First of all, calm down. There is no civil war taking place in Sweden. And no, there are no children patrolling the streets with AK-47s. Things, however, aren’t exactly the best.
Recently Sweden has been at the center of a lot of international attention. Everyone from strange people with frog profiles on Twitter to the president of the United States has been talking about us, and as a Swede, I’m low-key enjoying the attention. But this has also brought on the rise of the “Sweden expert,” who almost always turns out to be an uninformed populist. We are either seeing people screaming about how the situation in Sweden is perfect and that there are no issues, or that there is a civil war going on because of Islamic migrants. But for anyone paying attention, neither of these are our realities.
A huge part of the reason why people are trusting misrepresentations of the situation in Sweden is because almost nobody who is actually experiencing what’s happening is talking about it, especially not in English.
Let me explain.
I decided to write this because I have lived in Malmö all my life, have moved a lot within the city, and for the most part have lived in areas which are almost exclusively comprised of migrants. So in this article I will try to recount from my experience of having lived and from currently living in “bad” areas of the city. This is the situation as seen from one person’s eyes: mine.
Life in general
On my way to school I pass a small grocery shop and outside a group of men are standing “to protect” the store. I’m not really afraid of them, but I am uncomfortable of having to pass through them to get on with my day. Some of them are former classmates, others I’ve seen on the street countless times.
Just before I see the men I see a closed door — a former pizza shop that had to close because it was repeatedly bombed. I remember how a few years back another person tried to open a grocery shop two minutes from there but had to close down because his store was continually bombed as well.
As I make it to the bus and leave my neighborhood, I come into the safe parts of the city. In my high school, where I’m pretty much the only immigrant in class, people can’t believe their ears if I tell them about what I see. Never have they seen anything like it where they live — they have only heard about it in the paper from time to time. The strange thing is these people are not segregated from immigrants, as everyone in Malmö is very open. But they are segregated from immigrants who live in problematic areas.
I’m not scared of living in my neighborhood. I let my younger siblings go out and play around the area freely, without fearing for their safety, but I fear my little brother will become involved with gangs when he grows up. I go out at night without fearing for my safety, but one time the bus stopped 15 minutes away from where I live because the driver was too afraid to stop in my neighborhood. I feel safe in my house, but before going out I make sure to lock everything so that we won’t get robbed.
The truth is, even if I’ve never had a gun pulled on me, I have had a bullet shot at the wall next to my bedroom window. Even if I’ve never seen a weapon in my life, I did hear that a guy from my former school was shot dead in a drug related incident a few weeks ago. Even if I’ve never had to call the cops, I do see them roaming around every night where I live. Seeing bombed cars has become a norm where I live, but never have I seen one outside of my neighborhood.
But even with all these issues there are no “sharia police” walking around at night, as some claim. The place I live in is often listed as one of the worst places in Malmö, and yet it’s pretty okay when I don’t have to hear loud noises from the apartments next to ours. The day to day life is fairly normal.
Gangs are a big issue in problematic areas. Young men look up to American gang culture and feel as if they can relate and have started imitating it. For the most part crime is limited to the areas they live in, with the burning and destruction of property, but this behavior almost never reaches other parts of the city.
Also as a person living away from the gang afflicted areas I never really have to bother with them as I don’t come close to them. They don’t bother anyone who isn’t involved with them, it’s all about keeping a distance. Not that it makes what they are doing in any way right.
Often times the boys doing this come from broken families. I remember seeing former classmates who had a very hard time at school throwing huge bricks from roofs at cars on my way home from school one day. Nothing I could really do about it. The cops have more work than they can handle.
One thing that’s very important to mention is that there are no “Islamic gangs” as some would have you believe. The gang violence has nothing to do with Islam, as I explain a bit better here:
One thing I want to make clear about the gang violence in Sweden is that it has next to nothing to do with islam, and everything to do with segregation. The reason this is happening is because many young people here feel like they can relate to American gang culture
— Inas🇸🇪 (@InasSweden) January 22, 2018
Anti-semitism is a huge problem in Sweden and there is no way one can sugar coat it. From my experience there is a deep hatred of Jews within the Muslim community in Malmö, and because there is no pushback it’s normalized. Jews are moving away from the city because they are afraid to stay. The sad thing is, even in the general Swedish public, Anti-Semitism, often disguised as Anti-Israel criticism, is normal. Swedes don’t like Israel and are willing to stand with anyone who stands against it.
Sometimes one will hear that immigrants in Sweden are becoming radicalized. While this is to some extent true, as we have seen people moving to the Middle East to fight with ISIS, there is no organized support for such organizations here. In fact, in my experience many Muslims in Sweden think that ISIS is either a conspiracy from the USA or Israel — which is crazy in itself.
That’s not to say that there are no problems with extremism. There is. If I make it to my sibling’s school to pick them up I see children as young as 8 wearing the hijab. In school many of my female classmates were not allowed to go on school trips, go out at night or hang out with guys because it’s considered haram.
Girls my age are now being pressured to get married to older men in the Middle East, just so that those guys can bring their families here. Homophobia is the norm, and there is a huge problem with honor culture that pressures everyone within the community to conform to the culture of their home countries. Even if parents want to let their children do what they want, because of segregation this is not possible, as there is always a watching eye, and anyone who does anything wrong brings shame on their family. This means that girls can’t have boyfriends and can’t wear “provocative clothes.” Because of the patriarchal structures within Islam men have more rights to do things, like having relationships and drinking, but even they are shamed if they do it.
