Core Course Week!

This past week (Sept. 13th-17th), I had the wonderful opportunity to travel within Denmark with my core course, which is Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism from a European Perspective. This was an AMAZING opportunity to learn from outside perspectives, listen to experts in their fields, and visit the sites where people do real work that applies to our class. For the first three days of the week, we traveled to Odense and Aarhus. The last two days were spent in Copenhagen and I will discuss them further in a second blog post.

Throughout the lectures and discussions my class participated in, I often left with more questions than answers. However, I began to think more about how every action, whether it be of terrorists or governmental organizations, is much more complicated and nuanced that it may seem. I have almost none of the answers to how these issues should be solved but I wanted to share my experience because I have never discussed terrorism in a manner like this before. You may not agree with many of the opinions and research of experts that I am sharing today. However, I implore you to read what I learned this week and start to think more about how it applies to many different aspects of life and how you can confront your own biases.

I would like to emphasize that many of the discussions my class partook in were controversial. I am sharing for academic reasons and because I think it is important to view many perspectives within a difficult topic. And because I know my parents will really appreciate this. I also hope to raise some questions and invite you all to participate in discussions on these topics. After every event or lecture my class would be silent until the bus doors closed. Then, we would explode in conversation sharing opinions on what we found interesting, topics we found surprising, and sometimes just straight up questioned the information we were told by the presenter.

Day One

We met last Monday at 6:30 AM to leave–luckily we all got to sleep on the bus. Another bonus? Our bus was a party bus with fun lights :))

Our first stop was in Odense at the anti-radicalization unit to discuss how Denmark assesses potential threats and prevents people from going down an extremist path. In Denmark, they rely mainly on social workers and preventative measures unless an individual/group is deemed dangerous, which results in police being involved. I thought the most interesting tactic was how they prioritized “assessment” just as much as “resistance” while evaluating someone’s potential to develop extremist behavior. In their words, “assessment” is an evaluation of someone’s home life, friends, their use of free time, etc. If there is a part of someone’s life that is lacking, the anti-radicalization unit will do their best to bridge that gap. For example, they may assign a mentor to a child who does not have a father figure at home. The “resistance” that the anti-radicalization unit evaluates is the hate speech a person may use, their tendency for violence, etc. The more resistant a person may be, the more likely the police have to intervene.

Our second stop was at Odense University where we discussed the use of empathy within terrorism. Our speaker emphasized how people can be extremely disconnected from the cause and completely disagree with it, yet still have the ability to empathize with it. She gave the definition of empathy to be “viewing the world through someone else’s eyes and feeling how they feel from their perspective.” She shared that empathy can help us better understand why terrorist attacks happen and the goals of the attack. For example, motives may be revenge and to incite fear within a country. If the motive is to incite fear, one way to combat terrorism is to encourage unity in the public. If you’re interested in this idea more, I suggest looking at the differences in the handling of 9/11 and Christchurch in New Zealand. Empathy becomes even more complicated when the layer of politics is added into terrorism. My class was left to think about some questions like if we should empathize with terrorists; how to best empathize with terrorists and in what forms; and in reality, who can actually be expected to empathize with terrorists?

Afterwards, we went to the hotel and had about an hour of free time in which we visited the King’s Garden and walked by Hans Christian Anderson’s childhood home!

I took this picture as a joke to send to my mom because she loves Hans Christian Anderson. Unfortunately, it is the only picture I have with the house.

For dinner we had a buffet of pizza at a local restaurant and I can boast that I tried all five types: Hawaiian pizza, a spicy meat pizza, a white pizza with potatoes on it, a vegetarian pizza with arugula, and a New York pizza. I decided that I have a neutral opinion on Hawaiian pizza, I don’t hate it but I wouldn’t order it on my own–the weirdest part of it to me was that I was trying it for the first time in Denmark of all places. The New York pizza had mini hot dogs and bacon and other meat on it. All of the people in my core course from New York were quite confused by the name. We decided Danish people just think we are meat loving barbarians.

Day Two

The next day we made an early morning trip on the bus to Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark (only to Copenhagen). We started the day by listening to a lecture at Aarhus University on political radicalization within the online sphere. Our presenter shared his research that social media does not radicalize people as much as one may think. He described that people with extremist views often seem more prominent on social media–something I’m sure many of us have noticed. He argues the visibility of extremists results from the condensation of the groups on a single platform as opposed to being spread out across the world.

For lunch we stopped at Aarhus Street Food which is a large food hall with many stands of authentic different ethnic foods. My favorite part of the food hall was the beautiful desserts–I got an salted caramel ice cream popsicle with popcorn on the outside. The popcorn was really what sold me, I was just kind of intrigued.

Delicious falafel wrap from Aarhus Street Food

The second stop of the day was to watch the film “Behind the Veil” and speak with one of the large contributors of the film. The film uses two Muslims from Europe (not Denmark) and equips them with hidden cameras to record different mosques and Imams. The goal of the film was to document the differences between what Muslim leaders tell the Danish public and what they tell the followers of the church. Some questions that were raised: Does the film show the whole story? Is it ethically right to use hidden cameras? How did the film contribute successfully to society, if at all? What biases affect the making of this film?

We did a walking food tour around Aarhus for our dinner with five stops. For the first stop we had an open faced sandwich with iced tea. The second stop we had a glass of wine with a charcuterie board. On the third stop we tried a traditional Danish dish called ‘cold bowl’ in English, provided by our tour guide. Then, we had tapas at the fourth stop which was a bowl of risotto with a scallop (I forgot to take a picture). The final stop was my favorite–homemade gelato!

Best part of the day? I got to do an Instagram takeover! It’s no longer up because it expires after 24 hours but feel free to check out @dis.copenhagen where there is lots of cool pictures and helpful information! Below I have included some of my pictures from the takeover.

Day Three

Our last day away from Copenhagen–we started the day with a visit to one of the mosques in the film that we watched yesterday. There, we discussed the difficultly that Muslims have while integrating into Danish society and the difference between assimilation and integration. The imam of the mosque was able to share his opinions on the film that we watched the previous day. He was also open and honestly while answering all of our questions regarding Afghanistan and his views on extremist Islam.

We grabbed some lunch before heading home. I couldn’t not get some dessert so I tried some baklava and got an extra one to take home to my roommate.

On the way home, I had an opportunity to sit with my thoughts for a while. I genuinely don’t think I will ever have an academic experience quite as unique as this again. It was fascinating seeing the wide differences between the views of the film director and the imam of the mosque. Both were discussing the same issues, yet they had extremely differing opinions on the same matter because of their background and current position in society. Personally, the quote came to mind was, “there are three versions to every story: yours, theirs, and the truth.”

I had four large takeaways from this core course week: (1) note your own biases as well as others, (2) think about where other people are coming from, (3) learn to communicate with people even when you fundamentally disagree, and (4) nothing beats delicious food.

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