In an era of political correctness, “safe spaces,” and “trigger warnings” for the constitutionally feeble, there are plenty of things we are not supposed to talk about. Increasingly in recent months, this seems to include crime and immigration in the Kingdom of Sweden. From across the political spectrum and on both sides of the Atlantic, recent reports point to an increase in drug trafficking, riots, sexual assaults, and a rise in street gangs, with people hurling grenades in some residential neighborhoods.
But Swedish opinionmakers seem to be in complete denial. Like family members talking about a terminally ill relative in the room next door, officials have dismissed such reports as “fake news,” while liberal bien pensants have suggested that it may be part of a Russian-backed campaign of disinformation. So when President Trump in February 2017 suggested that “large scale immigration” in Sweden had resulted in riots and other “problems like they never thought possible,” he was widely ridiculed. It’s true that he incorrectly stated that riots had occurred the night before his speech, but he was not wrong about the country’s problems.
Since Trump’s infamous statement, a long-delayed discussion has begun in earnest about how Sweden is faring, especially after the migrant crisis of 2015. While internationally recognized scholars like Charlotta Levay, an associate professor of business administration at Lund University’s School of Economics and Management, advise foreign observers to be wary of dramatic claims regarding crime in Sweden, investigative reporters continue to unearth details about the on-the-ground situation that quickens the pulse.
So what about crime in Sweden? Paulina Neuding, editor-in-chief of the online magazine Kvartal and a leading critic of multiculturalism, has written extensively about this. Her detailed reports—in Politico, the New York Times, The Weekly Standard, and The Spectator—have documented crimes of all sorts. While she cautions against comparing crime rates in her country with those of large cities in the U.S., it is clear that Swedish crime levels “stand out in Western Europe.” The use of grenade attacks, however, really makes Sweden a poster child for state failure—particularly for a country not at war. “Explosions are not normal for the West,” Neuding observes dryly.
In the political world, it is helpful to solicit comment from Charlie Weimers, chief of staff for Lars Adaktusson, MEP, both of the Swedish Christian Democrats. Weimers is perhaps the most informed—and certainly the best read—of the rising generation of Swedish politicians. In a recent conversation, he told me, “the integration problem cannot be described as anything but massive.” Sweden’s failure over the years to integrate many of its new inhabitants into mainstream society has resulted in unemployment, social problems, and “parallel societies,” he explains. “So the fact that this has led to increased crime rates is a no-brainer.” Yet many Swedes, he suggests, live in a state of denial. Most don’t even realize that the proportion of foreign-born registered rape suspects is 4.5 times higher than the proportion of those who are Swedish-born. Nor do most Swedes realize that more than 80 percent of people who belong to criminal networks in Sweden have immigrant backgrounds. And according to a review conducted by the news daily Dagens Nyheter, in 2017, 43 murders occurred—90 percent of which involved people of foreign backgrounds.
Weimers also helpfully points to a report from the Swedish Police, which has identified 53 “criminally vulnerable areas” in Sweden—areas characterized by social problems and a strong criminal presence—15 of which are considered to be “more vulnerable” than the rest. Residents there are also reluctant to collaborate with police and unwilling to participate in court proceedings. “The situation in these areas is considered acute,” he says.
Are these “criminally vulnerable areas” the same as the infamous “no-go zones,” a term originally coined by Per Gudmundson, editorial writer at the conservative Svenska Dagbladet? Weimers replies candidly: “The fact that so many politicians, pundits, and left-wing academics are denying the existence of ‘no-go zones’ in Sweden is merely an ideological self-preservation tactic.” Liberal and progressive parties in Sweden are trying to avoid voters becoming more aware of the seriousness of the country’s situation, he explains, lest they run straight into the arms of the center-right parties.
Neuding, who has spent time interviewing people in these “no-go zones,” concurs. “There are definitely areas where paramedics and ambulance drivers won’t go without police protection,” she says. “There are areas where Jews won’t go, or gays, or people who have left Islam.” The fact that needs to be conveyed to people outside of her country, she suggests, is that these areas certainly exist in Sweden: “There are definitely zones where people who represent the state—or who belong to the wrong ethnic group or religion—will not go without protection. And the media knows this.” What these and other reports suggest is that the country—once considered a beacon of progressivism, inclusion, and egalitarianism, and with an enviable nominal GDP per capita of $58,345, according to the IMF—is undergoing a profound social convulsion that could, if unchecked, put it on a downward spiral.
