracy and freedoms,” Vilhelmsen said. “Lars Hedegaard is a controversial person which is why it’s hard to imagine that the shooting is not politically motivated.”
Liberal Alliance leader Anders Samuelsen went further and argued the attacker had lost their right to remain in Denmark.
“Freedom of speech is a fundamental aspect of our democracy and we will not tolerate situations in which free speech is threatened with violence,” Samuelsen said. “The attacker – regardless of their residency status and ethnicity – ought to be thrown out of the country.”
Danish newspapers also offered Hedegaard support, although Politiken newspaper chose to distance themselves from his message.
“Lars Hedegaard’s world view is as far from Politiken’s as you could imagine,” the newspaper stated in an editorial. “His nonsensical , hateful and degrading statements about Muslims in Denmark are deplorable. But we share the fundamental premise that democratic debate needs to be free and peaceful.”
Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which itself has been the target of politically-motivated attacks since its controversial decision to publish caricatures of Mohammed in 2005, wrote that “no one should be scared away from participating in the debate,” while Berlingske wrote that they stood “shoulder to shoulder with Lars Hedegaard in defence of free speech”.
The assassination attempt quickly made international headlines, particularly in the Netherlands, where Hedegaard has a friend in the controversial anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders, who took to Twitter to voice his support.
“Murder attempt on my friend and Islam critic Lars Hedegaard this morning in Denmark,” Wilders wrote. “My thoughts are with him. Long live Lars!”
Wilders sits on the board of the International Free Press Society, the international branch of the Danish Free Press Society (Trykkefrihedsselskabet) that is chaired by Hedegaard.
The attack may lead Hedegaard to consider accepting protection from the domestic intelligence agency, PET, which has faced criticism from some sectors of the media for not knowing of the threat against Hedegaard.
Jacob Scharf, the head of PET, responded by conceding that his agency had its limitations.
“PET acknowledges the severity of the attack against the chairman of Trykkefrihedsselskabet, Lars Hedegaard,” Scharf wrote in a press release. “But it will never be possible for PET to offer full protection to people who make controversial statements in the public debate and thereby become potential targets of violent extremism.”
Despite almost losing his life because of his extreme views, Hedegaard remains unrepentant.
“I will not bow down to violence, murder or terror,” Hedegaard told the tabloid Ekstra Bladet. “They will not make me change my opinion or get me to shut up. If I did I might as well just lay down and die, and I’m not prepared to do that.”
The latest police press release stated that they were still searching for a Danish-speaking man described as around 25 years old, 175 to 180 cm tall, with a medium build, Middle-Eastern traits, stubble and medium-long dark curly hair that could be a wig. He was wearing a thin red coat reminiscent of those worn by Post Danmark employees.
Police are urging witnesses in the area of the streets Pelargonievej and Azaleavej between 9am and 12pm to come forward. They are also want home owners or businesses nearby who have CCTV installed to come forward.
See the International Civil Liberties Alliance for a list of media articles and opinion pieces about the attack on Lars Hedegaard.