The Arabic Swedish Network

I originally wrote this blog text for my friend Tashina Alavi’s NGO Youth Innovatum, check it out:

One of Young Innovatum’s pillars is cultural exchange between young people from different cultures, so as to increase respect and tolerance for persons from different backgrounds. Sometimes there’s no need for taking a trip abroad to learn about others, as the world is becoming more international in our own countries – an example of this is The Arabic-Swedish network that has become a melting pot for young people from all around the world in Malmö, Sweden.

Inspired by language exchange meetings that are common in cities all over the world, we started a few persons back in 2010 to meet regularly in cafés and exchange Swedish and Arabic languages over a cup of coffee. And so the group started to expand, mainly by word of mouth.

Since then the group exploded with members that are regularly posting for meetings, cultural events and get-togethers, and unintentionally it has become more than a language exchange group; it’s now an arena for young people from different countries to blend and learn from each other. The group has a variety of people from all over the world: Sweden, Norway, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, Morocco, Tunisia – even Iran.

Among many young Swedes there’s a growing interest in learning more about the Middle East beyond the common stereotypes in the Western world, why the Arabic culture and language is appealing – an expanding cultural scene in Malmö with Arabic music concerts and the annual Malmö Arab Film festival has probably played its part. On the other hand, for some foreign people in Sweden, experienced prejudices and a lack of interaction with Swedes becomes an obstacle in the effort to making Swedish friends and getting to know the Swedish culture. In the network many people have found a place to break the ice, and have quickly made friends over barriers and religions. The positive interest in cultures has most likely been one of the key factors to the expanding network – in our group, the merging of different cultures is what attracts its members, it’s regarded as something interesting, not a problem. A lot of activists from the Middle East have found the group to be an arena for networking with Swedes and also sharing inspiring news from the region – news that might not reach the regular media, such as the increasing demand on women’s rights and the growing arena of underground journalism. With the mutual learning between our participants, prejudices have been erased and friendships between people that might never had met otherwise, have taken place. Where curiosity replaces fear and real people replaces stereotypes, life becomes richer. Hopefully the core of our network can inspire others to start up similar events or networks in other cities or countries. For more information on the network, search for the Arabic-Swedish network on Facebook.

Photo: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Blog

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