How Racism is Becoming Normalized in Sweden


Racism is becoming more normalized in Sweden – in all of Europe, I dare say, and people with xenophobic views who previously kept quiet about their views now feel more free to express them openly. Still, most of them reject the label of being racist.

A young Syrian man in Sweden recorded this woman on a tram in Gothenburg, Sweden, when she verbally abused him and his friends. Check the video out on his Facebookpage.

Don’t speak Swedish? This is the bottomline of what the woman yells about:

She gets 3.800 SEK a month, while “they” (presumably the young man and his friends) are receiving 8.000 SEK a month, to study Swedish for immigrants.

And at the end of her speech, she states that she obviously has the wrong skin colour, white, in Sweden, but even if she does, she still has the right to have opinions in her own country, and she’s not a racist.

Now with this kind of narrow definition, who is really left to be a racist?

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Unlearning Hate

If you hate an entire sect, group, community, region, religion, nation etc., then you have surely fallen prey to indoctrination. 

You have been taught to hate, either by your own negative experiences, or by negative experiences/perceptions of others, or by agenda-driven propaganda. 

Yes, true. You can also indoctrinate yourself (self-indoctrination) by leaving your critical faculties unused.

But, don’t worry!

A learned behavior can be changed. Just remain humble; tell yourself repeatedly that you are teachable. 

There’s no shame in unlearning falsehood and embracing universal truths.

Quote from my Pakistani friend, journalist and activist

The Poison

You believe you are a decent person. You believe you never do harm. Then you open your mouth and intolerance comes out.

You believe you are a tolerant person. You believe you are a humanitarian. Then you open your mouth and ignorance comes out.

You’ve never been to places. Never left your hometown, never broadened your views. You don’t have friends a different shade then your own. Never rubbed against other cultures. Never rubbed against what could be good and could be bad. Still you know everything. Know about Them and the Bad Things They Do. You open your mouth and hate comes out.

It doesn’t come from you. It comes from what seeps in everywhere. The wrongs where we once were more right. It’s the Poison.

Please Don’t Give up on Your Core Values, Please Don’t Break My Heart

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The world seem so polarized now, it’s like a battle where people are confused between what’s good and what’s evil – yes, I use these terms even though I know the reality is more nuanced than that – and how I hear people speak nowadays I’m reminded of darker times, when some people are less of value. I thought people in my beautiful country of Sweden would never let me down, but maybe I was wrong.

I don’t think I’m speaking from out of a shielded, dark room somewhere. I was a humanitarian aid worker for many years. I was in Peshawar, Pakistan, when the infamous school massacre happened. I was in Syria when the Banyas massacre took place. I used to work in a women’s shelter where I met victims of sexual trafficking. I’ve once worked with elderly Jewish people in Sweden who survived the Holocaust. I’ve heard of all sorts of horrible things people do to one another when their disconnected from their feelings of empathy. Still I’m so bothered by what I hear sometimes, intolerant and insensitive things that people say. And what have come to bother me more is when people that I believed had decent values and were educated and aware (this doesn’t necessarily go together), don’t stick with them.

It’s so easy to claim you’re humanitarian, a someone who believes in equality, but some people cannot stick with this when they’re confronted with ignorant people. As if ignorant people holds some sort of power over less ignorant ones. What’s in their power? Well, here’s something I have to tell you: when people don’t stick to their core values, it breaks my heart.

I deal with this on a regular basis. The society as I experience it, my own little corner of the society, has become so much more openly aggressive towards people with a lower status in the society, the different ones, the ones who don’t belong to the majority, than what I was used to. I’m gotten so used to it that I deal with it the same way I do when a relationship ends. I lock the door, stay in all night and crack open a whine bottle to numb the feelings of betrayal and despair. I give calls to my sisters and friends who put up with listening.

It breaks my heart if I see you listen to an intolerant, slightly racist comment, and you nod as if you agree when I know you don’t.

It breaks my heart when you happily go out and party with girls who just dropped negative things about immigrants, or minorities, or both, when you qualify for both of these categories and you pretend you don’t care.

It breaks my heart when you so much want to make friends that whatever these friends will say, you keep quiet and hang out with them.

It breaks my heart when you defend your loved one who keep saying intolerant things just because he’s your loved one, even though I know you deep inside don’t agree; when love and the dependency that follows takes over sanity.

Today is such a day again. I feel betrayed by my society, that I thought was better, was truthful, would never let me go. I lock the door and switch the lights off. Reach for a glass in the cupboard, keeping the wine bottle near. It’s going to be a long night.

Photo credit: upvenue.com

May God Help Us, if He Exists

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I was going to write about something else, I have done research for a Middle Eastern topic, as some readers know I love the Middle East and am dedicated to write about sides of this region that usually are unnoticed in the Western media.

But then there was the terror attack in Turkey. This photo supposedly shows activists from the Socialist Youth Association Federation, snapping a group selfie before the bomb blast in Suruc. Turkey, the country that has sailed up from poverty and created a large middle class and that hosts a vivid civil society – now pulled back by the murder machine of we-know-who.

Before that, it was the Eid blasts all over. On a holiday that is sacred to many.

Before that, there was Tunisia, a country where I was supposed to go visit friends in a few days time, in Tunis and Sousse, only having to cancel it when Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed their travel recommendation.

Before that there was the Charleston massacre.

