Swedish Muslim Students Responds to Hate With Baklava

In Malmö University in the city of Malmö, Sweden, a university that prides itself of being very mixed and with students from many different countries and backgrounds, a Muslim student discovered someone having posted a print of one of the Muhammed caricatures on the public notice board. These news was shared with me by Swedish journalist Nizar Keblawi, who made a news coverage about the incident in Swedish public TV, and then e-mailed me the news. The student who saw it, Lina Abu Zarour, snapped a photo, removed the print and gave it to the Students Union, who handed it over to the university’s administration. It turned out more pictures of the same kind were posted at the university, about four or five. The university reportedly took the matter seriously and launched an investigation. In media, university staff said they encourage all students to report such offences and pointed out that students from all backgrounds are welcome at the  university.

Then following the incident, Lina herself did something different. She and her friends decided to respond to the caricature by hosting an event where they handed out baklava (typical Middle Eastern sweet) wrapped in hadiths, teachings from the Quran. To Nizar Keblawi, Lina said:

“The event became a success, you can say.”

Her take on the postings of the caricatures is that people are usually scared to know of new things.

“It is lack of knowledge that’s behind these things”, she said. “People are afraid of learning about for example Islam. But you can’t judge the book just because of it’s cover.”

By sharing baklava with hadith quotes, she wanted to teach the other students more about her religion in a friendly way. And many students showed up, some of them wanting to show their support to the Muslim students at the university. Lina Abu Zarour made headlines in Swedish media with her response, and was among many things invited to an in-dept interview in Swedish radio. What more is, she was able to show the whole country a way to respond to hate and ignorance: with kindness.

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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

Also Me I Condemn the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, But I Don’t Glorify the Cartoons

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Charlie Hebdo cartoon portraying Nigerian girls taken by sex slaves by Boko Haram to be claiming their welfare benefits

My last blog post received comments wondering if I excused the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Of course I don’t, I’m just very worried with an increasing polarization worldwide.

I think the massacre was horrifying. I have been deeply saddened and upset by the video of Ahmed Marabet raising his hands to the killers to show he’s giving up and them answering with shooting him in the head. I could hardly believe the details from the first massacre and it took time before I could read all the details from it. My stomach turned when I knew about the four innocent people killed in the kosher shop.

I don’t justify any killings of anyone, I believe you can be a dictator, mass murderer or cartoonist drawing stereotypical images of minorities, and still no one has the right to kill you. I also think that the police should have made more efforts to arrest the Kouachi brothers alive together with Coulibaly, so that they would have been held accountable for their disgusting crimes and spend the rest of their lives in prison. Getting away with death was too easy on them. But that doesn’t mean I will agree on the cartoons that Charlie Hebdo published. And republishing them in masses of newspapers in response to the massacres, or using the hashtag #killallmuslims, will probably push more young, angry and confused people into the welcoming arms of extremists.

I asked in the last blog post, written just right after the killings, if the murderers were confused young Muslim immigrant men, and they turned out to be – with the interesting addition that they were orphans. It doesn’t surprise me the slightest. I’ve known plenty of young angry men, and they are never from happy circumstances. If they were, they wouldn’t be so angry. What else is, there’s many of them and they will easily be affected by the increased polarization.

Also me I condemn the Charlie Hebdo massacre, but I won’t glorify the cartoons. They were striking towards already exposed minorities. That wasn’t the sole reason for the massacre, but nothing good comes out of it.

The Charlie Hebdo Attack on All of Us

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I don’t agree with the caricaturs Charlie Hebdo published and I don’t see the reason for publishing them in the first place. I wouldn’t sign up for the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag because I don’t support this kind of journalism, a journalism that’s provocative only for the sake of being provocative. But I am as shocked with the killings as everyone else.

I don’t know where the attack comes from and I don’t know if we ever will find out. And who was it? Confused young Muslim immigrant men, treated as second class citizens by the Front National influenced France of today, or angry young converts who recently came back from Syria? Did Saudi Arabia fund the terror attack just like we accuse them of funding everything else? Was it ISIS? Or was it loners scraping together for ages to be able and carry out their own little sick plan?