It is certainly true that Sweden is not worse off than other Western nations. But it is the nature of the change there that is unsettling. Certain features are common to many of the crimes being committed in Sweden today. Some of these are related to economic and social disenfranchisement. Tino Sanandaji, the controversial Kurdish-Iranian-born Swedish economist, famously wrote that there were only three “areas of social exclusion” populated by non-Swedes back in 1990. But these had ballooned to 186 by 2012. Such challenges and other “socio-economic disadvantages are difficult to confront,” Levay notes. But other factors loom large. According to Statistics Sweden, of a total Swedish population of 10.14 million, 2.4 million—nearly a quarter—have a foreign background. Johan Hakelius, political editor at Fokus, suggests that to a large extent recent problems have to do with the failure of the Swedish state to integrate long-marginalized ethnic minorities and unemployed foreign-born immigrants. Thus, the “parallel societies” that have sprung up across the country—which are the logical consequence, Weimers says, of 40 years of the government’s shift away from policies that foster assimilation, which give newcomers a sense of “common norms” and “social cohesion.” Much of this started in 1975, he says, with the Government Bill for Immigration and Minority Policy, “which stated that immigrants should be given the opportunity to choose to what extent they wanted to adopt Swedish cultural identity—or whether they wanted to maintain and develop their original identity.” That was further reinforced in 1997 with another government bill emphasizing the importance of immigrant “diversity.”
It’s worth noting, however, that it is not immigration per se that is a problem, but rather the kind of immigration occurring today. As the erudite Adam Cwejman, formerly chairman of the Liberal Youth and now an editorial writer at Göteborgs-Posten, told me, in the past “Sweden has had immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Africa, Asia, South America. Many immigrants integrated perfectly into society, and they accommodated and assimilated into [the] Swedish . . . sense of ‘being.’” But things are distinctly different today; new immigrant communities are now far less willing to share the moral and cultural values of their host culture.
Hakelius has a slightly different take on this: “[I]t would be strange not to expect problems with crime, and maybe especially sexual crime, when a large group of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East with a very traditional lifestyle and a very low level of education clash with the very secular, sexually liberal, and pro-feminist culture of Sweden,” he told me. “We may seem open and pragmatic, but Swedes are used to living in a very homogenous surrounding, with lots of unstated rules.” This goes to the heart of one of Sweden’s underlying problems, which is an inability to recognize and discuss fundamental cultural differences. “Educated and politically correct people often don’t want to recognize the differences, and they downplay the difficulties,” suggests Charlotta Levay. Or, as Paulina Neuding puts it, “[c]ultures are different, and cultures matter. That’s a very controversial thing to say in Sweden.”
So far, the Swedish state, including its judicial and administrative functions, has continued to ignore these differences; yet, at the same time, it has begun to forsake its own values. Thus, today, if a potential employer refuses to hire a man who refuses to shake hands with a woman, the government’s discrimination ombudsman, an actual position within the Ministry of Culture, will investigate. And that official will not investigate the man discriminating against the woman, but the Swedish employer discriminating against the man who prefers to discriminate against women. This is prime fodder for a dystopian novel.
In schools, according to Weimers, “Swedish language teachers have succumbed to Islamists and have set up screens to separate the men from the women.” There has also been official recognition and sanctioning of child marriages, he says, though few are willing to discuss it openly.
Complicating things further is the dearth of crime statistics, which is especially odd. “Sweden is famous for collecting data on everything,” Neuding says. “We have data on the nationality and background of perpetrators. But [the data are] not being compiled—and this is not being reported to the public.” The last report was published in 2005—“and even then,” she explains, “it wasn’t by nationality or by country; it was by region.”
There are calls to release more data, and Levay notes that Tino Sanandaji has pressed for “more open and systematic statistics and reporting.” But the government has been slow on the uptake, which is a mistake. “What Sweden needs is to take the discussion, based on facts, out of the shadows and away from the right-wing extremists, whose numbers are growing.”
