Book recommendation – how to adapt to Swedish culture

I have just finished reading Mustafa Panshiri’s 2021 book ‘7 Råd Till Mustafa’. If you understand Swedish, I strongly recommend you read it.

Mustafa Panshiri came to Sweden as a child from Afghanistan. In his book, he cleverly weaves his own experience of integration with seven pieces of advice he wishes he would have been given. This makes the book not only interesting to read, but very practical and useful. He has an non ‘Western-centric’ perspective which I found fascinating to read about and reflect over.

Aimed at readers who want to understand Swedish culture, and integrate into society, the book is also relevant to Swedes. Panshiri includes sections with advice to ‘Svenssons’.

Integration is a complex issue and Mustafa Panshiri does not claim to solve all of the problems. However, with this book, and his endless youth outreach work, he will clearly make a difference.

The book can be bought on line and at good book shops.

Sweden: the spiritual magic of ‘joiking’

We have all experienced moments of beauty in our lives. One of mine is something I experienced on a trip to the North of Sweden in an town called Hemavan.

The resort we stayed at had a restaurant at the bottom of a ski slope. One day when we were in there, a Sami man climbed up onto the small stage and began to sing an enchanting song. He was dressed in traditional blue and red Sami dress, and through the large windows behind him we could see reindeer high up in the snowy landscape.

It is a beautiful, serene image that is forever etched in my mind.

A contributing factor to the impact this had on me is how the man was singing. In fact, he wasn’t singing, he was ‘joiking ’. What, you might wonder, is joiking ?

Joiking is not a song as such, but a melodic sound that is integral to Sami culture. It is used to express relationships to people and nature. Traditionally, joiks have no lyrics, consisting of chanting, not unlike that found in some Northern American Indigenous cultures. They can also include mimicry of animal sounds.

Like in the restaurant, joiks are often performed for entertainment. However, they can also have a spiritual function. In past times, a noaidi (Sami shaman) could perform joik whilst beating on a Sami drum with bones to contact the spiritual world.

In Sami culture, most people are given their own melody, like a signature tune. This leads to the Sami saying that they are “joiking someone” rather than “joiking about someone”. Most joik melodies are about people, but also animals and places can have their own joiks. Animal joiks are often about wolves, reindeer, or birds such as ducks.

During the Christianization of the Sami from the 1700s onwards, joiking was considered sinful and was banned. But it survived and today is included as a frequent part of Swedish cultural events. Most recently, a Sami artist was televised joiking in a celebration of Crown Princess Victoria’s birthday in July.

If you’d like to experience some traditional and modern joiking, check out the links below. You will be captured by its melancholy and immediately transported to the mountains and plains of northern Sweden.

My Essential Guide to Sweden

In 2020, I was approached by the publishers behind the respected Culture Smart series to see if I would write a book about Swedish culture. I accepted and, finally, it is here! I am proud to join their staff of authors! Available soon to buy on Amazon, or via me. Just pm me if you’d like a copy. Today’s a good day!!!

Swedish nationalism

In the paper today, the leader of Sweden’s right-wing party claimed that some of the other conservative parties are ‘getting closer to our form of nationalism’. This made me think about the concept of nationalism, and how it impacts Swedish society.

What is nationalism? Nationalism is an idea that says each nation should have the power to govern itself, without outside influence or interference. It aims to build and maintain a single national identity on shared characteristics of ethnicity, language, religion, traditions and culture. It promotes national unity, and seeks to preserve a nation’s traditional cultures. It rejects ‘foreigness’. National symbols, flags, songs, languages and myths are highly important in nationalism.

Nationalism often goes hand in hand with Authoritarianism. This means the rights of individuals can be sacrificed for the good of the majority. As a result, nationalistic parties tend to be authoritarian, with authoritarian rhetoric.

What is patriotism? Patriotism is closely related to nationalism, but crucially different. Also called ‘national pride’, patriotism is the feeling of love and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with others who share the same sentiment. The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that patriotism does not include a desire for power.