I’m not sure it really matters who was behind this brutal killing. The attack in itself is a sign that we’re on a very bad track internationally, all of us, and that we’re going downhill. KIlling of civilians is becoming so normal our children might think it’s a rational thing to do when you have convinced yourself that you hate someone.

I wish I wouldn’t have to say this, I’m myself irritated at times with all the doomsayers online who critizice politics and the society without wanting to see the good things in it. But 2014 ended with the Peshawar massacre and 2015 starts with 12 journalists killed because of the newspaper they worked for. These attacks sends us back ages in to a dark place where I don’t want to be. Twitter fills up with racist statements and the rightwinged extremist parties are looking forward to an upswing in the next elections. Front National must be shitting their pants with excitement. Us ordinary civilians will lock ourselves in and starting to avoid our neighbours. This attack isn’t just on Charlie Hebdo, it’s an attack on all of us, all over the world.

As Iyad El-Baghdadi, UAE activist, concluded on Twitter:

The extremists will benefit from an escalation, it justifies them. People who just want to coexist are thrown under the bus.

Photo copyrights: Sweden and the Middle East Views

Dark Days

So December that should be a nice month even for us Christian Atheists, has been marked by dark news. There are events that are taking the world forward even if not everyone agrees on it: elections and poilitical developments, and then there’s events that the world didn’t need at all.

IS successes, well-documented by themselves on social media; the massacre in Peshawar on 151 innocent children, their teachers and their principal who tried to save them; the arson attack on two mosques in Sweden.

What is striking to me is that again and again it’s proved that most people don’t care about others if they don’t share the same skin colour, language, religion, political views. It seems so hard for some people to feel some kind of compassion and identification unless all, and I mean all, equal factors are there.

On days like these I make sure to go online and watch pages such as India Loves Pakistan or Jews & Arabs refuse to be enemies. Or remind myself and everyone else out there on the George Harrison quote:

As long as you hate, there will be people to hate.

Please remember that, haters.

Photo credit: dawn.com

I’m a True Swedish Patriot – You’re Not

Sweden in the summer

Election time in Sweden is coming on September 14 and I’m abroad on a humanitarian mission as I usually am. Last minute it suddenly turned out I hadn’t the possibility to vote at the Swedish embassy in the country where I am. I desperately called and e-mailed the Swedish embassy and asked them to send me the voting material – they made an exception and sent it by private mail to my office. I taped together an envelope with my vote and sent it by DHL to Sweden for 40 USD, eternally grateful that it had worked out, not regretting the 40 USD it had cost me. I will do anything for my country, because I love my country.

I love my country because of many things. I love it because of the weather: in Southern Sweden the weather is mild and rainy in the winters which I love as I hate snow, crisp and sunny in the springs and the short summers are, despite being short, always provided with some sunny days.

I love it because of the clean beaches and the sea, the big, clean parks with fountains and lakes.

I love it because of the social welfare system. I have been unemployed many times between my missions and I always had an income so that I could pay my rent and afford food, because of the unemployment benefits I received. We have public daycares, schools, hospitals, health clinics, psychological care  – all to no or minimum cost. We have decent homes for homeless people, drug addicts and asylum seekers. As long as I live in Sweden I will never have to be afraid of living on the street or not afford health care or school for my kids. I love paying tax to my country as I see the good that comes out of it and since I love my country.

I love it because of the diversity. I have friends from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Liberia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Gaza, Greece, Pakistan, Bolivia, France, UK and Sweden. We have clubs in my city playing dancehall, hiphop, Arabic music, Persian music, singersongwriter evenings, pop, hard rock, electro, classical music, klezmer. An addicted traveller like me will never feel bored in my homecountry.

I spent all this effort and money to vote as I love my country and I want to keep the good things with my country and see it develop. I am a true Swedish patriot since I love my country as it is. You Swedish nationalists, Sverigedemokraterna and Svenskarnas parti, who are candidates for the upcoming national elections, don’t. You’re striving for a Sweden that never existed. A Sweden where people are no longer safe. I’m a true and proud Swedish patriot loving my country for all that it is – you’re not.

Photo copyright: Sweden and the Middle East Views