The June 4 issue of National Review contained a piece entitled “Torching Utopia” and subtitled “Sweden’s problem is not Islam, it’s multiculturalism.” Its author, Tino Sanandaji, an Iranian Kurd who has lived in Sweden for many years and who studied economics in the U.S., had one principal point to make: that there does exist a “fierce hostility toward Swedish culture” in Sweden, but that it originates not with Muslim immigrants but with Swedish elites. To support this claim, he cited one Swedish politician’s declaration, some years ago, that “Swedes are jealous of immigrants” because the latter “have a culture, an identity, a history, something that binds you together,” while Swedes have only “Midsummer’s Eve and other lame things.” What Sanandaji chose not to point out was that the politician who made that statement, Mona Sahlin, made it while addressing an audience of Muslims in a mosque; and she didn’t say that Swedes were jealous of immigrants generally – she said that they were jealous of Muslims, because Islamic culture is wonderful and manifestly superior to Swedish culture.
Yes, Swedish elites hold Swedish culture in contempt. But so do Muslim immigrants – in the same way that they hold the local culture in contempt in every non-Muslim country in which they reside. Yes, the Swedish elites’ contempt for their own culture has made it easier for Muslims to express their contempt – but the Muslims would feel that contempt anyway. And it’s the palpable contempt of Muslims in Sweden for Swedish culture that has motivated the Swedish elite – in a perverse, pathetic, and increasingly desperate attempt to please and pacify the Muslims among them – to express their own contempt for Swedish society so openly.
Many of Sanandaji’s points were splendid, as far as they went. “Cultural self-confidence is essential for integration,” he wrote. He complained that there’s no established “social contract wherein Swedes accept immigrants as one of their own once certain obligations are fulfilled”; that Sweden isn’t an easy country to integrate into, because “Swedes tend to be reticent, solitary, and reserved,” with “a complex culture, full of subtle rules and opaque codes of conduct”; and that “Swedes are conformist and quite intolerant of deviation from group norms….Icy Scandinavia was never a particularly well-chosen testing ground for the multiculturalist experiment.”
I’ve made each of these points myself about the Scandinavian countries. Yes, they’re small and insular, almost more like large families than small countries, where a little dissent or diversity traditionally went a long way. And yes, this makes it especially tough to be the kind of immigrant who actually wants to work hard and fit in. And yet, despite these challenges, immigrants to Sweden from East Asian nations, such as China and Vietnam, aren’t rioting. Neither are Christians from South America and sub-Saharan Africa or Hindus from India. If people from these places don’t find good jobs in Sweden, they take whatever they can get, and work their butts off and keep their noses clean. And if they can’t even find a crummy job, they’ll come up with some other way to get by – they’ll start a restaurant or some other small business.
Yes, Sanandaji is right in arguing that the current nightmare in Sweden wouldn’t be happening if not for multiculturalism. But it wouldn’t be happening, either, if Sweden had chosen, three or four decades ago, to limit its intake of non-Western immigrants to non-Muslims.
On to Johan Norberg’s “Why Sweden has riots,” published in the Spectator, the venerable British Tory weekly, on June 8. Norberg, a well-known historian who, like Sanandaji, is a champion of “liberal” (i.e. non-socialist) economics, started off by explaining just why leftist “explanations” of the Stockholm riots didn’t hold water. Citing the claim that “youths” had rioted because authorities had closed “the health care centre, the post office, the midwives’ centre and the youth centre,” Norberg pointed out that “there are three youth centres in Husby,” that the neighborhood’s “old health care centre” had in fact been replaced by a new one, and so on. He argued that “if poverty is the cause of riots, almost every city on the continent should have been burned down before Stockholm’s turn came.” Economic inequality? “My country is the most equal in Europe save for Slovenia.”
