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'What do the Sweden Democrats want to do with us Muslims?'

Published: 21 Oct 2009 16:20 GMT+02:00
Updated: 21 Oct 2009 16:20 GMT+02:00

Anna Waara, chairperson of Swedish Muslims for Peace and Justice, calls for politicians and the media to reject in the strongest possible terms the views expressed in an opinion piece by Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, in which he refers to Muslims as the greatest threat to Sweden since World War II.

It is a very worrying development that the Sweden Democrats now think it possible to score political points through the open use of the same kind of rhetoric used to denigrate Jews in the 1940s. The party feels comfortable propagating pure lies in an opinion piece that's out there for all to see; their calculation is that this won't be a problem, since they assume that antipathy toward Muslims will predominate in the public debate.

When it comes to the view of Muslims in today's society, the apparent dehumanization and total lack of nuance lead to a situation in which Muslims are viewed as an inordinately terrifying phenomenon. This is driven home by the fact that the Sweden Democrats' frontal attack is met by a deafening silence from the country's otherwise so vociferous leader writers.

The Sweden Democrats have a right to express themselves, and should preserve that right, but in a democratic society there is nothing forcing people to listen. Freedom of expression is an important foundation, which enables people to take a stance on the kind of society they want Sweden to become.

What's surprising is that the media establishment has received the Sweden Democrats' views with a sense of calm. The party's message contains errors that are misleading or, in some cases, consist of pure propaganda. Despite this, a lot of what they say is permitted to pass without critical examination, vocal protests, or sober counter-argumentation. This offers a snapshot of the current societal climate with regard to Muslims and Islam.

What the Sweden Democrats portray is an enemy within, in a society they wish to divide into "us against them". Such views have never led to a healthy, peaceful society, and Åkesson's propaganda represents a direct threat to the 200-year tradition of peace we have here in Sweden.

It would be particularly troubling if the established parties were to replicate the Sweden Democrats' rhetoric, providing succour to this sort of propaganda. We have seen it before in Europe - in Srebrenica for example, where 7,000 to 8,000 Muslims were murdered simply because of their identity. This happened just fifty years after the Holocaust: the kind of outrage that was never supposed to happen again.

There's a risk that Islamophobia and intolerance will become established and accepted in Sweden. Is that really the kind of society we want to live in?

A major Gallup poll thought to represent the opinions of 90 percent of the world's Muslims has shown that 93 percent are against acts of violence. None of the 7 percent who did not respond that they were opposed to violence cited religious reasons. They made reference instead to political reasons, such as achieving freedom from oppression. This is the same freedom considered so fundamental to Western values.

The study also supports the view that young Muslims, contrary to what Åkesson might claim, do not want extremism, fanaticism or violence; instead they strive for freedom, rights and democratization. The survey also showed that Muslims view Islam as a religion that confers on them a sense of meaning, direction, purpose and hope.

Swedish Muslims for Peace and Justice (Svenska Muslimer för Fred och Rättvisa) is Sweden's first Muslim peace organization. Our aim is to be one of the foremost organizations promoting peace and security in Sweden and Europe, based on justice, Islamic principles, and human rights. With this in mind, we have previously invited the Sweden Democrats to debate with us; we have engaged in a dialogue with them because we believe in talking to those with dissenting opinions. We believe in a society characterized by diversity, which is why we find the Sweden's Democrats' rhetoric so frightening.

The party openly displays its defiance towards Swedish values such as respect and tolerance. It is extremely important going forward that the established parties do not slip under the net and co-opt the views the Sweden Democrats are trying to propagate, rather than countering them. The Sweden Democrats want to create the kind of society that can not be achieved by peaceful means in light of the prevailing conditions in multicultural Sweden. It is with this in mind that their election promise to do all they can to create a uniform Sweden raises so many critical issues. Just what do the Sweden Democrats want to do with us Muslims?

The question brought to a head by Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats is that of the kind of society we want to live in. I am certain that I don't want to live in a society pervaded by opinions that are laced with hatred, ignorance and intolerance, and in which not all individuals are permitted to feel safe - regardless of who the messenger might be. What kind of society do the Sweden Democrats want to live in?

Anna Waara's article first appeared in Swedish on October 21st in Svenska Dagbladet, an "independently liberal-conservative" newspaper (see link below)

Related links:

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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