A newbie immigrant’s perspective on integration in Sweden

Picture courtesy: mangkulturellasverige.se

Picture courtesy: mangkulturellasverige.se

I landed in Sweden in late 2012. I come from a country that is located on the frontline of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, Pakistan. My own city, Quetta, in northwestern part of Pakistan has been suffering from internal and external terrorism that dramatically escalated after US-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan which resulted to influx of Taliban leaders and fighters into our side of the border. Although one would not be able to see the members of the Taliban leadership (the Quetta Shura) in Quetta but would feel their footsteps almost on a daily basis in form of bomb blasts, targeted killings, abduction for ransom and so on.

Before moving to Sweden I had heard much about the generosity of its welfare system, its ample asylum policies as well as its covert racism and xenophobia. With a mixed sense of anxiety, despair and hope I boarded a plane for Istanbul from Karachi and then to Gothenburg. The anxiety intensified as our plane approached Landvetter Airport. It was, thankfully, a very pleasant and sunny day as our plane hovered over Gothenburg and the captain announced the vicinity of the destination. As I looked down the airplane’s window through dense white clouds, the mesmerizing greeneries and washed-out buildings won over my eyes and heart.

As expected, a semi-official ‘welcome to Sweden’ phrase received us at the airport, only to discover later that it was not that simple. Soon I learned that standard of living for invandrare (immigrants), especially those from the so-called third world, differs from the native Swedes. And that too many an immigrants, wittingly or unwittingly, carry their native valuables (and non-valuables of course) almost all the time. Came to know that the Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg (and for that matter the entire country), has various living areas depending on which social class one belongs to. “Det har blivit en klassfråga” (It has become a class issue), as somebody summed it up. Discriminatory terminologies like ‘invandrartätt område’ (immigrants-dense area) et al was one of the first few Swedish words finding its way into my brain. Say Bergsjön and somebody would tell you about your neighbours, in general terms though. Is the government not aware? Does the state ignore it? If not, has the government done anything to prevent such segregations? If yes, why is it failing? And many more questions would squeeze a newbie’s brain.

“Yes there is racism everywhere, but covert. Thanks to The Discrimination Ombudsman and the strict laws due which the racists are afraid to openly act”. Said a respondent to a question if he had ever experienced any type of discriminations in Sweden.

My first couple of months in this land was spent on paper works–lots of them, really. That unwilled moment when you are told to go to a Tax Agency (Skatteverket) for an identity card! Why to Tax Agency? Or to The Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) to practice writing a CV for a job, which you may apply for after two years. Especially when you don’t have an answer as to ‘why should the employer employ YOU?’ during interview training.

Every new immigrant might be curious about integration of other immigrants, their success stories, their issues, their failures et al. It is not encouraging for a newcomer to come across Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s open letter to Justice Minster Beatrica ASK, asking her to change skin with him in order to experience the systematic racial discriminations. It is absolutely not interesting to come across the hateful anti-immigrant write-ups published on Avpixlet. Anyways, it is not as black and white as it seems.

All the events unfolding during my one-and-half-year life in Sweden indicate that integration of immigrants has failed. The government, the Swedes and the immigrants themselves are all equally responsible for the failure. The government has failed due to its faulty integration policies or the failure to implement them properly. The Swedes have failed, because they avoid interacting with the immigrants in order to keep themselves away from cross-cultural conflicts and misunderstandings. The immigrants have failed, because they are afraid of losing their ‘cultural values’ and thus stick to their customs and some of them even practice some of the most brutal ones such as honor killings, forced marriages, imposing burka on their women, compelling their children to follow their religious virtues, and the list goes on. Even their elites seem to have failed in adapting Swedish values for which they (or their parents) had left their homelands.

Take Omar Mustafa, chairman of Sweden’s Islamic Association (Islamiska förbundet), as an example. He was elected as a member of the governing board of Sweden’s largest and oldest political party, Social Democrats, in April 2013. He was then immediately removed over allegations of inviting some anti-Semitic and homophobe Islamic fundamentalists to deliver speech at an event organized by his association. Although he clarified his personal stance, in a press confess as well as through an article on Aftonbladet, that he had no issues with same-sex marriage but his refusal to resign from FISI’s chairmanship exhibited his priorities. The truth is that Omar Mustafa’s organization is based on core Islamic beliefs and jurisprudence that explicitly forbids same sex marriages. How can Omar Mustafa be at the same time a practicing Muslim leader (as he claimed) of a religious organisation and a supporter of gay-marriage? And many more such questions. I may overlook claims of his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood which is regarded as a mother organisation for many terrorist groups across the globe.

