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'Immigrants in Sweden are treated as a homogenous, deviant group'

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'Immigrants in Sweden are treated as a homogenous, deviant group'
Photo: Mälardalen University; Mats Andersson/Scanpix
11:19 CEST+02:00
All deviant behavior which does not fit into dominant Swedish social norms is lumped together and attributed to immigrants, writes Salam Zandi, drawing parallels with concepts developed by thinkers such as Edward Saïd.

Immigrants in Sweden do not belong to one ethnic linguistic group, nor religious or cultural entity. Despite this fact, many public authorities, politicians, intellectuals and statistical offices treat them as a homogeneous group with defined characteristics.

Some debaters, for instance, write about immigrant girls as a group of girls having a shared problem. Others define immigrant men as having an inherent inability to respect women. Those who define themselves as the bearers of the western values system occasionally imply that immigrants are essentially deficient in their understanding of modernity, western lifestyles or individual integrity.

Furthermore there are others who collectively define immigrants and give them a set of common attributes.

Looking at the issue from the perspective of a discourse analysis we can establish that immigrants in Sweden are transformed into “the others” - in political debates, discussions, articles, texts, pictures and in statistical data. “The others” as in those who are unlike the native Swedes.

Any divergent behaviour or conduct which doesn't fit into existing Swedish social norms are lumped together and attributed to immigrants. Even when someone, who is himself not a native Swede, tries to display a positive aspect of these “the others”, he or she is unable to liberate him or herself from this framework.

The identity of the “the others”, immigrants, is established and within this framework all positive, negative and neutral notions on immigrants circulate. All conceptualizations of the immigrants take place inside within this. In accordance with the study of logic, it is illogical to reach a verified conclusion by false premises. In order to clarify my thinking, I am not trying here to discuss this issue with terminologies such as xenophobia, nationalism or racism.

The need to define “the others” in order to strengthen a group's feeling of belonging is a well-known phenomenon and eminently written about within the field of social-anthropology. This is of course also not a uniquely Swedish mindset. What is however possibly unique in Sweden is the dividing line between inclusiveness and exclusiveness.

If you are a coloured person or speak Swedish with an accent it is enough for you to be included into the category of immigrant. It is not enough to be a Swedish citizen and speak Swedish fluently and to be a skilled professional within the state's apparatus or in the government.

To exemplify I refer to two secretaries of state in the United States, namely Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. It seems that the United States has another approach to the issue. In the US all citizens need to contribute with their competence in order to build the country. All are needed, regardless of the origin or speech articulation.

In the United States a black man with a Kenyan father became president.

The social patterns which are in practice here in Sweden impact not only those citizens born outside Sweden but also for the country as a whole. Citizenship in Sweden is apparently not defined by the law, it is a cultural issue. Swedishness lies in the sphere of mythology and in this sphere neither, logic, time, skill nor the value of equity are given scope. The result of this is social alienation, a development which is being fought by politicians.

In my opinion, in view of this kind of inclusive/exclusive reasoning, immigrants remain immigrants forever, while the native Swedes inherit their Swedishness.

The almost comical debates prompted by the publication of data published by The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) regarding the higher representation of immigrants in certain crimes committed in Sweden, illustrate the pathetic nature of the attempts of some groups to create “the others” in Sweden.

Salam Zandi is a Swedish academic affiliated with Mälardalen University.

This article was originally published in Swedish on the Newsmill opinion website. English translation by Salam Zandi/The Local

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