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Silence won’t solve the problems with a multicultural society

The problems of a multicultural Swedish society won’t solve themselves if our politicians, in fear of being called a "racist", don't break their silence on the issues, argues equal rights activist Bahareh Andersson.

Silence won't solve the problems with a multicultural society

How can a state-owned radio channel, Sveriges Radio, allow an imam resident in Sweden to express a death threat against a whole group of people who have converted from Islam to Christianity?

A while ago I read an article on the internet which was unintelligible to me. The article made me imagine life in a country in the middle ages with rules and values which in no way fits a modern and democratic society like Sweden.

The Christian Dagen daily reported the following:

“It is every Muslim’s responsibility to kill those who leave Islam. This is what could be heard recently on Sveriges Radio, when an imam from Rinkeby was allowed to present a text on how you should act towards Somalis who convert to Christianity.”

I thought, at least this is better than the silence on Waberi (editor’s note: Moderate Party MP Abdirisak Waberi), but they don’t even write the name of the imam.

The silence of politicians and the media is deplorable and frightening! How can we interpret their silence?

The reticence in Sweden to discuss individual rights and their responsibilities is often hypocritical especially when it concerns people with immigrant backgrounds. All have rights, which is positive, although attached to those rights are responsibilities.

But it seems that no one wants to talk about that. Is this because of a reluctance to be called a racist? The word racist has become a fear factor to silence people or get them to move in the direction you want them to.

To me, racist means that you believe that all those of another ethnic origin than Swedish shall leave Sweden and that they have no right to be here. At the same time we know that fear of being called a racist often hinders us from reacting against groups or people who in the guise of culture, tradition or religion deprive others of their legal rights.

The consequence of this is the creation of an extreme cultural relativism.

We can not be silent when children are not allowed to participate in certain subjects in school, when young girls are married off or when boys are told by their families to keep watch over their sisters, for fear of being called a racist.

We can not be silent in fear of xenophobia when an imam in Sweden publicises death threats against a whole group of people. Today you are a racist as long as you don’t bend over backwards when meeting other cultures or religions.

This is something I really don’t understand!

These actions are wrong and can’t be accepted by Swedish society. To express fear that their children will become Swedish is to express a form of racism against Swedes.

I follow the integration debate in other countries and in France for example they are more courageous when it comes to making demands with regards to common and constructive values.

All is however not perfect in France but they at least have politicians (and I am not talking about the far-right) who are not afraid of expressing themselves freely and rationally without being called racists.

Naivety (or caution) which exists among our Swedish politicians is worrying and boosts extremists such as Abdirisak Waberi, who sits in the Riksdag defence committee (the man who wants to live in a country under sharia law as he said in an SVT documentary).

In France they have a saying – “To call a cat a cat”. One should call things by their real name and not try to make things up. To always be politically correct solves no problems.

I am thus not surprised but mostly disappointed by our hypocritical society when for example I am called an Islamaphobe, racist and masses of other made up smears just because I have the guts to write.

In conclusion I have to underline again that the integration debate and the problems with the multicultural society won’t solve themselves if our politicians don’t break their silence.

How can a state-owned radio channel, Sveriges Radio, allow an imam resident in Sweden to express a death threat against a whole group of people who have converted from Islam to Christianity?

How would society have reacted if a right-wing organisation had threatened a group of people who had broken their norms and values?

It is now time to break the trend and start to clean up.

The political establishment has neglected this over the course of several years. The consequences of this failure has been that, among other things, right-wing extremists have gained a foothold and been energised.

So, I agree with you Mauricio Rojas (editor’s note: Liberal Party politician who has written a series of reports on integration and asylum issues). The evidence suggests that the immigrant debate is still far from “the bounds of open-heartedness” and even further away from sober and reasoned discourse. That’s just too bad for Sweden!

Bahareh Andersson is an equal rights activist who works with honour society issues.

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

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INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.”