Odense: The hoodlums

In March Danish tabloid Esktra Bladet got a peek into the lives of two immigrant hoodlums in Odense. The newspaper published a series of articles, which I summarize below.

Mohammed Melhem and Harkan, a Palestinian and a Turk, could have featured in DR2's Christmas show, Yallahrup Færgeby, about two immigrant boys who dream of being hoodlums themselves. One of the show's episodes was recently nominated for the European CIVIS media prize, for promotion of understanding between different cultures and religious communities, to analysing the complex causes of violence and to illustrating ways towards successful mastering of conflicts also across national boundaries


Mohammed Melhem (29) is a Palestinian refugee who had come to Denmark in the mid-80s. Mohammed had trouble controlling his temper, as can be seen when he calls a passing girl a 'fucking sow' for carelessly throwing her cigarette stub at his jacket. In previous incidents it had come down to showdowns. He's currently suspect of punching out a guy's jaw, and his crime sheet is a history of violence, threats and robbery.

Harkan (24), of Turkish origin, has just been released from prison after a four year sentence for robbery and blackmail, the most recent in a long list. He doesn't want his full name in the paper.

They haven't thought much about why they've become criminals and the only answer they come up with is that they've kept bad company.

The two spend their time in the Odense suburb of Vollsmose and in the Odense train station, where they hang out together with friends.

The two are aggressive, but are also helpful. Just before getting upset at the girl, Mohammed had met a homeless person he knew from the train station who was missing a baby carriage for his stuff. Mohammed told him there's an abandoned one in his buiding and that he'll bring it over.

The two Vollsmose hoodlums still live at home with their parents. He still smokes hashish, though he hopes to stop, not least due to his very concerned mother.


The 17 year old Palestinian girl who had come to Vollsmose to meet with Mohammed doesn't wear a veil and her shirt is low cut. Mohammed hopes to get married with her soon. Once that happens, the fun is over. Mohammed says that it's better that she decides on her own, but he will get more respect if she wears wore a headscarf for example.

Just like Harkan, he's had Danish girlfriends in the past, but neither can imagine marrying a Danish girl. 'They're whores', they say, half jokingly. Harkan explains that they will want one thing and he wants something completely different, and there aren't many who want to be Muslims. Many want to continue living like Danes, and that always causes problems. Both Mohammed and Harkan want to have kids, which they say won't turn out like them. Harkan says they'll do everything to help their children and so they won't have to deal with what htey had to deal with. If they won't be able to help, they'll turn to teachers who could.


When Harkan was 12, going to 7th grade, he was a pretty good student. His father, however, thought it was time for him to earn money, instead of wasting time on school work. Harkan tells that his father would pick him up after school and then he would work in one of the family's four pizzerias until late in the evening. His father thought it was more important than education.

One teacher helped him get into technical school, but by then it was too late, as Harkan was already involved in the criminal community and massively using hashish. He dropped out of school.

Mohammed Melhem doesn't want to speak of his school days, why he dropped out of technical school, where he was training to be an auto mechanic, or why it's so difficult for him to keep a job.


Mohammed Melhem's latest victim is now walking about with 18 screws in his jaw, but both Harkan and Melhem says that they want to change their lives. They're concerned about having wasted time in prison, and they're ashamed of their violent history. Their families are also deeply concerned.

Ekstra Bladet was invited for Turkish tea at Harkan's family's neat apaartment in Vollsmose. His welcoming mother wipes a tear when during the interview she's confronted with her son's life. She doesn't speak Danish, but through the sister tells of her concerns about whether her son can keep to the straight path.

The gaze is evasive and shameful when Ekstra Bladet asks what it feels like to commit a robbery, or to hit the hell out of somebody. Harkan looks down at the ground and says that what's done is done and that he's sorry it happened. It's difficult for both of them to face what they have done in the past, their victims, their own families and themselves. For a while Harkan was so ashamed he disappeared, he couldn't face his family. He often repeats his annoyance about using spending the past four years behind bars.

But despite the tough odds, both men hope for a better future. Mohammed Melhem says that he always goes crazy, but he believes that he'll grow up.

Sources: Ekstra Bladet 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Danish)

See also: Denmark: Osama Christmas cheer, Denmark: Yallahrup Færgeby, a Christmas show

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