Copenhagen is reeling as local youths with Turkish, Palestinian and Pakistani roots fight a drug turf war with the Hells Angels
o Jakob Illeborg
o Friday September 19 2008 10:00 BST
Norrebro, the neighbourhood in Copenhagen where I grew up, has for years been plagued by criminal youth gangs whose members are increasingly drawn from the Turkish, Pakistani, and Palestinian communities.
It wasn't always like this; indeed Norrebro used to be seen as an example of how integration in Denmark was working – but that's not the case any more. As competition for the lucrative drug trade has increased, there is a sense of fear and mistrust between the communities and integration is non-existent.
To exacerbate matters, for weeks Copenhagen has witnessed an intensifying war between the notorious motorcycle group, Hells Angels, and the drug gangs. Bullets have flown and many residents are abandoning the troubled area.
Compounding the drug turf wars is a nasty streak of racism. The Hells Angels are currently recruiting prospects to "rid Denmark of the Muslim menace". Meanwhile, their opponents are seeking new members to "eliminate those who want to eliminate us".
A network of violent gangs is operating around town, directly targeting the "fortresses" where Hells Angels hang out. The Angels' response is typically unrestrained: "Hells Angels are a motorcycle club that bothers no one, but if someone steps on our toes we'll stamp back with a vengeance," they said on a website.
Despite these claims, the Angels are no angels. For years they fought an armed war with another motorcycle gang, the Bandidos, vying for control of Copenhagen's criminal markets. Scores of dead later, the conflict cooled down.
If the original motorcycle gangs consisted of misfits, this is even more true of their new enemies. Isolated from society, these kids' only claim to self-esteem is violence. Several well-meaning local groups and individuals have tried to reach out to these youngsters, but all attempts have failed and many of those who tried have had to move out of the neighbourhood, fearing for their personal safety.
Copenhagen and Denmark has turned into a hotspot for racial tension. Immigration is the single most populist political issue. Affluent Denmark has dramatically failed when it comes to integration. With Europe's most stringent immigration laws, an insistence on monoculture and assimilation, the once-pragmatic Danes have increasingly isolated themselves.
The famous Danish photographer, Jacob Holdt, who in the 1970s documented racism in the US and said in today's Politiken newspaper: "Denmark is today more racist than America."
Frightening indeed, and a largely self-created problem. The current centre-right government – supported by the nationalistic and right wing Danish Peoples party – has since 2001 marginalised and stereotyped immigrants.
The troubles on the streets of Norrebro can be traced back to that approach. This is not to defend or excuse the community's violent response – parts of the area are now a total no-go area and even the Danish Broadcasting Corporation is staying away from certain trouble spots as journalists have been threatened with beatings if they film in the area.
How did it come to this? Denmark has been through a decade of years of unprecedented economic growth. Our society is much fairer than the British with far fewer class divisions. As we say in Danish: "Why didn't we fix the roof while the sun was shining?"
The answer, unfortunately, is that there was no will to do so. An unwelcoming host will usually find he has impolite guests. This is the case in Copenhagen right now and it is hard to see how things will change.
Photo - Firemen put out the fire in a burning car in Noerrebro, Copenhagen. Seventeen youths were arrested after four nights of rioting in a number of largely immigrant neighbourhoods of Copenhagen, police said.
Click to view image: '228036-denmark_torchings.jpg'
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