Tag Archive for integration

Can we talk about racism yet, Sweden?

I’ve been here long enough to know confronting things head-on is not the done thing, but it’s already too late.

We need to talk about racism, Sweden.

Not just the big-picture, Jimmie-and-the-bootboys racism of the Sweden Democrats, or the lurch to the right of the not-so-Christian Democrats and the small-l liberals.

We need to talk about the everyday racism that means that we talk about “immigrant suburbs,” and not just suburbs.

We need to talk about the silent racism that leads to “schools with a high percentage of pupils from non-Swedish backgrounds,” and not just schools.

We need to talk, not of immigration, but of integration.

Because the first will happen anyway.

The second is up to us all.

On a day when Ahmed Hassan’s mother spoke of her love for her slain son, and Lavin Eskander’s friends spoke of his love for his job as an assistant at the school in Trollhättan where he was murdered, it’s about time we started talking about racism.

Anton Lundin Pettersson murdered both of them simply because they weren’t white.

It doesn’t get more racist than that.

But it doesn’t stop there.

How this crime is being reported to the world drips with racism – maybe not the aggressive kind that led Pettersson to kill, but racism all the same.

It is the kind of racism that sets the tone and the agenda, and that writes the first – and often the only – draft of history.

The kind of racism that calls him a “lone wolf”, when a brown person would have been called a “terrorist”.

The kind of racism that says he was dressed as Darth Vader, and not as a Nazi stormtrooper.

The kind of racism that fails to mention his military march around the school looking for victims.

It is the kind of racism that makes people in media and politics appeal for calm when they themselves, by their ethnicity, are safe in the knowledge that they are not, and never will be, the target of such attacks.

It is the kind of racism that sees no connection between the burning-down of planned refugee centres, the government’s change of heart in terms of granting temporary rather than permanent asylum, and the murder of schoolchildren.

It’s all connected.

In 2011, Jens Stoltenberg’s memorable answer to Breivik’s terror was “more openness, more democracy.”

But Norway’s answer was to vote him out of power and instead replace him with the “right-wing populist” – or, in simple terms, racists – of Fremskrittspartiet.

In Denmark and Finland, the race towards racism continued untrammelled by Breivik’s bad press. Even Denmark’s Social Democrats tried on the brown shirt, but to no avail, as they desperately tried to cling to power.

And in Sweden it happened too, as Jimmie and his party, born of the neo-Nazi movement, grew inexorably to the point where almost one in five could consider voting for his merry band of besuited fascist thugs.

We have to talk about racism. We have to talk about immigration. We have to talk about fear.

But to do so we have to stop talking about immigrants as threats and start seeing them as people.

We have to challenge the narratives created in the dark belly of the Internet, where hatred germinates out of lies and memes.

Because it is the dehumanising of individuals, the grouping-together so beloved of racists that leads young men to arm themselves with swords and kill based on skin colour.

I live in a multicultural area, but Pettersson would not have stabbed me or my children, simply because we are white.

But he would have stabbed some of my friends and some of my children’s friends, because they are not.

We bear no collective guilt for the actions of Pettersson, but we owe it to those who died to confront the elephant in the the room that is everyday racism – even if it is our own racism.

Because it is that – and not extremism – that makes Sweden one of the world’s most segregated places.

 

Refugee relief is not a numbers game

So far the focus of Ireland’s response has been to concentrate on how many Ireland can actually take in – this despite the elephant in the room that is direct provision – and not what will happen once they get here.

First we had Simon Coveney’s pathetic opening bid if 600.

But, like a bad poker player assumed to be bluffing, he was quickly forced to raise it to 1000.

The latest bid comes from the smouldering remains of the Labour Party, with Joan Burton apparently saying that Ireland can take 5000 refugees.

What nobody seems to be saying is what we will do with them when they arrive here.

As with everything else in Ireland, there is no long-term plan, just a knee-jerk reaction.

Whether we take in one or 100,000, we need to have a concrete plan, a process to ensure that those who do come to Ireland are given a better life than what they currently have, and not simply warehoused in direct provision – or worse still, sluiced out into a society that neither cares about them nor wants them.

