Swede of the Week

A young Swedish Muslim inspired by Wallenberg

A young Swedish Muslim inspired by Wallenberg
Siavosh Derakhti, a young Muslim from Malmö who has emerged as a leading figure in the fight against anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Sweden, picked up the first-ever Raoul Wallenberg Prize on Tuesday, making him our choice for Swede of the Week.

“Winning a prize dedicated to the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg is fantastic. To be compared with him is unreal; it’s magical,” Derakhti tells The Local after accepting his prize.

The 22-year-old son of Azerbaijani-Turkish immigrants from Iran, Derakhti has lived in Malmö his entire life. For the last three years, he’s been holding workshops for young people in Sweden’s third-largest city in an attempt to breakdown what he sees as damaging stereotypes.

“I saw that Jews, Muslims, and Roma in Malmö were all being oppressed in some way. There was also a lot of ignorance among young people in Malmö,” he tells The Local

“I decided this should be one country for everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they believe, or the colour of their skin.”

In 2010, as reports began emerging that members of Malmö’s Jewish community were fleeing the city in the face of rising anti-Semitism, Derakhti helped organize and finance a trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp for his mostly Muslim classmates in hopes of getting them to think differently.

“I think it’s unacceptable for a rabbi to get harassed in Malmö because he’s a symbol for Judaism,” he explains.

“It’s unacceptable that anyone be subject to hateful comments on our streets. We’re all people.”

He then founded Young Muslims Against Anti-Semitism (Unga Muslimer mot Antisemitism), an organization which has since broadened its mandate and is now called Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia (‘Unga mot Antisemitism & Främlingsfientlighet’).

“One of the biggest problems today in Sweden is that there are too few people who care about each other and too many who have given up hope about the future,” says Derakhti.

“We have a xenophobic party in parliament and they may end up being the third largest party in the Riksdag after the next election and there’s something wrong with that.”

Last year, Derakhti was honoured for his efforts with an award from the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism. Less than a year later, he finds himself as the first-ever recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg Prize.

“Wallenberg has been an important role model for me,” he says.

“He has also been a huge inspiration for me in my work because he showed that one individual can make a huge difference in society.”

Derakhti plans to use the 100,000 kronor ($15,240) that accompanies the prize to finance more train-the-trainer workshops so that he can help equip more young people with the tools they need to help fight ignorance and intolerance.

“We need more young leaders in Sweden who have the skills and courage to stand up against racism,” he says.

In addition to Wallenberg, Derakhti also counts fellow Malmö-native Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a member of Sweden’s national football team, as an important role model.

“He’s the son of immigrants, like me; his dad is a Muslim, like mine is; he grew up in the suburbs, like me; and he had a hard time in school,” Derakhti explains, admitting that he struggled in school and often cut class.

“But he still ended up succeeding and becoming a great football player.”

Derakhti hopes to mirror Zlatan’s path to success, but within the sphere of youth organizing and the fight against racism.

“We need to activate our young people, educate them, and give them the tools they need to make a difference themselves,” he explains.

Derakhti sees the battle against online racism and racist cyberbullying as another important challenge that Swedes need to tackle.

“People foment hateful, racist campaigns online under false identities and say things they would probably never say in public,” he explains.

“We need to meet them head on and answer that hate with civil debate that is conducted with information, love, and respect.

“I’m convinced we’re going to win, and I’m going to keep fighting for it as long as I live.”

David Landes

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