Swedish Multiculturalism Goes Awry
Hundreds of Muslim immigrants have rampaged through parts of the Swedish capital of Stockholm, torching cars and buses, setting fires, and hurling rocks at police.
The unrest -- a predictable consequence of Sweden's failed model of multiculturalism, which does not encourage Muslim immigrants to assimilate or integrate into Swedish society -- is an ominous sign of things to come.
The trouble began after police fatally shot an elderly man brandishing a machete in a Muslim-majority neighborhood. Although the exact circumstances of the May 13 incident remain unclear, police say they shot the 69-year-old man (his nationality has not been disclosed) in self-defense after he allegedly threatened them with the weapon.
Two days later, on May 15, a Muslim youth organization called Megafonen arranged a protest against alleged police brutality and demanded an independent investigation and a public apology.
On May 19, Muslim youths initiated a riot in Husby, a heavily Muslim suburb in the western part of Stockholm where more than 80% of the residents originate from Africa and the Middle East.
At least 100 masked Muslim youths set fire to cars and buildings, smashed windows, vandalized property and hurled rocks and bottles at police and rescue services in Husby. The riots quickly spread to at least 15 other parts of Stockholm, including the districts of Fittja, Hagsätra, Kista, Jakobsberg, Norsborg, Skaerholmen, Skogås and Vaarberg.
After two nights of spiraling violence, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt appealed for calm, condemning the riots as hooliganism. But his plea ("Everyone must pitch in to restore calm -- parents, adults") failed to prevent more nights of unrest, during which Muslim youth set fire to two schools, a police station, a restaurant, and a cultural center, and burned more than 50 cars and buses.
The unrest -- which has many parallels to the Muslim riots that occurred in France in 2005 -- has shocked Swedes who have long turned a blind eye to immigration policies that have encouraged the establishment of a parallel Muslim society in Sweden.
Although there are no official statistics of Muslims in Sweden, the US State Department reported in 2011 that there are now between 450,000 and 500,000 Muslims in the country, or about 5% of the total population of 9.5 million.
Muslim immigration to Sweden has been fostered by open-door asylum policies that are among the most generous in the world.
During the early 1990s, for example, Sweden granted asylum to nearly 100,000 refugees fleeing the wars in the Balkans. Sweden has also been a magnet for refugees from Iraq; as a result of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Gulf War (1990-1991) and the Iraq War (2003-2011), there are now more than 120,000 Iraqis living in Sweden. In fact, Iraqis (both Christians and Muslims) now make up the second-largest ethnic minority group in Sweden, second only to ethnic Finns.
More recently, Sweden has granted asylum to thousands of refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria, as well as from Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
Sweden is forecast to receive some 54,000 asylum seekers in 2013, according to the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), the highest level since the 1990s. In 2012, Sweden accepted 44,000 asylum seekers, up by nearly a half from 2011.
Sweden is expected to receive at least 18,000 Syrians in 2013 alone. Since September 2012, asylum seekers have arrived in Sweden at the rate of 1,250 per week, far more than the Migration Board's capacity of between 500 and 700.
Sweden is a prime destination for asylum seekers because the country offers new immigrants free housing and social welfare benefits upon arrival. But many immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East are poorly educated and have great difficulty finding a job in Sweden.
As a result, many immigrants are segregated from Swedish society and often live in areas where much of the population comes from countries other than Sweden. This in turn has encouraged the creation of parallel societies and the establishment of so-called no-go zones, parts of Sweden that are off limits to non-Muslims.
In some areas, no-go zones function as microstates governed by Islamic Sharia law where Swedish authorities have effectively lost control and are unable to provide even basic public aid such as police, fire fighting and ambulance services.
In the southern city of Malmö -- where Muslims make up more than 25% of the population -- fire and emergency workers refuse to enter Malmö's mostly Muslim Rosengaard district without police escorts. The male unemployment rate in Rosengaard is estimated to be above 80%. When fire fighters attempted to put out a fire at Malmö's main mosque, they were attacked by stone throwers.
In the Swedish city of Gothenburg, Muslim youth have hurled petrol bombs at police cars. In the city's Angered district, where more than 15 police cars were recently destroyed, teenagers have been pointing green lasers at the eyes of police officers, some of whom have been temporarily blinded.
In Gothenburg's Backa district, youth have been throwing stones at patrolling officers. Gothenburg police have also been struggling to deal with the problem of Muslim teenagers burning cars and attacking emergency services in several areas of the city.
At the same time, Muslim immigrants are becoming increasing assertive in demanding special rights and privileges for Islam in Sweden.
In February, for example, a mosque in Stockholm received final approval from the mayor's office to begin sounding public prayer calls from its minaret, the first time such permission has ever been granted in Sweden.
A majority of the members of the city planning committee in the southern Stockholm suburb of Botkyrka voted to repeal a 1994 prohibition on such prayer calls, thereby opening the way for a muezzin to begin calling Muslims to prayer from the top of a 32-meter (104-foot) minaret at a Turkish mosque in the Fittja district of the city.
The issue was put to a vote after Ismail Okur, the chairman of the Botkyrka Islamic Association (Islamiska föreningen i Botkyrka), filed a petition with the city in January 2012 demanding permission to allow public prayer calls at the mosque.
In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Dagen, Okur said earlier generations of Muslim immigrants "did not dare" to press the issue, but that he represents the "new guys" who are determined to "exercise their right to religious freedom" in Sweden.
When told that Sweden has historically been a Christian country, Okur responded: "So it was perhaps before, during the 1930s and 1940s. Now it is a new era. We are more than 100,000 [sic] Muslims in Sweden. Should we not have our religion as well, especially here in Botkyrka, where we are so many?"
Swedish multiculturalists agree. The Multicultural Center (Mångkulturellt centrum) in Botkyrka recently called on Swedes to "separate whiteness from Swedishness in order to be a socially sustainable future Swedishness."
On the other hand, a growing number of Swedes are beginning to have second thoughts about the long-term sustainability of multiculturalism and mass immigration.
Immigration Minister Tobias Billström recently marked a turning point in the debate when he told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that Sweden needs to tighten rules for asylum seekers and other would-be immigrants to reduce the number of people coming into the country.
"Today Sweden is one of the countries that receives the most immigrants in the EU. That's not sustainable," Billström said. "Today, people are coming to households where the only income is support from the municipality. Is that reasonable?" he added.
Reflecting the unease about immigrants among many voters, an anti-immigrant party, the conservative Sweden Democrats, have risen to third-place in the polls ahead of a general election set to take place in September 2014.
But the riots in Stockholm imply that the damage has already been done. The fatal flaw of Swedish multiculturalism has been to grant asylum to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have no prospect of ever finding a job or making a meaningful contribution to Swedish society. Many immigrants are, and will remain, wards of the state.
The Malmö-based Imam Adly Abu Hajar, in an interview with the newspaper Skånska Dagbladet, recently summed it up this way: "Sweden is the best Islamic state."