Beginning Saturday, when a gunman in Copenhagen killed a filmmaker at a free-speech debate and a guard at a synagogue, Danes felt the dread of terrorism on their home soil. They're understandably on edge, and their national-security officials are right to be on guard against a new wave of attacks or a copycat.
Denmark should not, however, let this attack change it. The country is free and prosperous. Its people are among the happiest on earth with their government and quality of life. Faced with certain horrors, even a country like that would be wise to change. Within the lives of its elders, for example, the Nazis conquered Europe. But a nation should not allow one man with a gun to change its way of life.
If that seems obvious, I'd point to a Bloomberg Business article to suggest that not everyone agrees. Its title: "Copenhagen Wakes Up to New World Order as Police Cover City."
It’s a city where mothers are used to leaving their babies in prams outside cafes and cyclists can bike through parliament square without encountering a single security guard. Now, Copenhagen is full of heavily armed police officers and the constant sound of sirens as the government warns citizens that things are about to change.
Enter a Danish official, followed by a bit of editorializing from Bloomberg's reporters:
Danes now need to brace themselves for a new reality, Justice Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a press conference on Sunday. “There’s no room to be naïve,” she said. “These are dark forces that want to hurt us.”
As European leaders declare their determination to preserve the region’s way of life in the face of extremism, the risks of doing so are proving daunting.
It's written as if there would be fewer risks if European leaders instead decided that they would now abandon any determination to preserve the region's way of life–and as if it's reasonable for one gunman to change attitudes on so basic a thing.
The framing of the story only gets stranger as it goes on:
The government is now struggling to strike a balance by protecting its citizens without undermining the country’s famously laid-back relationship with authority. Danes are used to addressing their politicians by their first names. No government buildings are sealed off by fences and citizens have been free to press their noses up against the windows of the halls of power if they wanted to. Before Sept. 11, 2001, people could even freely enter the parliament building.
They now need a pass.
What does the manner of addressing Danish politicians have to do with anything? It's as if the writers adopted the most thoughtless equivalence of authority with safety. And as it turns out, the security measures that seem lax to Americans, like government buildings without fences, played no role in the attack.
Municipal leaders in Copenhagen seem to be taking a more sensible attitude:
Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen is urging citizens to treat the attack as an isolated event perpetrated by a madman. “There will obviously be a reaction to such an attack on our values and on our daily lives,” Jensen said in an e-mailed reply to questions. “But Copenhageners won’t allow themselves to be threatened by this form of terror and I hope we will soon see a return to normal life.”
There is every reason to think that goal is attainable, and that the biggest potential pitfall is the danger that Danish authorities will overreact in a way that hurts Danes.
Keep calm, Denmark, and carry on.