I am a businessman. I travel across the globe to do my work and this is how I introduce myself: My name is Faisal Khan and I am a businessman from Sweden.
As soon as my counterparts hear Sweden I see the level of respect rising. Sometimes Sweden gets confused with Switzerland. I very proudly correct them: “Not Switzerland! Sweden, you know, Volvo, Abba, Nobel…”
I tell them with utmost pride our achievements as a nation. One time while meeting an Indian industrialist I told him that the zip of his pants and the belts of his fan were Swedish inventions.
When I have visitors from abroad I almost always try to take them for a fika. “You see in Sweden we are very busy folks, but we always make time for fika where we sit and drink the beverage of our choice and talk to each other,” I explain.
I deliberately choose to fika somewhere around Sergels Torg. “You see that podium across the black and white square,” I say as I point to Sergels Torg. “There, as a Swedish citizen, you can stand and say anything you wish to say.” The podium is not just a space, it is a symbol of our dignity. It is this podium where we show our solidarity to each other, where we empty our chests when we are angry at our politicians, it is this podium we use when we are frustrated and angry at the world. And this is the podium where we share our pride and happiness together.
I then guide my guests towards Drottninggatan. Along the promenade I point at the quotes from Swedish authors inscribed on the pedestrian road.”Libraries shall be burned from time to time,” reads one quote from Strindberg. I always wish that my guest will ask me what Strindberg meant. I then very articulately explain: “You see, we are a modern nation. One shall not take it literally, but shall rather contemplate.” I make a dramatic pause and continue to explain that Strindberg meant we should burn libraries of old ideas so there will be space for new ones.
A young girl hugging a police officer in Stockholm. Photo: Noella Johansson/TT
One time as my meeting was coming to an end with an Arab businessman he asked me about my family and how I have managed to live as a Muslim in this non-Muslim country. I replied to him that assuming Sweden is a non-Muslim country is the wrong perception. “We are a nation free from labels,” I told him. “Yet here in this country you can live and preserve being whatever you want to be. A Muslim, or a non-Muslim: the choice is yours.” What do you call yourself then, he asked me. “I am a father of a 17-year-old ultra-feminist Swedish teenage girl from Järfälla,” I replied with a big laugh.
I also told my Arab counterpart of Muslim heritage about my children and how they are being raised and schooled. “You know, my friend, the saying of Prophet Mohammad as he once several hundred years ago urged his followers to seek knowledge from cradle to grave?” Yes, he replied. “This is what we practise in Sweden,” I told him with pride followed by a dramatic silence. “Here in Sweden we can educate ourselves throughout our life. You literally join a sort of educational establishment from childhood until you die.”
“Isn't it too expensive?” he asked. “I pay several thousand dollars a year for the education of my children.” He anxiously waited for an answer. “It is not only free of charge, but in many cases you get paid to go to school,” I added. The guy couldn't believe me. “I as a man get paid paternity leave to spend time with my children while my wife works.” The poor guy almost choked on his kanelbulle.
Another time I met American reporter Scott Johnson. During my traditional fika segment he questioned me if I was being too much of a wishful thinker and blind to the problems my country faces. “I have read about Sweden being divided into go-zones and no-go zones. Is that also Swedish?” he asked.
“I am not always a wishful thinker,” I replied. We do have challenges as a nation. We have been the biggest recipients of refugees per capita, which was a great humanitarian gesture. However, it entails many social challenges as well until we find a common ground to live together in harmony.
Throwing stones at the police, burning cars, grabbing women by their bodies, looking different, smelling different, men kissing men on the cheek, women with head scarves, not being able to pronounce ÅÄÖ and so on is not Swedish at all, but how we deal with it is very Swedish.
Stockholm! My home town! My pearl…! I never miss a chance to talk about how beautiful Stockholm is. I take my guests around the Old Town. Needed or not I explain how the Old Town tells our majestic past and just across the Old Town our sophisticated Nordic-designed signature landmarks tell how far we have come in adopting new ideas and most of the time invented new ideas.
On Friday, April 7th, my brand, my beauty-on-water, my home town, my Stockholm and my very beloved Drottninggatan was under attack. The harmony of my home town faded out in smoke and fear, but very quickly we pulled ourselves together and started being Swedish again. Face the challenge with sophistication together. Our police force handed the aftermath by the book, with utmost Swedishness. As citizens we mourned together, cried together and helped our security forces capture the suspected culprit together. The next morning our Crown Princess Victoria was asked how to go on from here. She elegantly with tears on her cheeks said “together”.
On Sunday afternoon thousands of us gathered at the podium I always show my guests and expressed our commitment of not giving in to fear of any kind during the 'Stockholm Love Fest'.
As the Love Fest was coming to its end my kids and I, as a last act of the day, walked back towards my beloved Drottninggatan to reclaim it as our Sunday walk venue. A handmade sign caught my attention. A verse from the Holy Book of the Bible: “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Luke 10:19. He could have quoted Matthew 5:39 instead, but this is what Swedishness is about: he made a sign and chose to quote Luke 10:19 and I am going to post a banner quoting Matthew 5:39.
A sign quoting Luke 10:19 posted on Drottninggatan. Photo: Faisal Khan
I will not run with clichés like all Muslims are not extremists and explain how ill-informed people are about my religion. Facebook and Swedish public radio P1 are enough for that.
In a previous opinion piece on The Local, I wrote that I had personally experienced grief at the hands of terrorists, when my brother and almost his whole family were killed three years ago. Among many other unanswered questions there is one in particular that still haunts me. Homaira, my sister-in-law adored by brother and my brother adored her. They were like a fairy tale. I had seen Homaira staring at my brother and then shying away with a big smile. I have wondered now and then about Homaira and that fateful moment when they were assassinated. Who was killed in front of whose terrified eyes? It is a question I will never get an answer for and still brings tears to my eyes. However, after a lot of deliberation I have learned to have compassion instead of anger. And today I urge my fellow Swedes not to let fear in and not let terrorism in any form and from any direction win.
Coming back to the question of what we should do. I believe we have elected 349 wise men and women to our Riksdag in a very democratic way to make laws for our country and we as citizens pay salary to our officials to execute the laws for us. Sometimes I understand that laws are not good enough to protect us and officials have shortcomings in implementing the laws. That's why we have our podium in the Sergels Square where we can register our frustrations in a very Swedish way.
I who have seen nations descend into chaos just because they have given in to fear am terrified of losing my adopted country, especially now when not only people in Sweden look at us, but we have even unwillingly become the centre of the world's argument. We shall take the words of our Crown Princess Victoria literally and seriously and go on together. And besides the zipper of the pants and the belts of the fan give the world yet another invention: Go on together.