Sweden and the Middle East Views Celebrates 2nd Birthday

In February 2013 I started Sweden and the Middle East Views site. Happy birthday to my site! I decided to celebrate it on Valentine’s Day for the message to come through.

What has happened with the site since? A lot. It has reached much more readers the last year and it’s been great to see some posts being so widely shared on social media.

And what has happened with the writer? A lot. Connecting with other people and the topics I write on through my site has been amazing, especially the ones on tolerance and intolerance. Connecting with so many inspiring people in this field, people who work to promote coexistence and reconciliation, has made me start to believe in the world again, that we have capacity to let go of fear and hatred, that we have the capacity to build trust and connect.

To celebrate the site’s second birthday, here’s a presentation to you of the five most popular posts during the last year:

1. My Failed Application to the Nazi Party Svenskarnas Parti

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Nope, neither this time a racist party wanted to have me as a member. What better is, the small and scary Nazi party believed all my persistent, silly questions on a potential membership despite them being posted in their public Facebook groups. Maybe it scared off some potential voters. I changed the title of the post so it would be easier to find, so the numbers on shared times went down, but the post has been shared many times and broke my previous statistics record on the blog. After this blog post being widely shared I started to receive late night anonymous phone calls (that since stopped). Was it related? I have no idea. But it’s one of the blog posts I’m most satisfied with, because it pulled the pants down on this dangerous group few dared to approach.

2. Kurdish Mobilization for the Murdered Girl

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The young Syrian-Kurdish refugee girl Dunya in Iraqi Kurdistan, who was murdered by her much older husband, whom she was in an arranged marriage with, took an unusual twist when the Kurdish society mobilized in protests against violence against women.

3. Hawzhin The Middle Eastern Feminist

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It’s hard not to fall for the charismatic young woman Hawzhin Azeez, the manager of successful Facebook page The Middle Eastern Feminist and whose interview was very successful. Her reconciling approach obviously is appreciated – and needed – by many.

4. Tourism in Iraq – Another Country is Possible

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The ambitious young Nawar Al Saadi, who was a PhD student in Tourism in Romania, started the Tourism in Iraq Facebook page, in order for people to see another side of Iraq. And people did, indeed.

5. How Do You Become an ISIS Terrorist?

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I was on such an angry rant the night I wrote the post on how the US invasion of Iraq created the collapse of the once well functioning and developed Middle Eastern state, as I have seen it throughout the year in my different humanitarian missions. I had no idea it would be so appreciated, but hopefully some people reading it learned something new.

I love my site and for all of the readers out there, people who appreciate my site, but also the haters: much love to all of you on this Valentine’s Days Eve. Love is the strongest power of all.

Photo credit: craftsy.com. For the posts’ different photos, see original post

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Party with the Different

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Last weekend me and some friends threw a party at my place to celebrate an achievement, it was real fun thanks to my friends bringing foods and hookah (water pipe), even a small baby that everyone could grab and cuddle with, so that I could focus on trying to wear my new heels and look good (hey, I’m being honest). I happen to have ended up with friends and acquintances that ranges from very liberal to very conservative and I invite them all. Someone who believes in the clash of civilizations probably wouldn’t think my parties was a great idea.

But not all of my friends drink alcohol and they show up anyways, the hookah keeping them busy. Not everyone eat pork so we skip that, just so that noone will eat it by mistake. I also have friends from different religions and people sometimes hold biases, but I can’t let that come between an invitation. Very few are free from prejudices (including myself) and I just let people meet and figure out who that other person is for themselves. Ofcourse I don’t put up with everything: if you are too judgemental on a woman wearing the hijab and therefore is surpressed; being a Jew and therefore hate Arabs; being an ignorant Swede who doesn’t like foreigners – I get exhausted. But I’ve also seen persons change and reconsider their stereotypes – it’s sometimes painful to realize what you have been thinking, but it can also be a wonderful feeling to let go of your prejudices (sometimes prejudices contains a lot of anger).

I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s sometimes a mine field and many times I become sad by the force in how much some dislike each other and try to convince others to follow. But so far I haven’t caved in when it comes to the parties at my place. I believe in people.

Photo: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Blog

On the Mixture

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I was 20 when I took the ferry from southern Spain to the northern coast of Morocco with a friend of mine. We wanted to see something more than Europe, this was the first time I was outside the Western world, and I was amazed with some things that I experienced. You could get treated to a cup of tea by someone you didn’t know. People with very little money invited you to eat with them. Or gave you a ride if you didn’t find your way and was lost, as I usually was.

When I started travelling I was a student, and when inviting friends for dinner in my small dormatory kitchen I used to calculate how much the food costed and make everyone contribute with a few kronor, and they did the same with me. At the same time my travels and field work in the Middle East brought me to very poor houses, of the kind you will never find in Sweden, and I would be treated like one in the familyinvited to stay for dinner and sometimes also to stay overnight, with no expectations on pitching in for anything. The clash made me reconsider my own society.

Sure, the collective culture has it’s disadvantages. My independency has several times covered for others during my stays in the Middle East – in the flats I have rented I have hosted girls that had no freedom or girls that were afraid to go home, couples that had nowhere to meet – as a European the common rules that a woman can’t stay on her own doesn’t apply, and the neighbours don’t ask who I bring to the house (and well if they gossip, I don’t care).

But who do I call when I need help to dye my hair? Not my Swedish girlfriends, cause I would feel I’d be taking their time, or that I would have to give them something in return. I’d call my Arab girlfriends, or the Iranian or Turkish ones. They would come over with their brushes in a blink even if it’s late at night. I’m glad I took that ferry years ago, that I decided I wanted to learn something new. Otherwise I would still be that person asking everyone at the table to bring out their purses after the meal. I’d maybe even ask you to bring your own sleeping bag or blankets if you came to spend the night in my house.

Photo: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Blog

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