Am I Swedish? A reply to my haters.

After my latest blog, I was hate trolled and told to ‘go home’ because I am ‘not Swedish’. This has happened numerous times before. Normally I don’t respond to haters. I don’t think it benefits to feed the troll. But this got me thinking about what makes somebody Swedish. And I realised the answer isn’t just about me, but about anybody who moves to this country.

Here’s my reply to my haters:

Dear hater,

You are right, I wasn’t born here. I was raised in the UK. That makes me British.

I have lived in Sweden for 25 years. 9 years ago I became a Swedish citizen. That granted me the right to be Swedish.

I have a Swedish passport. That makes me a Swedish national.

Dear hater, how do you define who is Swedish? Is it citizenship, or is it birthright? Often when people discuss this subject, they mix up nationality and ethnicity. Nationality is the relationship between an individual and the nation(s) that he or she is affiliated with. Ethnicity is the identification between an individual and a particular racial, cultural or religious group.

So when you tell me to ‘go home’ because I am not ‘Swedish’, you are not referring to my nationality – because I am a Swedish citizen. You are referring to my ethnicity. And there is a word for wanting to remove people from a population based on their ethnicity – it’s called ethnic cleansing.

I can accept that I wasn’t born here. But I can’t accept being told to ‘go home’ based on the fact that I am ‘not Swedish’ and have a different opinion. I am a Swedish citizen and have as much right as you or any other Swede to voice my opinion in whatever channel I want.

In fact, not only am I a Swedish citizen, I am a model citizen. Let’s just take a look at my track record, shall we?

I am educated to Master’s degree level and all of my education was taken outside of Sweden. I haven’t cost the state a single krona for my schooling.

I have no children – so I have not taken any parental benefits in money or paid time off work. I haven’t cost the state a single krona.

In a quarter of a century, I have only received state sick benefit for two weeks.

I have never been unemployed but have always worked and paid my own way. I have never received any social benefits from the Swedish state.

I have worked for 25 years in Sweden and paid all the relevant income taxes.

I own a company and pay corporate tax. I provide a livelihood for others by employing them and paying employee tax on their salaries. And they, in turn, also pay income tax.

Should we compare my track record to yours?

So, you see dear hater, the state has earned a lot more on me than I have cost. I have contributed a great deal in financial terms to this country – just like so many new Swedes have.

I am not complaining; I am happy to contribute via my taxes. I believe in socialized healthcare, welfare and education. I strongly appreciate that the benefit system is a strong one, and that it exists to help people who need it when they need it. And maybe one day I will need it. Solidarity is one of the reasons I admire Sweden so much.

My moving here was a choice. Probably yours wasn’t. My contribution to society is positive. Probably yours isn’t. I haven’t cost Sweden a single krona. I’m guessing you are very expensive for society.

So as long as I am here, I will continue to voice my opinion. I have earned it. And if you want to keep trolling, then go ahead. But realise that your comments put fire in my belly – you are not my hater, you are my motivator.

Oh, and by the way, I will not be ‘going home’ – because I already am home.

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.

Do Swedes have no heart?

Working recently in India, one question I received was ‘why don’t Swedes greet us with heart?’ This was referring to when Indians visit colleagues in Sweden, or when they start working together in new constellations.

It is an interesting perception, and maybe not a new one. The experience of Swedes as cold, unfriendly and disengaged seems common, and genuinely baffles a lot of non-Swedish people.

Firstly, I would like to say that in general this is not true. It is just a perception. Many of the Swedes I know are kind, generous and affectionate. However, I do have a few theories as to why this perception prevails.

Expressiveness – how much it is appropriate to express emotion is something that we are trained in from childhood. Some cultures train their children to use their entire bodies when they communicate, others train their children to be more reserved. Generally Swedes are trained to be emotionally inexpressive. What they mean is clearly in their words, and not so much their bodies or faces. And this can lead more physically expressive cultures to presume they are cold. So it is important to understand that lack of expression should not be confused with lack of feeling.

Importance of relationships. Swedes do have many close friendships and family ties. However, this doesn’t necessarily extend to neighbors or colleagues. While in other cultures, strong close relationships with colleagues are essential for getting the job done, in Sweden isn’t the case. Relationships help, but they are not essential for carrying out the task. This means Swedes can go to work and be friendly towards each other, but don’t necessarily need to make friends or show a great deal if interest in each others private lives. This can be frustrating for people who come from strongly relationship-oriented cultures.

