Sweden’s pink Thursday

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Today, the Thursday before Easter is called ‘Skärtorsdag’ in Swedish. As the word ‘skär’ translates as a shocking pink colour, many people joke that today is ‘pink Thursday’. But the word ‘skär’ in this case relates to something else – something far more biblical.

The word ‘skär’ is an early Nordic word meaning clean and pure. And here, we see a parallel to the English word for ‘Skärtorsdag’. In English, today is called ‘Maundy Thursday’ and it relates to the religious rite known as ‘the maundy’ which involved the ritualistic cleaning of feet. According to Christian belief, today was the day that Jesus performed this act until the recipients had clean and pure feet. It also is the day of the infamous Last Supper.

However, in Sweden today, ‘Skärtorsdag’ is not celebrated in any great religious fashion but in a pagan manner. A old pagan belief in Sweden was that on this day witches would mount their broomsticks to fly away to the legendary mountain known as Blåkulla. At Blåkulla it was believed that the devil held his earthly court. There the witches celebrated their sabbath and danced with the devil.

In modern day Sweden, we see this reflected in the many children who dress up as witches. These kids paint Easter cards and walk around the neighbourhood knocking on doors to wish everybody a happy Easter. In exchange, they hope to receive Easter sweets.

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.

Segregation on a Swedish school bus

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In Sweden, the school system contains many independant schools run with a specific focus such as music, sport, art or specific religions. They should all follow the national curriculum and, in the case of religious schools, they should teach but not preach.

Yesterday, it was revealed that a Stockholm junior school with an islamic orientation has been segregating children on the school bus – boys go through the front entrance and sit at the front, girls go in the rear entrance and sit at the back of the bus. The headmaster of the school has claimed to be unaware of this. This act of segregation has caused a hot debate in Sweden about the ‘islamifying of Sweden’, ‘gender apartheid’ and comments such as it being ‘unSwedish’.

The Swedish Schools Inspectorate are planning on investigating the school further to see if any other ‘undemocratic activities’ are taking place. The Inspectorate has previously allowed segregated classrooms and gender-separated sport lessons.

What can we learn from this?

When this kind of occurance happens in society, it is a great opportunity to reflect on what we learn from it. What is our immediate reaction when we hear examples like this?

  • Do we run straight to the barracades and start defending our cultural heritage?
  • Do we condemn the occurance as, for example, undemocratic or unacceptable?
  • Do we weigh up the pros and cons and try to arrive at a balanced conclusion?
  • Do we think people are allowed to do whatever they want, so anything goes?

All of these are perfectly normal reactions, and one is not better than the other. Obviously, we react in different ways.

I think that these occurances in society provide us with a great opportunity to discuss intercultural competence. Being interculturally competent is generally defined as having an open mindset and the cultural sensitivity to see different perspectives so that one is able to flexibly adapt ones behaviours accordingly. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about accepting that anything is ok. Intercultural competence can also mean balancing up the various perspectives and standing up for what one thinks is acceptable.

Intercultural competence differs significantly from racism and nationalism. Racism and nationalism focus on others being of lower value than myself or the place I come from. Intercultural competence is about accepting everybody’s perspectives are equally as valid – no matter how tough they are and even if I personally don’t agree with some of them.

So how do we arrive at this place of understanding that all perspectives are equally as valid? We can ask ourselves a simple, but complex, question:

‘What do they think is good about segregating boys and girls on a school bus?’

If we can arrive at the answer(s) to that question, we are becoming more interculturally aware and more interculturally competent. We are seeing the situation from their perspective and not only our own. We are presuming they have a good reason, from their perspective, for their behaviour, rather than immediately judging or condemning it.

Once we have reflected over that, we can decide what we personally think. Does it change our point of view? Can we accept their behaviour more easily? Or does it make me hold my view even more stongly? In that situation, we can say something like:

‘I understand why you think it’s good to segregate boys and girls. I understand your perspective. However, I disagree with it. And here in Sweden, we believe in equal treatment of all regardless of their gender, which is why that behaviour is not something we as a society can accept.’

Compared this to the more reactionary ‘the Islamists are trying to take over Sweden!’ and ‘this country is going down the drain’, you see how the ability to perspectives-take creates a more open, less fearful debate.

It is my belief that if we approach occurances like this in a more interculturally competent way, and try to perspectives-take, we can create a society built on mutual understanding and respect for prevailing values rather than a society built on fear and suspicion.

And that has to be a good thing moving forward, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

Was Spock Swedish? 

  
According to the World Values Survey, Sweden is one of the most rational non-secular countries in the world: decisions tend to be made on logical rather than on emotional or hypothetical grounds. 
One area in which this manifests itself in Sweden is in the separation of church and state. Policies and legislation spring out of political, and not religious, ideologies. Unlike other countries where religion has a strong influence on how the country is run, Swedish politicians base their arguments on statistical and factual information. God is never mentioned in political debate, not even by the far-right Christian Democrat Party. If they mentioned God, it would probably send them swiftly packing out of the Parliament building. 

This is why what is currently happening in the USA is so fascinating. In the USA there is a strong connection between God and rhetoric. In the USA you simply don’t become President unless you mention God several times in your speeches. With this background, it’s not surprising that extremist Christians can arise, such as marriage registrar Kim Davis in Kentucky. The delightful Ms Davis abuses her position of authority and refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as it collides with her Christian views. In doing this, she denies these couples their legal rights and interprets the law to suit her own religious agenda. This has caused outrage in the USA and she has been ordered to back down, but continues to righteously defy the courts. And is allowed to do so. Prison is next in line, but she cannot be dismissed as her position is one for which she has been publically elected. 

This is a simple, but insidious, example of how religion, law and social legislation do often not make for a happy marriage. What would happen if we all decided to interpret the law according to our own religious convictions? Chaos. Religious dogma. Moralising power mongers.  In Sweden, Ms Davis would have been stripped of her official duties long ago. 

One secular quote reflects Swedish society in a nutshell. And it’s from Star Trek’s Spock in 1982: 

‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’

It’s logical. May Swedish society live long and prosper. 

No religion please – we’re Swedish

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When comparing religious/traditional values with secular/non-traditional values, Sweden always comes out of research as amongst the most secular, non-traditional countries in the world. The low voting frequency in the recent Church elections reflects this. Basically, many people in Sweden don’t want religion to have anything to do with politics and Sweden is one of the few countries in the world that has separated religion and politics from each other.

This is clearly shown in the latest outrage to appear on social media in Sweden – the appointment of the new Employment Minister, Elisabeth Svantesson. Ms Svantesson comes from the Swedish Conservative Party – the Moderates – and has recently been given this high profile position in the Cabinet. Where this becomes interesting is what is causing the outrage. It seems that Ms Svantesson holds a religious belief and belongs to a radical Christian organisation which, amongst other things, condemns abortion and homosexuality.

Voices have been risen for her immediate resignation.

This is so different from most other countries around the world. Take a country like the USA -nobody gets to become President there without mentioning God. Many countries are theocracies, where the political leaders and the religious leaders are the same. In most other countries, believing in a religious deity is an advantage, if not a necessity, for a public figure to be taken seriously.

But in Sweden, believing in a God is a rarely an advantage for a public figure. They are often ridiculed and their credibility is challenged by the general public and the press.

And this makes me think…..just when did religion become a liability in Sweden?