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.


The longest night

For some, it won’t start until after the last of the funerals are over.

For others, it will start when they close their eyes and try to sleep.

Tonight, many of the survivors will have returned to their homes, spread all over Norway and separated from many of their comrades.

No longer will they be in the company of those with whom they shared the nightmare.

They have come back to a world that does not – and cannot – understand.

They will feel the joy and relief of having made it back to their families alive, of seeing loved ones that, for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon, they thought they would never see again.

But when the lights go out, many of them will see the faces of those who didn’t make it.

The desperate faces of their friends who fell all around them as they tried to escape the madman’s bullets.

The anguish and the fear and the helplessness they felt on the island will return with full force.

Why did they survive, when so many others fell?

Why did he not single them out for execution?

Is it even worth going on when so many they knew and loved are now gone forever?

For some, there will be shame.

Did I push someone out of the way as I scrambled for survival?

Did I slow someone down?

Is there an empty bed in an empty room in some other family’s house tonight because of what I did to survive?

Others will lie in hospital beds, recovering from their wounds and thinking of how close they came to losing the most precious thing they have.

They will remember lying still with the dead all around them, desperately trying not to breathe as he walked among them.

Flinching as the phone rang in their pocket, longing to answer it but knowing that if they were to pick it up, it could be the last thing they ever did.

For many, this will be the first night of many where such thoughts steal their way in through the darkness.

Some will soon get over it. Many will carry it forever.

For this is what terrorism does.

And this is why it cannot be allowed to win.