Omar Mustafa, chairman of Sweden's Islamic Association (Islamiska förbundet)

Omar Mustafa, chairman of Sweden’s Islamic Association (Islamiska förbundet)

Meanwhile, the Sweden’s Islamic Association has been falsely portrayed in Swedish media as a representative of Swedish Muslims while it does not represent the Muslims at large. It may rather represent a specific group of a particular sect of Islam, Ahle Sunna Wal Jamaat, which is even highlighted on the organization’s Facebook page. In addition, Omar Mustafa further proved his ideological affiliations with the Islamists through his biased statements regarding Middle East issues. One of his statement on his Facebook page reads: ‘‘can not stop the anger when I think of the 11,000 women whom Assad regime has killed and those who have been raped by his thugs.” Yes, Assad is a dictator and involved in mass killings of his own people but Omar Mustafa handsomely and intentionally ignores the fact that thousands of women have been victimized at the hands of Al-Qaeda linked rebels. Not to forget the notorious ‘Sex Jihad’ practiced by the rebels. He entirely ignores the atrocities of Islamist rebels committed against non-Muslims, especially Christians, and even sectarian and ethnic minorities. And if you criticize the bias, you would be blamed for Islamophobia—a very typical tactic otherwise used by the neo-jihadists in order to hush down their faultfinders.

Omar Mustafa's FB status: ‘‘can not stop the anger when I think of the 11,000 women whom Assad regime has killed and those who have been raped by his thugs.''

‘‘can not stop the anger when I think of the 11,000 women whom Assad regime has killed and all those who have been raped by his thugs.”

When a self-proclaimed secular and liberal political activist glorifies the terrorists, in one or the other way, one should expect emergence and even glorification of death of Swedish jihadists in Syria.

Another media-darling and Omar Mustafa’s former Social Democrat colleague, Nima Gholam Ali Pour resigned from the Social Democrats as a protest against election of Omar Mustafa to the Governing Board, calling him an ‘Islamic fundamentalist’. However, Ali Pour (a Muslim immigrant himself) has recently joined Swedish far-right nationalist party known for its islamophobic and anti-immigrant policies—the Sweden Democrats—whose racism scandals are being exposed on daily basis. It is like supporting the extremists to eliminate extremism—reinforcing the errors.

Nima Gholam Ali Pour of Sweden Democrats.

Nima Gholam Ali Pour of Sweden Democrats.

“A lot of Iranians tell lies while claiming asylum in Sweden. They return to Iran to enjoy their vacations the very next summer after getting residence in Sweden’. Claimed Ali Pour (an Iranian himself) in his recent interview with Sverige Radio (Persian). Such stereotyping and generalization are actually not typical of an anti-extremism activist.

Having said this, granting blanket asylum to citizens of a particular war-stricken country and mass deportation of refugees from another war torn-country is quite confusing and unjust, to say the least. On one hand, Fredrik Reinfeldt’s government grants blanket asylum to Syrians, but on the other hand, deports Afghan refugees en masse who have been living in Sweden as long as 12 years. Inviting all Syrian passport-holders to Sweden while racial profiling of immigrants aimed at deporting undocumented refugees is beyond one’s understanding. Not only that, how can the government actually assure that granting asylum to everybody with a Syrian passport won’t cause influx of Jihadists to Sweden? It is not difficult for the international jihadists to fake a Syrian passport in such a chaotic situation.

It comes to this that all such faulty policies result into spread of extremism—be it neo-jihadism or neo-nazism or neo-faschism. Reports about emergence of ‘Swedish jihadists’, growth of neo-nazism and Husby-like riots should be taken very serious and handled effectively. If not, it won’t take long until they destroy the fabrics of a peace-loving and harmonious society. The extremists are expert in exploiting a system’s weaknesses, trained to make use of the youths’ religious and nationalistic sentiments. And therefore extremist groups and organisations need to be monitored closely. The neo-nazists and racist groups have to be discouraged by all means in order to speed up integration of the deprived immigrants. The issues needs an open discussion followed by pragmatic solutions. Silence or avoidance is not the solution.

About 20,000 people gathered in Stockholm to protest against racism and nazism on 22 December, 2013.

About 20,000 people gathered in Stockholm to protest against racism and nazism on 22 December, 2013.

Anti-racism and anti-nazism protest demonstrations such as that of Kärrtorp are very much remarkable. But further concrete measures are necessary to spread awareness and influence policy makers in order to map out an effective integration plan and implement it accordingly. Only then will multiculturalism substantiate its core values.

——————-

Saleem Javed is a medical doctor by profession. A human rights activist. He also contributes to Pakistan’s English media such as Dawn, The Daily Times and The Friday Times.  He tweets at @mSaleemJaved. Can be reached at: saleem[dot]javed[at]activist[dot]com

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