What about Sweden? So, how do these manifest themselves in Sweden? Flag waving, snaps drinking and supporting Sweden in ice hockey or Eurovision are all examples of patriotism.

When politicians place increasing demands on immigrants to culturally integrate and learn Swedish, it is nationalism. When politicians say that Jews and Sami are not Swedish, it is also nationalism. When political parties gain votes on arguments of preserving Swedishness and protecting against ‘foreign criminals’, it is nationalism. And there is one motivation behind it all – power.

Is nationalism bad? Is nationalism positive or negative? Well, in practice, it can be both – depending on context and your point of view.

Nationalism can give people a meaning. It provides people with a purpose in a world which is increasingly meaningless. This means that if people have a meaning larger than their lives, they are more likely to do, or fight for, something.

For example, nationalism was instrumental in independence movements such as the Velvet Revolution, Greek and Irish Revolutions, the creation of modern Israel, the dissolution of the USSR and even Brexit.

So nationalism wins wars and conflicts – but it is also the creator behind them. It has been the foundation of terrible human atrocities such as the genocides in Rwanda and Armenia, the Yugoslav wars and the Holocaust. So what makes the difference?

A factor that unites all of these latter cases is that nationalism was combined with racial hatred. Is this when nationalism turns into something more horrific?

So let’s go back to the original quote from Sweden’s leader of the right wing party – they are getting ‘closer to our form of nationalism’. Notice he didn’t say ‘patriotism’, he said ‘nationalism’. And that tells us it’s all about one thing, and one thing only – the lust for power.

Swedish nationalism

In the paper today, the leader of Sweden’s right-wing party claimed that some of the other conservative parties are ‘getting closer to our form of nationalism’. This made me think about the concept of nationalism, and how it impacts Swedish society.

What is nationalism? Nationalism is an idea that says each nation should have the power to govern itself, without outside influence or interference. It aims to build and maintain a single national identity on shared characteristics of ethnicity, language, religion, traditions and culture. It promotes national unity, and seeks to preserve a nation’s traditional cultures. It rejects ‘foreigness’. National symbols, flags, songs, languages and myths are highly important in nationalism.

Nationalism often goes hand in hand with Authoritarianism. This means the rights of individuals can be sacrificed for the good of the majority. As a result, nationalistic parties tend to be authoritarian, with authoritarian rhetoric.

What is patriotism? Patriotism is closely related to nationalism, but crucially different. Also called ‘national pride’, patriotism is the feeling of love and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with others who share the same sentiment. The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that patriotism does not include a desire for power.

What about Sweden? So, how do these manifest themselves in Sweden? Flag waving, snaps drinking and supporting Sweden in ice hockey or Eurovision are all examples of patriotism.

When politicians place increasing demands on immigrants to culturally integrate and learn Swedish, it is nationalism. When politicians say that Jews and Sami are not Swedish, it is also nationalism. When political parties gain votes on arguments of preserving Swedishness and protecting against ‘foreign criminals’, it is nationalism. And there is one motivation behind it all – power.

Is nationalism bad? Is nationalism positive or negative? Well, in practice, it can be both – depending on context and your point of view.

Nationalism can give people a meaning. It provides people with a purpose in a world which is increasingly meaningless. This means that if people have a meaning larger than their lives, they are more likely to do, or fight for, something.

For example, nationalism was instrumental in independence movements such as the Velvet Revolution, Greek and Irish Revolutions, the creation of modern Israel, the dissolution of the USSR and even Brexit.

So nationalism wins wars and conflicts – but it is also the creator behind them. It has been the foundation of terrible human atrocities such as the genocides in Rwanda and Armenia, the Yugoslav wars and the Holocaust. So what makes the difference?

A factor that unites all of these latter cases is that nationalism was combined with racial hatred. Is this when nationalism turns into something more horrific?

So let’s go back to the original quote from Sweden’s leader of the right wing party – they are getting ‘closer to our form of nationalism’. Notice he didn’t say ‘patriotism’, he said ‘nationalism’. And that tells us it’s all about one thing, and one thing only – the lust for power.