Independence. Swedish culture is amongst the most individualistic cultures in the world. In Swedish society, this manifests itself in the attitude that every able-bodied person can take care of themselves. This means that the Swedish attitude is generally if you want help you will ask for it. And you usually get it. The fact that help is rarely offered was a hard lesson for me to learn when moving to ‘unhelpful’ Sweden.

The peach and the coconut. Some cultures are like peaches – soft on the outside, easy to get into, open in communication, overtly friendly. Other cultures are like coconuts – hard shelled, difficult to get into and less open to people outside the group. Typically, but not exclusively, Swedish culture is ‘coconutty’ and Indian is peachy. This can mean it’s a challenge for people from peachy cultures to break into Swedish society and easy for them to form the perception that Swedes are cold and unwelcoming. My experience tells me, however, that once you break through the shell, the friendships that you make are very close and lasting. It is easy to assume when you meet a Swede that he or she is shy or introvert. This might be the case, but not necessarily. He or she might just be a coconut.

The dark side of Sweden

Sweden is my spiritual country.

Moving here has shaped me into the person I am today. When I moved here, I fell in love immediately with this modern country in the north. I was impressed by Sweden’s strong belief in equality, democracy, human rights, acceptance and tolerance – and it moulded me. Like Sweden, I believe in an open society where everybody is of equal value and has the right to live how they want. I believe in humanity where people respect each other. I believe in a social contract where we take care of the weaker members of society when they need it, and they take care of me if I need it. For me, this is Sweden. This is what it means to be Swedish. Swedes should be so proud of this legacy.

But is this Sweden still there? 20 years ago, it clearly was. But today? Is this Sweden just a Utopia? Just a distant memory of something good? Is my open Sweden actually shutting down?

Cold winds are sweeping over Europe yet again. Sweden is no exception. The Sweden Democrats – a right wing conservative nationalistic party, dressed in sharp suits, is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of Sweden’s citizens. And they are gaining ground. Approximately 20% of the population now support them.

These 20% are willing to vote for a party that is openly xenophobic and clearly sexist. Members of this party have, in recent memory, stated that gays are animals, that Jews are not Swedes, that women should have their abortion rights restricted. I don’t understand why they think this is ok.

These 20% are willing to vote for a party that have a shaky understanding of Economics, whose budget lacks 30 billion Swedish crowns to cover all of their election promises and who have no policy for the environment – as it’s ‘not that important’. I don’t understand why they think this is an acceptable future for the country.

These 20% buy into the idea that this party is anti-establishment. The ‘gang of four’ men who run the party are former university students who earn salaries in the millions and furnish their homes with designer furniture. They may come from humble backgrounds, as do many Swedes, but today they are elites. I don’t understand why their supporters don’t see this.

These 20% are willing to vote for a party they do not know much about. Nobody knows what their actions will be. Many of their voters are dissatisfied with the current state of Sweden, and they want a change. This may well be justified. However, they are willing to throw everything out, and place their bets on a dark horse. They clearly don’t feel threatened. But they probably should.

Have these 20% always been there? Was the Sweden I moved to just a lie? Was the openness and tolerance just bullshit? Was it just a neat and well-orchestrated fantasy that in fact had fear of foreigners, sexism and homophobia lurking just beneath the surface? Lurking and waiting and ready to leap out. That is a frightening thought.

I don’t believe these 20% are all racists, I really don’t. But they are willing to allow nationalists to take power in Sweden. I don’t believe they’re all stupid. But they are willing to disregard glaring faults in SD’s policies. I do believe many are disenchanted. And they are willing to gamble the safety of their country and fellow citizens just to prove a point. They are willing to literally throw many people to the sharks.

After this article, I expect to be trolled. I often am. These trolls will abuse me, they will tell me to go home yet again and they will say I am a bleeding-heart liberal.

And they are so wrong.

I am already home. Sweden is my home. And my heart is not bleeding, it is breaking.

Please do not vote SD in the coming election.