In fact, the country’s newest party, Alternative for Sweden (AfS), was born of this frustration. The AfS, inspired by the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, comprises breakaway members from center-right parties and offers a more aggressive response to the challenges of immigration. Similarly, Swedish versions of France’s extremist Génération Identitaire now operate under the banner of defending country, kith, and kin.
Such trends should not surprise anyone. The growing insecurity felt by many average Swedes—even in parts of downtown Stockholm where beautiful Swedish girls are the object of catcalls and leers by small, roving groups of young non-Swedish men—is forcing many of them to break ranks with the conventional Swedish position and seek political alternatives. Safety has, for the first time in their short lives, become a concern.
There is, however, a reaction to such sentiments, which are often seen as expressions of nativism and right-wing populism. Among the mainstream political parties, ranks have closed against those who have joined the AfS. In academic circles, there is an effort to demonize populism as a threat to liberty. Last November, a Special Meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society was held in Stockholm to discuss “the populist threats to the free society.” By happy coincidence, I was there; I listened with growing disenchantment as speaker after speaker attacked every form of populism. None of them attempted truly to understand the phenomenon; each merely demanded that it be rejected outright.
What I saw on display at the Mont Pelerin Society that day was familiar; I had seen it before among conservative Republican friends who dismissed the Trump Revolution as a lark. This brought to mind something that Adam Cwejman said: “I think some elites haven’t really gotten in touch with what is happening. They are still trying to push away these problems and blame them on bitter, unemployed, uneducated older men.” If Sweden’s elites continue on this path (I thought to myself) they, too, will confront a political revolution that may not be to anyone’s liking.
In the meantime, it is encouraging to see Swedes discussing these sensitive issues. “Since the refugee crisis in 2015,” Levay told me, “things have changed considerably. The new consensus is that we need to have some limits on immigration. . . . And nowadays it is possible to talk more openly about [it].” On the other hand, the underlying cultural norm—seeking consensus and groupthink—remains in place, and one wonders whether the emerging discussions will peter out and lead to no real change. As Hakelius reminded me, “Swedish public debate is like a flock of starlings: It can change direction in an instant, and everyone goes along.”
In my visits over the past year to Sweden, I have noticed a change among my friends and on the streets of Uppsala and Stockholm. The psyche of the country itself seems under direct assault—unable to respond to an internal threat, and unwilling to do anything about it. Weimers, always thinking ahead, has his own suggestions for what needs to be done.
First, all institutional contacts with Islamic organizations should be evaluated in order to stop the legitimization of Islamic extremist organizations by public officials and authorities. Related to this is the need to end all government funding of any organizations or institutions that promote cultural separatism.
Second, the government should remain true to the Swedish values of inclusion and tolerance, and intensify its cooperation with imams and Muslim laymen who support efforts at greater inclusion without parallel societies or structures. In addition, Weimers insists, the government must prevent the continued funding of radical mosques in Sweden by foreign regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “This is a crucial prerequisite for stopping Islamist extremism,” he adds, explaining that several of the country’s largest mosques are also the most religiously fundamentalist and politically radicalized.
Third, strong efforts need to be made to discourage the recognition of polygamy in Sweden. The Swedish Tax Agency reports that the registration of marriages between more than two people has increased dramatically in recent years, according to Weimers, owing to immigration from countries where polygamy is allowed and where such marriages were concluded before the persons entered Swedish territory: “This legislation needs to be reviewed so that polygamy is forbidden once and for all.”
Fourth, religious schools should be allowed, but only under a policy of “zero tolerance” for all schools owned, directed, or managed by individuals associated with, or linked to, Islamic extremism. (The Sweden Democrats have suggested a moratorium on all religious schools until existing ones are fully assessed and evaluated.)
It’s certainly hard to know what, if anything, may come of such proposals. But it is absolutely clear that whoever suggests that the existence of “no-go zones” in Sweden is a myth or that Sweden is doing “just fine” socially and politically is attempting to deceive. Officials will need to be honest and open about crime statistics. The future of Sweden depends on the Swedes’ continued willingness to discuss the threat of Islamic extremism openly and fearlessly, and to entertain the question of whether Islamic ideology has any place at all in 21st-century Sweden.