Sweden chooses its song for Europe

Finally, after six long weeks of televised qualifying competitions, Sweden voted for the song to represent the country in the Eurovision Song Contest. Called ‘Voices’, the song is about everybody’s right to be who they are and to be heard. The song won far ahead of its nearest competitor.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the winning song is actually the singer. His name is Tousin Chiza, but he is known as Tusse. In 2019, he won the Swedish equivalent of Pop Idol.

The 19 year-old singer came to Sweden as an unaccompanied child refugee, fleeing the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009. He ended up in the small village of Tällberg in county Dalarna where he still lives today and has an adopted Swedish family. He has been widely criticized for his appearance, as he often wears non gender normative outfits.

This is a moment where the lyrics of the song and the artist are closely connected, which possibly explains its popularity and success in the competition. Tusse sings:

There’s fire in the rain
But we’ll get up again
We’re thousand miles apart
But we’ll overcome
I’ll never let you down
World is turning us around
But I feel it in my heart
Let’s make a brand new start
Can’t stop us now, forget the haters
Get up and live and make it matter
There’s more to life so go ahead and sing it
out’

It’s certainly a song that is a product of its time and it remains to be seen if the message resonates with the voters of Eurovision.

On 22 May in Rotterdam, Sweden will get the answer, and we will see if Tusse is Sweden’s 7th winner. If so, Sweden joins Ireland as the country with the most Eurovision wins since the competition began.

Here you can watch the performance below.

Sweden chooses its song for Europe

Finally, after six long weeks of televised qualifying competitions, Sweden voted for the song to represent the country in the Eurovision Song Contest. Called ‘Voices’, the song is about everybody’s right to be be who they are and to be heard. The song won far ahead of its nearest competitor.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the winning song is actually the singer. His name is Tousin Chiza, but he is known as Tusse. In 2019, he won the Swedish equivalent of Pop Idol.

The 19 year-old singer came to Sweden as an unaccompanied child refugee, fleeing the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009. He ended up in the small village of Tällberg in county Dalarna where he still lives today and has an adopted Swedish family. He has been widely criticized for his appearance, as he often wears non gender normative outfits.

This is a moment where the lyrics of the song and the artist are closely connected, which possibly explains its popularity and success in the competition. Tusse sings:

There’s fire in the rain
But we’ll get up again
We’re thousand miles apart
But we’ll overcome
I’ll never let you down
World is turning us around
But I feel it in my heart
Let’s make a brand new start
Can’t stop us now, forget the haters
Get up and live and make it matter
There’s more to life so go ahead and sing it
out’

It’s certainly a song that is a product of its time and it remains to be seen if the message resonates with the voters of Eurovision.

On 22 May in Rotterdam, Sweden will get the answer, and we will see if Tusse is Sweden’s 7th winner. If so, Sweden joins Ireland as the country with the most Eurovision wins since the competition began.

What does it mean to be Swedish?

SWEDEN

I was born in the UK and I am proud to live in Sweden and I am proud, and fortunate, to have received Swedish citizenship. This is a country that, in my mind, builds on equality and solidarity. This a country that tries to do the best for its people. This is a country that stands up and does the humane thing, even in difficult circumstances. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

I try to look at the world with open eyes. Sweden, like all other countries, has its problems: an ageing population and an expensive welfare state, challenges of integration and inclusion, social problems, unrest and crime. Of course this exists. To claim these didn’t exist would be naive. And of course crime should be fought. But I truly believe that Sweden can solve these issues. And I truly believe that the way forward is the continued path of openness and solidarity. Not fear and defensiveness. Not nationalism. And not lies.

I am proud to be Swedish and live in Sweden. And I am patriotic. But being a Swede is not about eating meatballs, or herring, or chocolate balls, or flying the flag or singing the national anthem. And it is not about being blonde or blue-eyed.

What does it mean to be Swedish then (to me)?

