Shooting the Messenger in Sweden

When a Norwegian cabinet minister told the truth about Sweden, the Swedish elite sprung into action.

On August 8, I wrote here in praise of Sylvi Listhaug, Norway's Minister of Migration and Integration, who has criticized hijab in her country's schools, warned that there are “wolves in sheep's clothing” in Norway's Muslim community, and complained about so-called asylum seekers who have been taken in by Norway but who vacation in the countries they supposedly fled from. Recently, Listhaug visited Rinkeby, the Stockholm suburb that is internationally notorious for having become one of the worst of that nation's large and ever-increasing number of no-go zones. Listhaug said that she was there to study the nightmarish stew of gang crime, welfare dependency, self-segregation, and Islam that has come to be known as “Swedish conditions.” This explanation of her trip made total sense, since her most important job is to prevent Norway from coming any closer than it already is to those “conditions.” 

Listhaug's frankness outraged the Swedish political elite, leading to what Anders Lindberg, editor of Sweden's largest daily, Aftonbladet, called “a small-scale diplomatic crisis” between the two countries. Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, rejecting Listhaug's claim that immigration is a big problem in Sweden, insisted that Swedish society is “well-functioning.” Social Democrat Karin Wanngård, head of Stockholm's city council, accused Listhaug of “taking advantage of our hospitality to make populist and untrue points in the Norwegian election campaign.” (Norway's general election is scheduled for September 11.) Kahin Ahmed, a local politician in Rinkeby, advised Listhaug to put her energy into “creating a more inclusive society.” 

Sweden's establishment media went berserk, too. Heidi Avellan, chief political editor of Sydsvenskan and Helsingborgs Dagblad, charged Listhaug with presenting “an incorrect picture of Sweden.” The above-mentioned Lindbergwho has previously described Listhaug's party, the Progress Party, as “fascistic” and maligned Denmark, owing to its sensible immigrant reforms, as “a nation of racists” –  targeted Listhaug with the worst insult he could think of: he called her “Norway's answer to Donald Trump.” And Swedish author Lars Åberg, while acknowledging that there are areas in Sweden where “police, fire trucks, and ambulances have been met with stone throwing, aggression, and threats,” managed somehow to deny that these are “no-go zones,” a term he dismissively identified with “far-right bloggers.”   

But it wasn't just the powers that be in Sweden who flipped out over Listhaug. So did their Norwegian counterparts. In an interview with NRK, University of Oslo law professor Mads Andenæs compared Listhaug to the Nazis and actually blamed her for a murder that she had nothing to do with. After being accused of libel by other law experts, Andenæs doubled down on Listhaug for “categoriz[ing] an entire group who don't look like her, with [her] blonde hair.” His NRK interviewer plainly thought his remarks were true (and delightful), and they were admiringly quoted throughout the Norwegian media. If that weren't enough, Aftenposten gave Wanngård space in its pages to further smear Listhaug as a liar – and to lie herself about Stockholm's social harmony and “strong economic growth.” Like Andenæs's insults, Wanngård's falsehoods were enthusiastically cited all over the place. Oh, and veteran publisher William Nygaard, who over a decade ago put out the memoirs of child-murdering terrorist Mullah Krekar, called Listhaug a dangerous fascist. 

It was the Swedish author Katerina Janouch – writing at an independent news website, Nyheter Idag, that Åberg would doubtless defame as “far-right” – who most forcefully responded to the Scandinavian elite's assaults on Listhaug. Janouch began her powerful August 30 op-ed by making the obvious point that the Swedish government was more worried about Listhaug's rhetoric, and about the impact it might have on Sweden's image, than about the ghastly truth about Swedish society. “It is becoming increasingly clear,” Janouch wrote, “that our politicians have no contact with the reality their voters live with, and apparently zero interest in trying to remedy the problems.” Janouch expressed the wish that she could take Winngård and a couple of the other female politicians who were bad-mouthing Listhaug and force them to live in Rinkeby, to shop in grocery stores that have signs only in Arabic, to experience “the judging male glances if they show too much skin,” to know what it's like to have rocks thrown at them and be called whores by teenage boys. 

No, Janouch explained, she didn't want Winngård or anyone else to be raped or set afire, as had happened to other women in Sweden's no-go zones. She just wanted them “to wake up and see what's actually happening,” to stop closing their eyes to the increasing number of neighborhoods in Sweden that are “violent, dangerous, vulnerable, and filled with polarization, bitterness, and hatred,” to recognize that Sweden is a country where people “sleep with a hammer beside the bed because they are so afraid of burglary and assaults,” and to admit that Sweden's “welfare society is falling apart,” its policing, hospitals, schools, and social services in “chaos.” Not knowing who Janouch was and wondering about her non-Swedish last name, I looked her up online and discovered that she was born in Communist Czechoslovakia in 1964 and ten years lter emigrated to Sweden with her parents. I wasn't surprised: this is a woman who has lived under totalitarianism, who knows what it is like to taste freedom for the first time, and who recognizes that what is happening now in Sweden is something that needs to be resisted vigorously. 

On August 31, Aftenposten reported on a poll showing that in the wake of the Listhaug controversy, public support for the Progress Party had climbed while that for the Labor Party, which had enjoyed a comfortable lead through most of the summer, had dropped. The two parties are now essentially neck and neck. Listhaug's widely savaged truth-telling about Sweden may well turn out to have tipped the election in her party's favor. 

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