So I lost my inspiration tonight. In this very moment, this is what I feel:

I think we will remember this time as a dark turning point in history, when dark powers started to outweigh the good ones, and terrorism conquered co-existence. May God help us, if he exists.

Photo copyright: unknown

The Subject of “Immigration” Has Hijacked Our Lives

A while ago I came back to Sweden after being abroad on a humanitarian mission for eight months. It’s always a minor culture shock to come back after a humanitarian mission, but what struck me the most this time was not usual differences; the rainy winter, the small changes in the street fashion, new songs on the radio – but how the topic of immigration has seeped into each and every conversation.

While I was away, Sweden held an election in which the populist right-winged party Sverigedemokraterna doubled their support and scored an amazing 13% of the votes, despite for example my own eager attempt to stop them by mailing my vote from the Asian country where I was. The main topics that Sverigedemokraterna made their election issues, are immigrants, refugees, the economy (unclear how), the elderly population, and immigrants again. Even before the most recent election in 2014, the party had been able to set the public agenda to be focused on immigrants, even for people otherwise not engaged in politics.

In the year of 2015, I discovered upon taking the train from Copenhagen airport to Sweden and re-entering my home country, the subject is not only popular: it has now completely hijacked our conversations. Most of my friends seem to speak about it. Acquaintances I hardly know speak about it. A man who I sold my old bed to raised the subject when he came around to pick up the bed. I hear the subject when queuing in the grocery store. You would think that people would want to speak about something else. How was my humanitarian mission, for example? I was in a rough place where many things happened, both of the exhausting kind due to the domestic politics, but also positive things. I don’t have to speak about that constantly, but I wouldn’t mind venting a bit with friends or sharing of some of the things that I experienced and learned. But it’s almost never brought up, because other things are on most peoples’ minds.

For example: Should all refugees really come to Sweden? Will integration of immigrants really work? Why has Sweden’s integration policy failed? Should Muslims have the right to wear headscarf in school? How can we get rid of the newly arrived immigrants from Romania, who are begging on the street? Almost no one seem to be in touch with concrete, true facts about immigration or integration, and I wonder how they know that Sweden’s integration policy is so failed? Have they read the policy? Many also don’t seem to be in touch with a lot of people who classify as “immigrants”, in their own daily lives.

The other day I caught up with a friend of mine who factually stated:

“In the papers you read all these chronicles about immigration, from all different perspectives, as if it’s the only current thing right now, and then we read these chronicles about that there’s a major subject about immigration. We just shouldn’t keep discussing the subject. I mean, what happened to other current affairs? What happened to global warming?”

The subject has totally hijacked us and we’re not even aware that we’re hijacked, like a Boeing 787 where the passengers seem not to notice the change of course, despite there being clouds outside when there should have been sun, and the pilot lying on the floor of the cockpit, tied up and gagged, desperately trying to call for help.

Today I went to the hairdressing saloon, a new place I haven’t tried before. The woman who owned the saloon was really nice, and during the hours it took her to do my hair, we chatted about many things. She told about her upcoming vacation in Dubai with her family, how she loved the country and was ready to soak up in the sun, to get away from the rainy Swedish spring. I said I had recently returned, and that I had missed the rain. We spoke about the difficulty on buying clothes online, that even if it’s cheap it’s sometimes a loosing deal since you rarely put in the energy to send back an item you don’t like. We bonded over that we both loved shopping and missed the variety outside Sweden, and agreed that we equally could spend 24 hours straight in an American-style mall if we’re given the chance.

That was nice. A different conversation from many of the others I had recently. The woman didn’t even mention the word “immigration”. Maybe she would want to hang out with me sometime? It would be a wonderful change. I might see if she’s up for a coffee this weekend.

Memorial Service For Our Lost Ones. It Surely Will Never Happen Again. Or Wait…

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Today I’m in Stockholm, Sweden, and participated in the memorial service for the victims of the Holocaust. It was cold, wet and dark and I listened to the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfvén, who spoke some quite wise words.

“I refuse to listen to the sound of boots marching”, he said, and the audience cheered.

He spoke of how important it is to stand up to oppression of certain groups everywhere and reminded us of some current examples:

“Jews in Europe, Roma in Hungary and Romania, homosexuals in Russia.”

He spoke of tolerance and the importance of the international community showing support for marginalized groups and efusing to let hatred seep in and become normal. He spoke of the importance of such an extinction not to happen again. I appreciated his speach as I believe the current Swedish government – established after a lot of drama – won’t cooperate with the extreme right, and the Prime Minister’s words on a day like this are important.

A few attendants cried and afterwards there was going to be an official service with invited authorities, where among those the admirable organization Young Muslims Against Antisemitism were to participate. When the service wrapped up and we were to bring candles to the memorial statue of the victims of the Holocaust, it struck me that I recently did particpate in another memorial service. I took part of a memorial service for the 145 victims of the school massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan, a few days after it happened. It was an emotional service where we also lit candles and where most attendants cried floods for the young children who has been slaughtered in their own school.

That massacre no one mentioned today. And maybe it’s not surprising. The Peshawar massacre was an extinction that was mostly forgotten by the international media two days after it had happened. We talk about how it can’t happen again, but it’s going on right now in the time of the information age where we can’t say we don’t know. But when it’s not close to home it seems we can’t relate to it.

When leaving the ceremony today I thought of the quote of Friedrich Hegel that the interviewee Louis Yako once told me:

“‘The only thing we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history.

Photo credit: globe-views.com