In a period of two weeks earlier this year, five explosions took place in the country. It’s not unusual these days — Swedes have grown accustomed to headlines of violent crime, witness intimidation and gangland executions. In a country long renowned for its safety, voters cite “law and order” as the most important issue ahead of the general election in September.
The topic of crime is sensitive, however, and debate about the issue in the consensus-oriented Scandinavian society is restricted by taboos.
Indeed it is, although, to be fair, those taboos are fraying fairly rapidly. Nevertheless, Sweden remains a country where, whether by law or, even more so, social convention, free speech is not quite as free as it should be. There is, to borrow a useful Swedish term, an ‘opinion corridor’ (åsiktskorridor) beyond which people are not meant to stray. Again, that corridor has widened—the fact that someone has even defined it is a measure of that—but not yet by enough.
There is also something else. To admit that there was a connection between current crime rates and what was (until recently) an extraordinarily generous immigration policy would be to admit that much of the political and media class has messed up. That is not something that such prominenti are keen to do. Thus, for example, they emphasize the fall in the murder rates. Fair enough, you might think, but…
To understand crime in Sweden, it’s important to note that Sweden has benefited from the West’s broad decline in deadly violence, particularly when it comes to spontaneous violence and alcohol-related killings. The overall drop in homicides has been, however, far smaller in Sweden than in neighboring countries.
Gang-related gun murders, now mainly a phenomenon among men with immigrant backgrounds in the country’s parallel societies, increased from 4 per year in the early 1990s to around 40 last year. Because of this, Sweden has gone from being a low-crime country to having homicide rates significantly above the Western European average. Social unrest, with car torchings, attacks on first responders and even riots, is a recurring phenomenon….
The rising levels of violence have not gone unnoticed by Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbors. Norwegians commonly use the phrase “Swedish conditions” to describe crime and social unrest. The view from Denmark was made clear when former President of NATO and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an interview on Swedish TV: “I often use Sweden as a deterring example.”
Swedes, explains Neuding, “are not prone to grandiose manifestations of national pride, but the notion of a “Swedish Model” — that the country has much to teach the world — is a vital part of the national self-image.” That ‘but’ has to carry a lot of weight. There is nothing modest about the idea that Sweden has “much to teach the world”, however saintly those teachings are supposed to be.
Nevertheless, for a complex set of reasons, some of them far from saintly, Sweden has indeed had a real sense that it is, morally, a cut above the rest of us, a sense that reached a zenith of self-regard with the claim that Sweden is a “humanitarian superpower.” That’s a phrase heard less often than it was, as the consequences of this idea (specifically when it came to immigration policy) became rather inconveniently clear, but its traces can be detected in the boast by the country’s foreign minister (a former EU Commissioner, naturally) that Sweden would pursue a feminist foreign policy. Quite what that really means is not particularly clear, but it does appear to leave room for the wearing of the hijab by female members of official delegations grubbing around for business with the Iranian theocracy.
Since crime is intimately linked to the country’s failure to integrate its immigrants, the rise in violence is a sensitive subject. When the Swedish government and opposition refer to the country as a “humanitarian superpower” because it opened its doors to more immigrants per capita during the migrant crisis than any other EU country, they mean it. This has resulted in some impressive contortions.
“Impressive contortions” that have, among many twists, included a spot of propaganda (odd that: Sweden, of course, opposes fake news).
In March, Labor Market Minister Ylva Johansson appeared on the BBC, where she claimed that the number of reported rapes and sexual harassment cases “is going down and going down and going down.” In fact, the opposite is true, which Johansson later admitted in an apology.
Similarly, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, former Prime Minister Carl Bildt described the country’s immigration policy as a success story. He did not elaborate on violent crime. After repeated attacks against Jewish institutions in December — including the firebombing of a synagogue in Gothenburg — Bildt took to the same paper to claim that anti-Semitism is not a major problem in Sweden.
“Historically, in Sweden it was the Catholics that were seen as the dangerous threat that had to be fought and restricted,” Bildt claimed, seemingly unaware that the laws he cited also applied to Jews. Intermarriage was illegal and hostility was based on ideas of Jews as racially inferior. Bildt’s attempt to relativize current anti-Semitism with odd and inaccurate historical arguments reflects how nervously Swedish elites react to negative headlines about their country.
Another spectacular example is an official government website on “Facts about migration, integration and crime in Sweden,” which alleges to debunk myths about the country. One “false claim” listed by the government is that “Not long ago, Sweden saw its first Islamic terrorist attack.”
This is surprising, since the Uzbek jihadist Rakhmat Akilov has pleaded guilty to the truck ramming that killed five people in Stockholm last April and swore allegiance to the Islamic State prior to the attack. Akilov, who is currently standing trial, has proudly repeated his support for ISIS and stated that his motive was to kill Swedish citizens. He also had documented contacts with international jihadis…
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