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Soldiers of Odin target Muslim school in Stockholm

Far-right group Soldiers of Odin targeted a Muslim school in a Stockholm suburb following reports the school had segregated its children by gender on the bus.

Soldiers of Odin target Muslim school in Stockholm
Principal Hussein Ibrahim and vice principal Roger Lindquist. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

The Al Azhar school in Vällingby told newspaper Stockholm Direkt that members of the anti-immigrant vigilante group had put up propaganda stickers in the schoolyard and filmed some of their pupils.

“They started filming children in the schoolyard and then they kicked a football away from some guys. When I saw them they were at the entrance and were putting up their stickers and then I called the police,” said vice principal Jane Almquist.

A Soldiers of Odin spokesperson confirmed that two of its members had been there but denied filming the children.

The incident happened on Wednesday afternoon, a day after broadcaster TV4 showed secret footage of the privately-run primary school where boys were seen entering from the front and girls from the back.

The school said it had not intentionally segregated the children by gender.

“We have confronted those in charge of transport. They said that some children had been moving around a lot and they were made to sit at the front, and those were mostly boys. Meanwhile, the girls were calmer and sat at the back,” vice principal Roger Lindquist told Dagens Nyheter.

Police said they had checked the identity of the Soldiers of Odin members but said they were not arrested because no crime had been committed, reports Stockholm Direkt. Instead, the school has now called in its own security guards, but said some children had chosen to stay at home on Thursday out of fear.

“We have had a crisis meeting and police have been here to discuss the threat. They think it's incitement of racial hatred but that there is no serious threat. So we'll have to continue to pay for our own guards,” Lindquist told Stockholm Direkt.

“There is much fear and insecurity. From the students there's also a lot of frustration and anger against us as school management because we have, as of today, chosen to start integrating gym classes – boys and girls will from now on have gym classes together – and they think we are going against their will and right to pupil influence.”

In August last year, Swedish media revealed that teachers at the Al Azhar school had agreed to gender-segregated sports lessons. It argued then that pupils had requested it and that gender-mixed sports classes would cause some parents to stop their children from attending.

The school describes itself as having a “Muslim profile”, but is open to students from all backgrounds. Around 80 percent of the staff are non-Muslims, according to Lindquist.

“It is important to point out that the staff is not driven by religion but a passion to work with cultural and integration issues. It is also important that the school is not based on Muslim values but democratic ones,” he told the TT news wire on Tuesday.

Sweden's free school system of state-funded but privately run schools was introduced in 1992 and paved the way for religious organizations to operate schools as long as they stuck to the secular Swedish curriculum.

In August 2016 there were 66 religious free schools in Sweden, 11 of which were Muslim, according to the education ministry.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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