Integrating Sweden

Integrating Sweden

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As Swedish politicians and policy wonks continue to debate whether or not naïve immigration laws are ultimately to blame for the Swedish riots in late-May[1]; I hope that as much attention will eventually be given to issues of integration. If integration is to be debated it must not simply be reduced to a derivative of the discourse on immigration; rather it must be understood as an inherently complex and emotionally, religiously deep process of dialogue. 

Regardless of current or proposed immigration policies, 21st century Sweden is a multi-cultural, multi-faith country. The riots occurred in neighbourhoods with large immigrant populations from predominantly Muslim countries; including Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Somalia. In the Stockholm suburb of Husby – where the unrest began – more than 80% of its inhabitants are from an immigrant background. In 2010 Sweden was home to an estimated 451,000 Muslims representing almost 5% of the nation’s total population.  In 2013 it is thought that the current Muslim population stands at approximately 574,000, around 6% of the total population.

The real problem now is not who can or who cannot set up home in Sweden, but how to get immigrants already in Sweden to actually feel at home.

Now, the riots were not religiously motivated in any explicit sense, and this is not being implied here. The reasons for the riots themselves are not fully clear, but do certainly involve a mix of racially motivated violent opportunism and growing discontent; stirred-up by high unemployment and increasing socio-economic inequality. The issue for this blog is captured in a New York Times article. It argued that those rioting were expressing their frustration at what they perceived to be their marginalisation from mainstream society:

“Mr. Khamisi acknowledged that “Sweden has given me opportunities I didn’t have in Iraq,” but “I’m not treated the same as a white guy.”

“I feel discrimination all the time,” he said[2].

The real problem now is not who can or who cannot set up home in Sweden, but how to get immigrants already in Sweden to actually feel at home.

In facing up to this problem government officials must listen more and talk less whilst realising that ‘integration’ is not so much a policy-matter from above but a movement from below. What does it mean to be a Swedish Muslim? No single policy change could answer such a complex question. So, if ethnic-religious marginalisation is not to be a permanent feature of Swedish public life people of all backgrounds must wrestle profoundly with questions of identity. These kinds of questions exist in an infinite number of arrangements mixing ethnicity, religion, class and culture. It is a process that is slow moving, but the government can help to ensure that this ‘wrestling’ is done peacefully, in public fora and dialogically with wide representation by backing initiatives that offer hope for in-depth, open discussion.

The issue of integration is of course not unique to Sweden. Indeed, the discussion has been well developed in the UK. Philip Lewis’, Islamic Britain: Religion, Politics and Identity among British Muslims written almost twenty years ago initiated the on-going discussions of identity in the British context.

At the Centre our aim is to offer an environment for academic and spiritual ‘wrestling’ for both Muslims and Christians who seek to ask deep questions of themselves and of each other. In the Autumn we will be launching a Seminar Series analysing the effectiveness of dialogue initiatives, titled: Contemporary approaches to Muslim-Christian Dialogue: Institutional and Grassroots. Perhaps after listening to the seminars we will have a better idea of what might really help the integration of Muslim immigrant communities in Sweden.

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AUTHOR
Alastair Colin-Jones
Impact Development, Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies


[1] “…this week’s troubles have raised the volume of the debate in Sweden on immigration. About 15% of the population was born outside the country, the highest proportion in any of the Nordic countries”. — http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22650267
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/world/europe/swedens-riots-put-its-identity-in-question.html?pagewanted=all&_r=3&

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