  • Swedes take in thousands of people in their direst need
  • Swedes help people survive war and starvation
  • Swedes lead the way  in social and humanitarian issues
  • Swedes do not criminalize poverty
  • Swedes flourish in a diverse and multicultural society
  • Swedes stand up for human rights and equality between men and women
  • Swedes believe in self-fulfillment –  you can be whoever you want to be
  • Swedes respect children
  • Swedes believe in self expression and the right of free speech
  • Swedes understand the work life balance
  • Swedes cherish the environment

In my mind, this is what it is to be Swedish. These are the very things that brought me to Sweden and made me fall in love with the country and its residents.

This is my call to action. Do not buy into the lies and falsehoods that are spread about this country. Do not buy into the fearmongering of power-hungry conservative politicians. Do not buy into the nationalistic rhetoric.

On social media, on the streets and in your life, question the source of all information. Challenge racism. Do not just swallow the bullshit. And whenever you disagree, stand up and be a proud Swede!

Have no fear – the Swede is here!

Diverse Sweden Part 2: Swedish Muslims

diversity

Sweden is a fairly diverse country – ethnically, religiously and culturally. About 25% of the population is born abroad or has both parents born outside of Sweden. Extend that to one parent and the number increases to around a third of the Swedish population.

I am a true believer in cultural diversity. So, I am continuing a series of posts that will shine the light on various religious and ethnic groups that exist amongst people with Swedish citizenship. My hope is that it will dispel some of those stereotypes of Swedes that exist and that it will broaden your mind regarding what it means to be Swedish.

Part 2…..Islam

Happy-Eid-Al-Fitr-Wishes-Picture

This week on Wednesday 5th of June is the great Islamic festival of Eid Al Fitr. This is a three day festivity consisting of celebration, good food, prayer, gifts to the children and charity to the needy. The festival marks the end of Ramadan, the month in which followers are taught the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.  During Ramadan, practicing muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours from dawn to sunset. You can imagine the challenge of this in Sweden, when we almost have daylight 24 hours of the day. In Stockholm, the fast lasts 20 hours per day which must be really exhausting. In the north of Sweden, where the sun never sets, muslims have solved this by fasting according to the daylight schedule of Mecca, or other chosen location. The idea of the fast is to bring practicing muslims closer to God.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world, about 25% of the world’s popluation. Muslims make up approximately 8% of the Swedish population, according to research from the Pew Center. This makes them the second-largest immigrant group in Sweden after the Finns. About 90% of muslims in the world are Sunni muslims, with the rest following Shia islam.

Islam is a religion which appreciates practice. There are five basic religious acts in Islam, collectively known as ‘The Pillars of Islam’ which are considered obligatory for all believers. The Quran presents them as a framework for worship and a sign of commitment to the faith. They are:

  • Shahada, the creed
  • Salah, daily prayer
  • Zakat, alms giving
  • Rawm, fasting during Ramadan
  • Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca

Other than the fasting of Ramadan, the practice most noticeable to non-Muslims is probably the one of prayer. Performing prayers five times a day is compulsory but flexibility in the timing specifics is allowed depending on circumstances. Many companies in Sweden have prayer rooms to accommodate this.

First-generation muslims in Sweden most often originate from Irak, Iran, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Two growing groups are from Syria and Somalia. Since the 1960’s, about 3500 people in Sweden have converted to Islam. There are nine purpose-built mosques in Sweden, with the notable ones in the main cities. In Stockholm, the mosque is on the residential island of Södermalm. From this location, the Islamic Association of Sweden is run. This is an umbrella organisation encompassing, amongst other things, the Muslim Council of Sweden, Muslim Youth Organisation and Muslim Relief.

The first muslims actually emigrated to Sweden during the Viking era but it wasn’t until the 1950’s and 1960’s that a large number arrived from Turkey seeking employment. Another wave in the 80’s brought muslim refugees from the war-torn Balkan region. Most of the muslims who arrive in Sweden today are fleeing dictatorship and armed conflict, and are seeking refuge in another country. Today, a great number of people who follow Islam were born in Sweden, conditioned in Swedish values and society and educated though the Swedish school system.

