On 28th August, 2020 violent protests broke out in the southern Swedish city of Malmo after followers of far-right Strum Kurs party activist and Danish politician Rasmus Paludan posted a video of a copy of the Qur’an being burnt. This video spread like wildfire and gathered almost 300 rioters who threw stones at the police as they tried to control the upheaval. The protestors burned tyres and destroyed public property in retaliation to the injustice done against their faith and values. Sporadic violence was reported until about 3 a.m. on Saturday.
This riot was however not the first outbreak portraying the clear division in Sweden’s society. In June 2010, a group of youths burned down a school building after they were refused entry. The school was situated in the suburbs mainly populated by immigrants. The youths set ablaze cars and threw stones at the police and didn’t allow the fire engines to mitigate . These kinds of violent protests consequently took place in 2013 as well as in 2017 where the rebels wreaked havoc attacking the State’s authority and disturbing the society’s tranquillity at large. The similarity in all these riots is that they have constantly been taking place in the immigrant suburb area of Stockholm. As was correctly stated by Martin Luther King Jr., “a riot is the language of the unheard”; the Sweden riots throughout its years have been brewing due to the longstanding ethnic differences between the Swedes and the foreign-nationals.
Background Leading to the Sweden’s Crumbling Equality
Sweden has been exceptionally known for its cradle-to-death welfare state policies. It has a long history of allowing and encouraging foreigners to settle down in their country. This started from the 1950s when the government recruited foreign workers from Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey letting them to start their lives in Sweden permanently. The government even took further progressive policies focusing on providing them with properly modernised houses and language courses for their betterment. The subsequent years from the 1970s saw individuals from Asia and Africa seeking shelter for better living standards and the 1980s witnessed the beginning of an inflow of refugees and political asylum seekers from troubled Middle East and war ravaged Somalia. A European Union Report of 2012 recorded that Muslims comprise about 6.05 percent of the population which apparently has doubled itself over the last 14 years. In 2015, Sweden saw quite a rise in the record of applications for asylum predominantly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan constituting about 1.6 percent of the country’s population. This influx of foreigners has greatly shaped the country’s socio-economic and political structure leading to the emergence of multiculturalism.
The Refugee Crisis of 2015 changed Sweden’s socialistic welcoming policy towards the migrants. The government after noticing the surge in the number of applicants took strict actions to restrict the rush of predominantly Muslim asylum seekers and took to minimalise their impact in the society. Among the other measures which Sweden took to slow down the establishment of the refugees, it put up border checks and restrained its attainment of residence permits. Gradually, these initiatives by the authorities decreased the number of incoming migrants. This step marked the end of Swedish Exceptionalism. The Swedish model popular for their exceptional state policies in managing a multicultural society is now history as the country looks forward to new changes in their society. The oldest party, the Social Democrats in the 1930s introduced the Swedish Model. It was hoped that Sweden would flourish with different cultures and provide them with all the facilities. But as time went on, immigration started looking like a problem in their welfare state policies. This created a barrier between the western and the non-western cultures of people which led to the growth of the Sweden Democrats.
Polarity Between the Communities
Sweden Democrats, one of the largest populist parties in the country has gained popularity through the years basing their party’s agenda in anti-multiculturalism and anti-integration. The Islamophobic party has been from the very start criticised the Social Democrats’ idea of “folkhemmet” which means establishing “people’s home”. The Sweden Democrats’ skepticism increased towards immigration as violence and criminal activities and strain on the welfare policies started making the country weak from within. They believe that the rise in the crime rate is due to the increase of Muslim population in the society. Lars-Åke, a 55-year-old cleaner voted for the Sweden Democrats who approved the party’s agenda of slashing immigration by 90%. He said that there are so many Muslims that “it feels like I need to learn Arabic”. The party’s evident anti-Muslim hysteria targets the religious values which according to them are incompatible with the Swedish western core values. The party even filed motions to ban the veil in public schools and religious denotations within the police. They negatively attribute them for lacking humanity and display them as terrorists. The increased number of birth rates along with the influx threatens the Sweden Democrats’ position as Swedish citizens, ushering them to think that the actual Swedes would become a minority in their own country. These ill-mannered construed provocations enhances anti-Muslim racism and often excites in carrying out derogatory activities against the Muslims.
Unsurprisingly, the youth unemployment rates are higher in Muslim immigrants compared to the rest of the population. This growth of unemployment often hinders them to reside in a better condition than a suburb. Ultimately, resulting in marginalisation and alienating them from the society, swelling the rates of juvenile delinquency, gang activity and soaring up drug trafficking. Although efforts have been made by the government to help them bring in mainstream life and activities, however, their structural barriers often prevent them from delving into that lifestyle. Swedish government has been quite tolerant regarding the polarity but nevertheless, such contrast between cultures are now straining the multiculturalism. “A 2012 European Union study identifies economic stagnation, unemployment, lack of essential services, and other socioeconomic factors as the root causes for the failure of integrative measures and the concomitant alienation that permeates rundown suburbs and other areas where immigrants are concentrated.”
This has generated the feeling of hate and incompatibility between the Islamic group of people and the western secular democratic Swedish community. The growing anti-immigrant sentiment popularised by the nationalist Sweden Democrat party has been making Islamophobia or anti-Islamic propaganda stronger which is affecting the daily lives of the Muslims. Many mosques have been torched in different parts of the country accompanied with vulgar racist comments written on the walls and doors. Harassment of Muslim women on the streets are escalating with the growing hostility between the cultures . The impact of Islamophobia even forces them to hide their religious identity by removing their headscarves and faces discrimination for wearing long sleeves at work. They are even denied work or fired for not shaking hands with their male colleagues or clients. This recent 2020 Sweden riot also took place because of the disgust towards Islam by the western cultured-Swedes. The burning of their Holy Qur’an shows the intolerance of the people against their religion. This act of the far-right activists clearly violates the very freedom to practise one’s own religion in a democratic country.
One of the main reasons for Sweden’s growing inequality is because of the strain in their welfare state policies which provides a safety net for the immigrants as well as the Swedes. From the outside, Sweden seems to be well versed with its universal welfare policies but from the inside it has started to crumble. The Nordic model circumcised all the benefits furnishing health care, education and pensions to its every citizen. The State under this model provides for subsidized housing and child care as well. If their citizen loses their job, they receive unemployment benefits and highly effective job training programs. Unimaginably, the parents of new born children can even avail paid leaves for 480 days. Although such a model depends upon two major criterions, i.e., to be able to pay the highest amount of taxes possible and to work diligently. And ironically, the sharp influx of refugees tests this proposition. The Swedes who have worked hard together for this welfare state seem to have been more beneficial to the immigrant population who didn’t even have to impart much in it. The Swedish people don’t want to increase their tax rates in order to support the refugees, most of whom don’t even contribute to the society. They seemed to be mostly dependent on the social welfare of the state which is a huge problem. This is not only creating antipathy towards them but is also eroding away the State’s support.
Dissimilarity in cultural values, habits and intolerance towards each other’s religion has led to the emergence of negative socio-economic conditions resulting in unrest and riots mainly in the immigrant populated city of Malmo. It is important to note that in order to survive peacefully under the advantageous Swedish welfare model, the Muslim population must work alongside the Swedes. Also more active policies for the implementation of job training and educational facilities must be taken up by the government to replenish the suburban areas where most of the immigrants reside. Therefore, unless the required improvements are taken Sweden will continue to be disintegrated, not only failing multiculturalism but also failing the very concept of equality in their democracy.