But even given this formidable competition, one is inclined to hand the trophy to Sweden. It’s a strange place. Only yesterday, it seems, the national ethos was something called folkhemmet – “the people’s home.” The idea was that Sweden was a country of and for the Swedish people, who were like one big family, and who, like the members of any decent family, would, if necessary, take care of one another from birth to death by means of the Swedish welfare state.
The philosophy was at once ethnocentric and social-democratic. An American, say, might have found the whole business a bit too cozy, and might have wanted to see a Sweden somewhat less fixated on welfare and ethnic identity and a bit more on things like self-reliance and free enterprise. But when Sweden changed its stripes – and it did so with startling rapidity – it leapt right over these American-style values and straight into the morass of multiculturalism. One minute, it seemed, Sweden was rather too preoccupied with ethnic identity; the next, it was rejecting any notion of Swedish identity or Swedish values in the name of diversity.
The reason? Mass immigration by Muslims, of course. Suddenly the most admirable values of postwar Sweden – values like individual freedom and sexual equality – were being relativized. The Swedish people were told by their politicians, professors, and journalists that Islamic values, too, were Swedish values. It was a simple matter of respect. To think otherwise was to be a racist. Those who ventured to point out that Muslim values included the oppression of women and the rejection of individual freedom were made to understand that their input was not welcome. In the new Sweden, such things were not to be mentioned. The sky-high levels of welfare dependency in the Muslim community were similarly off-limits. Nor, the Swedish people soon learned, was it appropriate to talk about the fact that some urban areas in their country were becoming no-go zones, where (for example) young Muslims set fires and then assault the firefighters who come to put them out.
And so it has gone. When it comes to Islam and Islamic integration, no other country in Europe has done a better job than Sweden of keeping the blinders – and gags – on. While other countries have managed to bring down immigration rates from non-Western countries, Sweden has kept the doors wide open. In 2009, Denmark took in 1,376 asylum-seekers; Sweden took in 7,487. In 2009, 7.5% of the people in Denmark were immigrants; in Sweden, the figure was 14.4%.
In this whole picture of appeasement and conformity, there has been one major exception: the Sweden Democratic Party. The party is, to put it mildly, very controversial. Much of its history is exceedingly ugly. In the 1990s, Sweden Democratic Party had definite neo-Nazi proclivities. Today it claims to have put that history behind it. Still, many of its members are clearly bigots. Nonetheless, in recent years Sweden Democratic Party has gained traction with voters, if only because none of Sweden’s mainstream parties dares to address issues of immigration and Islam with even the remotest seriousness. If Sweden Democratic Party has yet to win a single seat in the Swedish parliament, the Riksdagen, one reason may well be that there is massive official propaganda against the party and massive social pressure not to vote for it. Nor is it an insignificant point that the ballot in Sweden is not really secret: at polling stations, the ballots for different parties are laid out in public view, and as a result anyone present can see which party you’re voting for.
The kind of timidity that is engendered by this situation was illustrated very clearly the other day on a Danish TV news report about the Swedish general election that is taking place this weekend. A reporter approached an elderly couple on a Swedish street and asked them whether they would consider voting for Sweden Democratic Party. “No, I don’t think so,” the husband said. “Why not?” asked the interviewer. Because, the man explained, if you vote for Sweden Democratic Party you’ll get “denounced” or “exposed to public contempt.” (Pick one; either is a fair translation.) He added: “Everybody keeps an eye on the people who vote for Sweden Democratic Party.”
The Danish broadcast provided a vivid picture of the atmosphere surrounding Sweden Democratic Party in Sweden. The reporter interviewed a young Swedish teacher, Richard Jomshof, who had been fired from a private secondary school for being a member of Sweden Democratic Party. “You’re our best teacher,” they told him, and said it was a shame to have to fire him, “but we have to do it out of concern for the school.” We also saw Sweden Democratic Party leader Jimme Åkesson campaigning in a public square in Malmö. While he was talking to the reporter, a couple of Swedish men came along carrying a banner bearing the slogan “All men are of equal value.” “You’re not welcome in Malmö,” one of them yelled at Åkesson. “Malmö is a city of diversity!”
“Doesn’t diversity include us?” Åkesson asked.
“No!” came the reply.
“But shouldn’t there be a variety of opinions?”
“We don’t want racism here!”
“We’re not racist.”
A lot of Swedes don’t buy that. An Sweden Democratic Party campaign advertisement, on which an infirm old Swedish woman and a figure in a burka were shown boxing – a way of illustrating that tax revenues can only go so far, and that the more money is spent on generous welfare payments to immigrants the less there will be to cover pensions and health care for the elderly – was turned down for broadcast on television. Sweden’s prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, has already said that if members of Sweden Democratic Party do get elected to the Riksdagen – which is now seen as a realistic possibility – he will not work with them. On the Danish report, Reinfeldt called them “populistic” and “irresponsible” and said that they “create conflicts and an ‘us versus them’ mentality” (yes, exactly the same kind of rhetoric that mainstream European politicians routinely hurl at all parties, racist or not, that dare to address immigration and Islam). At the end of the Danish report, we met a young member of Sweden Democratic Party who was interviewed in his parents’ upper-middle-class home. Because of his membership in Sweden Democratic Party, he said, he had “lost a lot of friends I’ve known since I was young.” “Are you racist?” the reporter asked. “I’d prefer to say xenophobic,” he replied.
Still, the party’s official positions on immigration and integration scarcely differ from those of the current Danish government. Hege Storhaug, after looking over Sweden Democratic Party’s website, wrote yesterday that she could not find any sign there of racism, discrimination, or hatred. In recent years, to be sure, there has been violence connected with Sweden Democratic Party – but Sweden Democratic Party members have consistently been its targets, not its perpetrators. On September 13 somebody carved a swastika into the forehead of a party member – and Reinfeldt, after mouthing a pro forma condemnation of the violence, set about blaming the victim, saying that people who encourage “us-and-then thinking and an essentially hateful view of interpersonal relations shouldn’t be surprised by such actions.”
Ultimately, all the controversy over Sweden Democratic Party probably won’t make any difference one way or other. Even if the party wins a seat or two in the Riksdagen, it doesn’t seem to stand a chance of having a meaningful impact – whether for good or for ill – on Sweden’s immigration and integration policy. Alas, the plain truth is that Sweden is on a disastrous course, and it doesn’t look as if that fact will change course any time soon. “Sweden appears to be in the process of going amok,” lamented Storhaug yesterday. “No party in the Riksdagen comes anywhere close to acknowledging that the Swedish ship is headed into a cold polar night.”