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 7 Mustafa Can 


Negativity. Fear. Concern. These are some of the reactions many Swedes are experiencing about the influx of immigrants to Sweden in the last couple of years. So, I became curious to learn about some of those individuals who came here as refugees or immigrants to make a better life for themselves. People with roots somewhere else who built a home here and who contributed to Swedish society in a positive way.
For the next seven days, I will celebrate these people. My hope is that we can lift our eyes from the challenges of immigration and understand what useful contributions these people can make to society if given the chance. To our society. Our Sweden

 

Part 5: Mustafa Can 

In Sweden, every summer there is a radio series called ‘Radio Talkers’ where various people get a chance to tell their stories and play music. It was in this program some years ago that I first heard of Mustafa Can. His program was very moving and focused around his mother. It was so moving that he won many radio and media prizes as a result.

Mustafa Can works as a prize-winning author, independent journalist and public speaker. His recent work focuses mostly on cultural diversity, identity and xenophobia in Sweden. He provides a controversial voice to the Swedish integration debate.

Mustafa has lived in Sweden for over 40 years. Orginally from Northern Kurdistan in Turkey, he fled with his family when he was 6 years old. He is a great example of someone who arrived in Sweden as a child, became well integrated and uses his position and his voice to try to make Swedish society a better place for everybody.

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 5 Meraf Bahta Ogbagaber 


Negativity. Fear. Concern. These are some of the reactions many Swedes are experiencing about the influx of immigrants to Sweden in the last couple of years. So, I became curious to learn about some of those individuals who came here as refugees or immigrants to make a better life for themselves. People with roots somewhere else who built a home here and who contributed to Swedish society in a positive way.

For the next seven days, I will celebrate these people. My hope is that we can lift our eyes from the challenges of immigration and understand what useful contributions these people can make to society if given the chance. To our society. Our Sweden

 
Part 5: Meraf Bahta Ogbagaber 
Meraf Bahta was born in Dekishahay in Eritrea, a country with heavily criticized human rights. In 2008, at the age of 19, she escaped this one-party military state. In Eritrea, she had been conscripted to do a 5-year long military service, or punishment by imprisonment. Both her parents were imprisoned and her mother had died behind bars. So Meraf fled and found a safe haven in Sweden. In Eritrea, she is considered a deserter and her return there would mean instant death. 

As a middle distance runner, she has participated in many international competitions. Her personal best times are 4:05.11 minutes in the 1500 metres and 14:59.49 minutes in the 5000 metres – which is the Swedish national record. She is also the European champion (2014) in 5000 metres. 

Since 2014 she is a Swedish citizen and eligible to represent Sweden in international events. She did so at the recent Olympics in Rio and World Championships in London. 

Meraf has found security in Sweden and is able to pursue her athletics career without threat or military interference. Watching her on the track, it’s easy to see that she wears her yellow and blue colours with pride. 

Amazing immigrants in Sweden: Part 4 Madubuko A. Robinson Diakité

madubuko

Negativity. Fear. Concern. These are some of the reactions many Swedes are experiencing about the influx of immigrants to Sweden in the last couple of years. So, I became curious to learn about some of those individuals who came here as refugees or immigrants to make a better life for themselves. People with roots somewhere else who built a home here and who contributed to Swedish society in a positive way.

For the next seven days, I will celebrate these people. My hope is that we can lift our eyes from the challenges of immigration and understand what useful contributions these people can make to society if given the chance. To our society. Our Sweden

 

Part 4: Madubuko A. Robinson Diakité

Many people in Sweden know who Swedish rapper Timbuktu is. His many hits and TV appearances have made him a household name. However, very few know about his father – a human rights lawyer, writer and documentary filmmaker – who emigrated to Sweden in the 1960’s. – Madubuko A Robinson Diakite.

Madubuko was born in Harlem, USA and moved as a teenager to Africa after his mother married a Nigerian journalist. Inspired by his step father to work with social injustice, he returned to the USA in the 60’s and earned a degree in law. In 1968, he moved to Sweden to study film-making and continued on with a Ph.D. In 1992, he earned a Law degree at Lund University. Currently, he researches in human rights at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Lund and is active in anti-discrimination organisations in Sweden.

He has published articles on film and human rights law for several international publications, and has headed several projects on the rights of people of African descent.  he also wrote the book Not Even in Your Dreams, a semi-autobiographical work studying child abuse in Africa.

Madubuko Diakite came to Sweden as a student and has become a strong voice in the academic and human rights communities. With his own experiences and competence, he has worked to make Swedish society a more open place.

His conviction passes on through the lives he has helped and through the popular music of his successful son.