What, then, was Norberg’s explanation for the riots? In a phrase, Sweden’s “strong employment protection” – for example, laws requiring that “the last person to be hired must be the first person to be sacked” and that “if you employ someone longer than six months, the contract is automatically made permanent.” Thanks to such policies, he argued, “Sweden has the fewest low-wage, entry-level jobs in Europe.” Indeed, for those “with poor education, experience or language skills,” Sweden “is not such a utopia after all.” The result? A generation of young men “with nothing to do and nothing to lose, standing on the outside, looking in, with a sense of worthlessness, humiliation and boredom.”
As with Sanandaji, everything Norberg said was true – as far as it went. Yes, as I’ve said, Scandinavian countries are rough are on non-Scandinavians (not just non-Westerners or Muslims) wanting to break into the job market. In competing for a good job, a mediocre ethnic Scandinavian will routinely win out over a much more gifted foreigner, whether from Pakistan, China, the U.S., or wherever. The difference – again – is that immigrants from non-Muslim countries who are frustrated by this obvious injustice don’t start riots; they find some way to make it, just as resourceful and resilient immigrants to Western countries always have. It’s only the immigrants who’ve been brought up to believe in jihadist ideology – and thus in their own innate superiority to their host country’s natives – who start these riots. But people like Norberg (who, in fact, is so deeply into denial about his country’s real problems that he actually supports an open-border policy) don’t want to face up to this obvious truth.
Last but not least, the June 10 issue of the Weekly Standard contained an article entitled “How to Explain the Swedish Riots: The standard answers of the left are wrong.”
Despite that subtitle, the author, Paula Neuding – yet another “liberal” Swedish economist – didn’t start off criticizing left-wing “answers” but, instead, dismissing conservative claims, namely the idea, spread through “the American blogosphere,” that the riots “are related to Islam.” This, she declared flatly, “is not the case.” Her evidence? Well, first of all, “Muslim leaders…have denounced the violence and urged calm.” Second, the man whose shooting purportedly triggered the riots was Portuguese. And third, the rioters “have not appealed to Islam or otherwise indicated that their violence is religiously motivated,” but instead “cite police brutality and social injustice to justify their actions.”
Never mind the riots began in an overwhelmingly Muslim neighborhood and that participants were heard shouting “Allah akbar.” Yes, Neuding went on to reject the left’s uncritical acceptance of the “social injustice” line. But she also chose, just as firmly, to dismiss the obvious role of Islam.
How then, did Neuding explain the riots? Well, that’s where her piece got puzzling. She pointed out, truthfully enough, that Sweden is “among the world’s least racist countries,” that it now has the highest immigration rates of any Western nation, that the average Swede “pays more than half his salary in taxes to fund welfare services” (mostly for immigrants), and that “Sweden has shown its minorities a generosity that is probably unparalleled in the world.”
All true. But what was her point? Simply this: that “the Swedish riots pose a real challenge to the standard progressive theory, which tends to explain social problems with reference to a lack of resources, inadequate public investments, and uneven distribution of wealth. If not even egalitarian Sweden is spared riots and violence, and if the progressive theory is the answer, to what lengths must we go in order to persuade unruly youths to channel their grievances through the democratic process?” In other words, Neuding didn’t offer any explanation whatsoever as to why the riots happened; all she had to give us was a comprehensive refutation of the left-wing claim that it was all about “social injustice” – and a feeble denial of the centrality of Islam to the whole nightmare.
It’s not surprising that Sanandaji, Norberg, and Neuding would proffer such nonsense by way of “explaining” the Stockholm riots. Despite certain philosophical differences, they’re all in the business of promoting non-socialist economic ideas in an exceedingly socialist country. When they see something like the tumult in the streets of Stockholm, then, their reflexive response is to blame it on problems with the socialist economy. In short, they’re so preoccupied with economic systems, economic problems, and economic solutions that cultural phenomena such as the Islamic doctrine of jihad simply have no place on their radar screen. That such people would have such a major blind spot is, I suppose, understandable. Less understandable is why ordinarily sensible journals such as the National Review, Weekly Standard, and Spectator would choose to publish such patently misguided “explanations” of Stockholm’s recent unpleasantness.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.