On May 13, the Stockholm police received calls from the blighted immigrant suburb of Husby. Residents were frightened by a 69-year-old man who was wielding a kitchen knife. Following a standoff that is currently under investigation, the elderly Portuguese immigrant was shot dead.
One week later, the police were called to Husby once more. This time, residents reported that masked men were torching cars with gasoline and Molotov cocktails. When the police and firefighters arrived, they were greeted with a barrage of rocks.
Each morning the following week, Sweden awoke to fresh images of arson and rioting. Rumors of racism and police brutality ignited riots in other immigrant suburbs already ripe with resentment toward Swedish society. The police managed to quell the riots only after calling in reinforcements from other Swedish cities.
The extent of the material damage was some 200 cars set on fire, in addition to a number of burned schools (including a nursery) and cultural centers. This toll does not include the psychological cost of a bruised Swedish self-image.
Not many years ago, Sweden was among the world’s most ethnically homogeneous nations. Today, the country takes in more immigrants relative to its population than the U.S. did at the peak of the transatlantic migration. Sweden has about 9 million inhabitants and last year took in almost 90,000 immigrants, excluding Swedes returning from abroad. Non-Western immigrants were 1 percent of Sweden’s population in 1980 and have since increased to 10 percent of the population.
Today, 60 percent of total welfare payouts in Sweden go to immigrants. Problems such as child poverty, which the welfare state was supposed to have solved, are reemerging as a consequence of immigration. Second-generation immigrants born in Sweden remain less likely to work or graduate from college than the children of natives are.
The only reason the welfare state remains solvent is that an astonishing 85 percent of working-age native Swedes work and pay taxes, far above the European average of 70 percent. By contrast, only half of non-Western immigrants work.
While immigrant unemployment is high, recent unrest can hardly be blamed on austerity. Successive governments have poured billions into problem areas in public investments, with limited success. In addition to free health care and other services, a family of four in Sweden is entitled to around $3,000 in welfare benefits each month. Last year, every middle-school pupil in one of Husby’s public schools received a brand-new iPad. (A total of 2,300 tablets have been distributed to local schools.)
Nor is Islam the cause of the riots. Radical Islamism is a problem, but it’s not related to this unrest. Most rioters appeared to be secular, even atheist. Some were Christian Assyrians. Frankly, most young immigrants in Sweden today do not care much about Islam. A far more potent influence than Islam on the Swedish ghetto is American gangster rap.