I live in a suburb in northern Stockholm where I see the results of failed integration every day.

This failure is not down to those who have come here; it is down to a society that either doesn’t know what to do with them, or in many instances doesn’t want anything to do with them at all.

Last Monday evening I sat in one of Stockholm’s most classic downtown cafés with Mahad.

Mahad speaks seven languages and is a qualified doctor – two of the languages he speaks are Arabic and Somali, a pair of mother tongues that very few in the Swedish medical profession can claim to master.

When I look around the suburbs of Kista, Husby, Akalla, Rinkeby, Tensta and Hjulsta I am struck by how his skills should be a goldmine – but rather than employ him and allow him to treat patients in their own language, he is locked into a bureaucratic nightmare.

First, his credentials had to be evaluated – after a year, he was told that he must compliment them and take tests here in Sweden, despite reading the same books and carrying out the same procedures as any EU-educated doctor.

Then he must learn Swedish – he speaks it competently already but doesn’t consider himself as fluent as he is in his other seven languages – and then he must negotiate a labour market that, while seemingly open to all, is suspiciously closed to those with a similar background to his.

There is an unspoken, structural racism at work – why take the black African unknown quantity, when you can take the blonde, blue-eyed person from up the road? Okay, their qualifications and experience might not be as good, but at least you know what you’re getting…

That is Mahad’s experience at this moment, and he is just one of many that Sweden has failed to integrate.

I see it in journalism too – white, middle-class people populating the press boxes and the press conferences, asking questions in white, middle-class tones about issues that affect white, middle-class lives.

A brown face with a microphone is perceived as an uppity outsider, rather than a breath of fresh air – Sweden tends to avoid conflict, so the critical voices of brown people are silenced by simply not inviting to the party in the first place.

And then, to add insult to injury, when they can’t find a job, we call them lazy and use them as a reason not to offer sanctuary to others.

The vicious circle is complete.

Time and again last Monday night, Mahad stressed to me that he doesn’t want handouts from the state – he is grateful for what he has been given, but he simply wants to be allowed to practice his profession, contribute to society and have a dignified life in a country that is safe.

Ireland risks going the same way.

Have Coveney or Burton or anyone else in the Irish government considered exactly how they are going to help refugees into Irish society?

How will they learn the English language? How will they be exposed to Ireland’s customs and culture?

How will they learn about hurling and craic and dodging responsibility for everything, the three core things all Irish people hold dear?

How will they be integrated into a labour market destroyed by the economic collapse and further fragmented by the free labour scam that is Jobbridge?

Unfortunately for our politicians, refugees are not simply there to be taken in to  score compassionate political points for parties who have shown no compassion for their voters.

They have needs and wants like everyone else.

It takes effort. It takes compassion. And in the short and medium term, it takes money too.

In many cases – such as my friend and team-mate Hashem, whose mother was killed by Assad’s bombs in Damascus and who fled across the sea to Greece and then on to Sweden – they need time to heal their psychological and physical wounds.

They need support, and they need a process in place to ensure that they can once again begin to live their lives with the dignity that they have been robbed of in their home countries.

Lurking, as always, in the background, are the racists who will pounce on any opportunity to spew bile on those born abroad.

You only have to look at the Facebook page of Identity Ireland (who claim to be a political party and have launched as such, but are so inept that they haven’t managed to register) to see how the spores of hatred flower in the darkness.

If we fail to integrate Mahad and Hashem properly and instead force them into the lower socio-economic echelons of society, we are creating an instant conflict between them and others who battle for the meagre resources at the lower end of the scale.

This is where the visible racism occurs, but it is born of the invisible structural racism – and indeed the destruction of any protection offered in our labour market – that has happened long before they even got here.

Citizens of the EU have already spoken by their actions, welcoming refugees and insisting our politicians do more.

But these people have been failed by their own countries and we owe it to them not to fail them again.

We owe it to them to offer a life that is better than a Jordanian or Kenyan refugee camp.

Whether one or 100,000 come, we owe it to them to offer them a chance of a life that we ourselves would want to lead.