“Split on criminality and immigrants” – yesterday’s Expressen newspaper talking about what no-one is supposedly allowed to talk about in Sweden.
It’s not about Donald Trump.
It’s not about being the “rape capital of the world”
It’s not about riots in Rinkeby.
No-one cares about Sweden.
No-one cares about facts or statistics.
All they care about is winning the ideological battle over whether or not immigration – particularly Muslim immigration – is a bad thing or not.
I’m not going to bother regurgitating the statistics about why everyone from Donald Trump to Nigel Farage is clearly and empirically wrong about Sweden.
That has been done elsewhere, by the Swedish government among others.
I’m just going to share a few things that I have experienced.
Firstly – you might think so, but this is not new.
For almost three decades the Swedish far right – alleged nationalists and patriots – have in fact been telling anyone who would listen around the world that their country is a shithole.
It’s not a coincidence, or a mistake.
The same pattern has been seen in Norway and Denmark, and ultimately led to Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous rampage – a development brilliantly described by Norwegian social anthropologist Sindre Bångstad in his book “Anders Breivik And The Rise of Islamophobia”.
This narrative didn’t just appear with Trump’s remarks – it’s been a trope of the far right for years.
Secondly, despite the protests of the far-right pearl-clutchers like spoof “Swedish national security expert” Nils Bildt on Fox News, you CAN talk about immigration, integration, criminality and the related issues.
In fact, for the last ten years or more, as the Sweden Democrats – the party who rose form the ashes of the neo-Nazi movement in 1989 – were given more and more of a platform, people have spoken of little else.
(According to various reports, Mr Bildt left Sweden in 1994 and was reportedly convicted of assaulting a law enforcement officer and public drunkenness by a Virginia court 20 years later and sentenced to a year in prison. A man of the same name was also sued by a credit card company for over $20,000 around the same time, suggesting that Mr Bildt is the same kind of violent criminal deadbeat immigrant he claims is a problem for Western societies).
The front page of yesterday’s Expressen newspaper, one of the country’s biggest tabloids, again featured immigration and integration all over its front page.
In short, that assertion is, like so much else in the debate, rubbish.
And it’s not just the right either - Conservative parties have lurched that direction, but even the supposedly centre-left Social Democrats in both Sweden and Denmark have lurched quickly and clumsily after them.
Thirdly, there are enormous problems in Sweden.
A young man was shot dead at the top of my street last autumn, and a teenage boy suffered a similar fate outside the school where my wife works. His brother was also seriously injured.
A grenade killed a young kid in Malmö, and a photographer was badly beaten in Rinkeby last Monday.
But in almost 18 years here I have never felt unsafe in Sweden – not in Malmö, not at the boxing club in Gothenburg, and certainly not in Stockholm, even during the famous riots in 2013.
Young people from the Stockholm suburbs I live in have problems finishing school and getting jobs. There is violence, there is crime, there are drugs.
This is a European city, with all the attendant social problems that entail.
But the far right – and indeed the Telegraph, the Irish Independent, the Spectator and other people who should know better, will tell you that this is simply because these people are immigrants.
They will tell you to ignore the prevalent socio-economic situations that have applied to first and second-generation immigrants that go back centuries – their place on the bottom rung of society’s ladder, their skills ignored and instead re-classed as cheap labour.
They will not refer to the social experiments that have seen health centres privatised and suburban centres gutted, or that schools allowed to make a profit hoover up kids whose parents hope for a better future for them, and then just warehouse them as state schools are forced to close due to lack of numbers.
They will not tell you about police targets that encourage the convicting of as many young offenders as possible, marking them for life for teenage misdemeanours and effectively shutting them out of the job market, leaving them no choice but to return to a life of crime.
They will not tell you about the dozens of fires at planned asylum centres over the last two years.
Instead they will make it all about race and immigration – and race is only relevant in criminology if you happen to be racist.
The only time race is a factor is when gunmen and murderers like Peter Mangs and “The Laser Man” John Ausonious chose their victims based on the colour of their skin, or when racists decide to set fire to a refugee centre.
After all, Niklas Lindgren, the “Haga Man” – one of Sweden’s most notorious serial rapists – did not commit his crimes because of his Swedish ethnicity.
He did it because he is a rapist.
Make no mistake – no-one cares about Sweden, and soon the international focus will shift back to the wall with Mexico, or expansionism in Ukraine, or whatever.
But no-one cares about facts.
All they care about is winning the ideological battle that says that a comprehensive and welcoming welfare state is in fact a disaster, and that Muslims are evil people intent on destroying Western civilisation.
It is, of course, nonsense.
But to racists, it is very important to be able to define and discuss things in terms of race – and, preferably, in terms of race only.
In allowing the debate to be framed in these terms and by “hearing them out”, mass media are doing exactly what is outlined in Bångstad’s book about Breivik.
(Ironically, the same day as the Sweden Democrats had an op-ed supporting Trump’s remarks published in the Wall Street Journal, one of their MPs was charged with embezzlement – SD parliamentarians are apparently twice as likely to have a criminal record as the average Swede).
They are allowing these ludicrous ideas – such as the idea that Sweden is anything other than an enormously advanced, rich and successful country that at the same time suffers the same social problems as virtually every modern European nation – to gain traction, uncriticised and unopposed.
And if Sweden can be painted in these terms, what hope do places like France and the UK have?
If what has happened in Norway, Denmark and now Sweden is anything to go by, there is no happy ending in sight. These ideas are not going to go away.
Call it fake news, call it propaganda, call it what you like – the ideological battle is currently being won by the far right pretty much everywhere you look.
This is happening, and it’s not going to get better until it gets a whole lot worse, as evidenced with the rise of far-right politics and leaders in the likes of Russia, Poland, Hungary and the United States of America.