Like many places around the western world, there are conflicts in Sweden between the original Christian-based society and the Islam society. Some of the conflicts originate in religious difference, fuelled by extremist thinking on both sides. However, most of the conflict comes from an ethno-racist perspective or a concern about the impact of immigration on the structure and values of Swedish society. The Swedish governments of the past have not necessarily succeeded in the integration of the two parties and many people today witness ‘two Swedens’ operating in parallel to each other.

There is no doubt that muslims are well and truly a part of Sweden and Swedish culture. How we choose to move forward to one Sweden is for us all to decide.

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Why fascists should be allowed no platform in Sweden

The trouble with being empathetic‘, somebody once said, ‘is that you also feel sorry for assholes.’

But I have had enough! I have had enough!

I’m sick of being liberal and accepting and allowing. I’m done with it. Although far from everybody, Sweden and Europe is full of assholes.

Yesterday in Sweden, a left wing politician was physically attacked by members of the nazi party on the street. This is only one of many anti democratic incidents we are witnessing in our society.

After the EU election, it is abundantly clear that a climate of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant racism is being stoked in Europe and Sweden.

There are many examples. In Sweden, like in many other countries, the main nationalistic party (called SD) gained ground. White supremists demonstrate openly on the streets of Sweden. Last week, in Sweden, RFSL (The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights) said they would not participate in Sweden’s politics week due to threats from a nazi party.

Enough!

The democratic dilemma

As liberals, we have a dilemma on how to handle this spiraling situation. As self-identified beacons of democracy, we believe that freedom of speech should apply to everybody – even if their ideas are heinous. Banning opinion is, in itself, a fascistic move. Or is it?

I am a democrat. I believe in freedom of speech. But for me the solution is simple. The fascist opinion is not like any other opinion. It is filled with violence and hatred and should be allowed no platform in an open society.

No platform for fascists

When I say that there should be no platform for fascists, I mean that pro-democratic legislation should be stricter. I mean far right supremist groups should be criminalized in Sweden. I mean fascist meetings should be shut down, their attempts to rally and march should be prevented, counter-picketed and blocked.

It is not just because what they say is offensive. It is not a question of whether I like or agree with what they have to say. It is because hate speech does not end as speech. It is a call to violence, a tool to organize attacks on vulnerable communities.

When fascists get a platform, violence against minorities goes up. This we know. This we are seeing.

Fascism is a disease

Fascism is a disease in Swedish society. It aims to destroy our democracy and concentrate power in the hands of a “racially superior” minority. To succeed, it requires the destruction of freedom of speech. It requires destroying mass organizations of working people and unions. It requires the dismantling of free press, as SD has suggested the privatisation of public service radio. It uses an army of internet trolls. Fascism uses the blinkered limitations of liberalism to destroy itself.

Today’s fascists in Sweden and Europe try to re-brand themselves as something less threatening than their past incarnations. They are “alt-right” and pretend to be champions of free speech. They are not. They wear suits and smile into the camera. They claim they are anti-establishment and present themselves as scapegoats. They pander to the sick and the elderly by offering them more money. They pretend they aren’t racists or homophobes, just champions of white people and Swedish culture and “values”. They try to keep their real ideas and aims in the dark.

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech is not absolute. When thugs disrupt Pride parades that is not free speech. When fascists demonstrate during the May 1st celebrations, it is not free speech – it is intimidation and an attempt to incite violence. We have a right and a duty to prevent it, through the law, superior numbers and organization.

Unfortunately, racism cannot be defeated by logical argument. Racism, and fascism, grows by an appeal to the irrational, fear and hatred. It has to be smashed.

You might think I’m a drama queen who is making a mountain out of a mole hill. But I have had enough! I’m sick of allowing undemocratic people access to our democracy.

We cannot under-estimate the threat fascism poses in Sweden, our communities, schools and workplaces. Pro-democrats must make it a top priority to expose it and organize to stomp it out wherever we find it. We must unite in saying – not here, not on our watch, not in Sweden.

Sweden, that means: no platform for fascists.