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Evolving views on Sweden: Changing perspectives, standards of excellence

IN MY VOICE: NFGL student Iftekhar Ul Karim explains how his perception of Sweden have evolved since arriving in the country, and how the fate of two far-flung mosques contributed to the transformation.

Evolving views on Sweden: Changing perspectives, standards of excellence

I cannot recall much of my early childhood in New Delhi, India; but one thing that stirs me the most even today is that memory of my father telling me India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had been assassinated. 

Being a Bangladeshi kid spending childhood in India due to my father’s diplomatic posting made me think of the event to a greater extent, especially what it meant and why it happened.

My curiosity to indulge in reading the biography of this gentleman called Rajiv Gandhi started then. At a later point in time I discovered an incident known as the Bofors Scandal.

The Bofors Scandal was a corruption scandal involving Sweden and India in 1990s, and thus it was with a bitter taste back in my early boyhood that I came to learn about a country called Sweden. The country where I am staying today with a much different perception and perspective due to the passage of time.

However, how my ideas about Sweden evolved in a positive direction through my own choices after experiencing Sweden in person is a different story altogether. This is a land of immense innovation; yet people follow “Jantelagen” (the undervaluing of personal achievements) and aspire for “Lagom” (just the right amount). This is something unique, not easily seen anywhere else and surely worth of a lifetime of cherishment by an outsider like me.

Being born and brought up in Bangladesh, having spent my early childhood in India, educated and worked in the Netherlands, and travelled to many parts of the globe in the US, Europe and Asia, I would now like to view Sweden from a comparative perspective.

To me, it has set standards in the international political landscape for humanity at large and offered precious lessons for the international community about how to treat human beings. Human rights is not merely a social dialogue in Sweden, but a culture instilled in minds.

I have seen many of my Swedish friends devoting ample time to human causes and welfare in student unions. Nonetheless, what has amazed me is the amount of drive Sweden as a country has showcased to the world in setting remarkable examples in favour of humanity. I will highlight two such instances herein.

Once in a while, when I manage to pay a visit to the grand mosque in Malmö (second oldest mosque in Sweden), I really become pleased, not only to witness the amazing architecture, but to recall the history of rebuilding the mosque by the state. Back in 2003, when an arson attack damaged the mosque and other sabotages destroyed the adjacent meeting rooms, the state took the responsibility to reconstruct it fully and make it operational again despite the high cost of restoration. The mosque is now well-attended both by people from Skåne (Sweden) and Copenhagen (Denmark).

Thinking of this example, when I recall one of the deadliest memories of my boyhood – a diplomatic documentary prepared by Bangladesh Embassy in New Delhi on the demolition of the Babri Mosque (a symbol of Mughal architecture and named after Emperor Babor- the first Mughal emperor of India), then I feel India could have repaired the mosque adopting the standard of excellence left by Sweden.

Again, the recent example of Sweden officially recognizing the state of Palestine has put forth a leading benchmark in Europe encouraging countries like Belgium to do the same for the sake of humanity. I will remember Sweden for many such incidences of catering to the needs of human race in just “the right amount” needed, where the “right to the right amount” eventually precedes the previous notion.

Iftekhar Ul Karim was born and raised in Bangladesh. He is currently pursuing a Leadership for Sustainability master’s programme at Malmö University.

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SHOOTINGS

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success

The US criminologist behind the anti-gang strategy designed to reduce the number of shootings and explosions in Malmö has credited the city and its police for the "utterly pragmatic, very professional, very focused" way they have put his ideas into practice.

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success
Johan Nilsson/TT

In an online seminar with Malmö mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, David Kennedy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said implementing his Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy had gone extremely smoothly in the city.

“What really stands out about the Malmö experience is contrary to most of the places we work,” he said. “They made their own assessment of their situation on the ground, they looked at the intervention logic, they decided it made sense, and then, in a very rapid, focused and business-like fashion, they figured out how to do the work.”

He said that this contrasted with police and other authorities in most cities who attempt to implement the strategy, who tend to end up “dragging their feet”, “having huge amounts of political infighting”, and coming up with reasons why their city is too different from other cities where the strategy has been a success.

Malmö’s Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting) pilot scheme was extended to a three-year programme this January, after its launch in 2018 coincided with a reduction in the number of shootings and explosions in the city.

“We think it’s a good medicine for Malmö for breaking the negative trend that we had,” Malmö police chief Stefan Sintéus said, pointing to the fall from 65 shootings in 2017 to 20 in 2020, and in explosions from 62 in 2017 to 17 in 2020.

A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of shootings from 2017 to 2020. Graph: Malmö Police
A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of explosions in the city between 2017 and 2020. Graph: Malmö Police

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In their second evaluation of the programme, published last month, Anna-Karin Ivert, Caroline Mellgren, and Karin Svanberg, three criminologists from Malmö University, reported that violent crime had declined significantly since the program came into force, and said that it was possible that the Sluta Skjut program was partly responsible, although it was difficult to judge exactly to what extent. 

The number of shootings had already started to decline before the scheme was launched, and in November 2019, Sweden’s national police launched Operation Rimfrost, a six-month crackdown on gang crime, which saw Malmö police reinforced by officers from across Sweden.

But Kennedy said he had “very little sympathy” for criminologists critical of the police’s decision to launch such a massive operation at the same time as Sluta Skjut, making it near impossible to evaluate the programme.

“Evaluation is there to improve public policy, public policy is not there to provide the basis for for sophisticated evaluation methodology,” he argued.

“When people with jobs to do, feel that they need to do things in the name of public safety, they should follow their professional, legal and moral judgement. Not doing something to save lives, because it’s going to create evaluation issues, I think, is simply privileging social science in a way that it doesn’t deserve.”

US criminologist David Kennedy partaking in the meeting. Photo: Richard Orange

Sluta Skjut has been based around so-called ‘call-ins’, in which known gang members on probation are asked to attend meetings, where law enforcement officials warn them that if shootings and explosions continue, they and the groups around them will be subject to intense focus from police.

At the same time, social workers and other actors in civil society offer help in leaving gang life.

Of the 250-300 young men who have been involved in the project, about 40 have been sent to prison, while 49 have joined Malmö’s ‘defector’ programme, which helps individuals leave gangs.

Kennedy warned not to focus too much on the number of those involved in the scheme who start to work with social services on leaving gang life.

“What we find in in practice is that most of the impact of this approach doesn’t come either because people go to prison or because they take services and leave gang life,” he said.

“Most of the impact comes from people simply putting their guns down and no longer being violent.”

“We think of the options as continuing to be extremely dangerous, or completely turning one’s life around. That’s not realistic in practice. Most of us don’t change that dramatically ever in our lives.”

He stressed the importance of informal social control in his method, reaching those who gang members love and respect, and encouraging them to put pressure on gang members to abstain from gun violence.

“We all care more about our mothers than we care about the police, and it turns out that if you can find the guy that this very high risk, very dangerous person respects – literally, you know, little old ladies will go up to him and get his attention and tell him to behave himself. And he will.”

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