But once you leave the bad areas you can do what you want — that is as long as nobody you know sees you. You’ll also see that there are many, many Muslims who, while still having problematic attitudes, are very liberal compared to others. They are often the ones integrated into society and who live with Swedes.
No go zones?
Something I’ve seen floating around a lot is the idea of the “no go zone.” People will often ask me if there are things such as a no go zone, and the answer is simple: it depends on your definition of one.
Some will say that the police are not allowed to go into certain areas, and that is not true. The police are constantly doing a great job here and doing their best with the little resources they have. So this is simply not true.
On the other hand ethnic Swedes would feel excluded if they decided to come and live here. If they were to send their children to schools in the area they would be bullied badly. This is something I’ve seen first hand, and every Swedish person who had the misfortune to go to a mostly immigrant school was forced to leave after a few years. You wouldn’t be attacked in the street for being white, and you could live here without any more issues than others have, but you wouldn’t be considered a part of the community.
And for the most part it’s not hatred toward Swedes (while it still exists) that drives this, it’s more the idea that everyone should keep “to their own.” That Lebanese people should be with other Lebanese people, that Albans should be with other Albans, and so on.
Some will also say that the media can’t get into these no go zones. But that’s not true. So it’s not a “no go zone” anymore than it’s a “no inclusion zone.” But if you want to come, I’ll gladly invite you, and I can get you some of our great falafel or kebab pizza in Malmö, and you’ll see for yourself that there isn’t a gun in sight.
So how does the rest of Sweden look at this?
Often Swedes don’t even see anything. Because of segregation, it’s as if we are living in two different worlds. So when you see someone saying that there are no big problems, they are not lying, because they are not seeing the problems. Their immigrant friends don’t have bad attitudes and are often well integrated into society.
But the problems are becoming more and more apparent now. At some point these issues will no longer be contained to specific neighborhoods or areas and are going to start to spread.
When the problems are seen Swedes will often close their eyes and explain it away as, “Oh, it’s just their culture.” One very good example of this is how they react to kids wearing the hijab. They don’t dare to criticize it for fear of being called racist, and they try their best to be tolerant. But at some point you have to realize that you can’t be tolerant of things you would lose your mind at if they were happening to your own children.
While immigrants are being married away and forced to conform to age old ideals, Swedish girls are fighting against patriarchy in Swedish culture, and complaining about unequal representations in TV-shows. This is actually a good thing at first glance, as it means that they’ve never had to deal with real oppression, something that shows how good Swedish society is, but the sad thing is real oppression is present, and instead of being able to identify it and fighting it they are allying themselves with it.
Things are bad — but the situation is bad for mostly the immigrants living here. Sadly the people having to pay for all of this are hard working Swedes with their high taxes. What we are seeing now is the result of mild immigration. In recent years we’ve brought in many more immigrants, and the consequences of their arrival — whatever they may be — haven’t even begun.
We have a big problem in Sweden, and the politicians seem too afraid to deal with it. But can you really blame them? I’m not sure anyone can come up with a good solution, but the first step to finding that solution is to start speaking about it, and that’s what I’ve tried to do here.
It is very important to not listen to hyperbole though, as those who lie about the situation only make things worse. Sweden has a lot of problems, but still it’s one of the best countries on earth. I’m proud to be an immigrant and Swedish and I think the great people of my nation will be able to solve anything coming our way.
Interesting article. I had always suspected things were somewhere in between the worst stories and the supposed panacea. Out of curiosity, are you the person who appeared on the Rubin Report fan show?
Would it be possible to clarify a few things?
1. When you say that shops are being ‘bombed’ what do you mean by that? Are we talking molotov cocktails or pipe bombs or car bombs or what? I’m having difficulty getting a scale of the problem you’re describing. I’m also unclear on what the motivations for these bombings is. Are these shops that swedes are trying to open in immigrant communities? Are they immigrants from a different community? Are they people from the same community who pissed off a gangster?
2. When you talk about segregation I assume that you’re talking about de facto or self-segregation? That is, there’s no law or similar force being applied that prevents immigrants from living among native swedes?
It’s been frustrating trying to find out what is actually going on in places like Malmo.
Conservative tabloid sites run hyperbolic scare stories that are very hard to fact check because the real data tends to be buried or obfuscated by well meaning liberals who don’t want uncomfortable stats to fuel xenophobia.
That and it’s mostly in Swedish.
Your piece isn’t filled with data and stats, but that’s ok, it rings true and earnest, mainly because it refuses to confirm either of the main narratives.
I don’t know if fiction writing interests you, but somebody, sometime is going to write a great novel set in your time and place, I know I would read it…
My family is from Belfast. They grew up during the Troubles. Shootings, bombings, kidnappings, punishment beatings, checkpoints, annoying twats with bowler hats, orange sashes and drums.
From the inside, anything can seem ‘normal’.
I’m reminded of this watching the comedy Derry Girks on Channel 4. It’s a very funny comedy about girls growing up during the last year’s of the Troubles. From their point of view there is nothing extraordinary about their teenage years.
Well written and thoughtful article. Thank you.
Tldr: This is fine..