Sweden, the attacks to the mosques shake the forbearance’s homeland

On December 29th firefighters intervened to quell an arson in a building used as a mosque in Eslöv, a town in southern Sweden. Four days earlier, on Christmas Day, in Eskilstuna (in Southeast Sweden) a molotov had been thrown into a mosque through a window of the hall, the ground floor of a residential building: five people were injured. At the dawn of New Year's a third arsonist attack nearly damaged a mosque in the eastern town of Uppsala.

Girls carrying leaflets which read, "Don't touch my mosque", participate in a demonstration at the house of parliament in Stockholm January 2, 2015. Three mosques have suffered arson attacks in Sweden since Christmas Day, according to media reports. REUTERS/Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency

The mind easily turns to worrying signs showed by the September elections, which (even though progressive forces such as Greens and Social Democrats won a majority in Parliament) have resulted in the rise of the “Sverigedemokraterna”, a political party that has reached nearly thirteen percent of the vote by expressing harsh views about immigration and Islam.

Notwithstanding that in the most recent elections in many Northern European countries Eurosceptics groups – sometimes quickly associated with the ultraconservative right – have often set back, dramatic events (such as the deadly attacks that hit Norway July 22nd , 2011 where extreme right responsibilities were immediately detected) have raised awareness across the entire Nordic region, thereby reawakening the attention on social phenomena such as xenophobia, from which the Nordic countries had felt exempt for a long time. On December 25, Omar Mustafa, who chairs the “Swedish Islamic Association”, told public radio SR that this year an intensification of episodes of intolerance against immigrants was recorded but he also stressed that the response in favor of multiculturalism by the people was massive.

Friday, December 26th, hundreds of citizens of Eskilstuna gathered to express their solidarity to the local Muslim community that was affected by the arson on the day before. On January 2nd, Friday, thousands of people demonstrated against racism in several Swedish cities, especially in Stockholm (near the Royal Palace, in “Gamla Stan”, the Old Town), Malmö and Gothenburg. The premier Stefan Löfven and other leading members of national politics have pointed out that this series of racist attacks appears as a deliberate threat to religious freedom and therefore a threat to the Swedish way of life, while representatives of immigrant communities have welcomed the large response of Swedish citizens who have created widespread demonstrations of solidarity with foreigners despite the cold weather of these days.

While not unfamiliar in the Scandinavian institutional framework, the agreement between Center-Left and Center-Right that on 27 December allowed the Prime Minister Stefan Löfven (author of the Social Democratic electoral success achieved by adopting more leftist stances) to avert an early elections, can be also interpreted in relation to the traditional political forces’ solidarity, as they are facing now the risk that the far right could acquire some weight in parliamentarian negotiations, especially in the case of an uncertain result in the balance between the two major coalitions. The Social Democrats, the Greens and four parties of the Center-Right (Moderate, Center, Liberals and Christian Democrats) have also established that they will cooperate – on the basis of what has already been named “December agreement” – on important issues as welfare and environment, even after the legislature’s end and at least until 2022.

The events which have shaken Sweden during the Christmas holidays arrive in circumstances that are much changed, if compared to the multi-cultural landscape that made famous the country in the world: in recent years the Scandinavian state has experienced both serious threats, such as the attack averted in Stockholm on December 11th in 2010, when a radical Islamic militant detonated two bombs without causing more victims than himself, and unrest as the immigrants revolt in the Stockolm outskirts of Norsborg, Älvsjö, Tensta, Södertälje, Sollentuna at the end of May 2013.

The Swedish institutions have managed, in all these situations, on the one hand to limit the growth of far-right political party Sverigedemokraterna and to isolate it in the Parliament, on the other toavoid a rise in social unrest, which, starting from episodes like the protests occurred in the capital’s outskirts in 2013, could create contexts unfavorable to integration. All the facts mentioned, however, have drawn the authorities’ attention both on the weaknesses in the sense of self-recognition as Swedish citizens in some groups of foreigners (phenomena similar to those that in the United Kingdom are raising concern about the identity of the immigrants’ second and third generations) and on possible reactions of minority sectors of the population facing future challenges related to the integration of Muslim immigrant communities.

Immigration today is a difficult subject in Sweden: the country is afraid to see shattered a positive consolidated image of successful welcoming country, so the majority political forces are often struggling with Sverigedemokraterna, that claims to be a party that wants to tackle problems perceived as related to the issue. In 2015 the arrival of more than one hundred thousand asylum seekers it is expected. Often newcomers need social support and the impact on the welfare budget is significant, in a country of slightly more than nine million and six hundred thousand inhabitants. Sweden has decided to provide aid to all permanent Syrian refugees and as of today it welcomes the highest number of asylum seekers in EU, if data are considered proportionally to the resident population.

Events in recent days cause concern among the authorities, spreading doubts that the contradictions experienced by the country in the past decade are likely to generate now hostilities and these news are illuminated by a gloomy light – because of the emergence, in this last part of the year, of international scenarios linked to Islamic radicalism and ethnic conflict also in nations, as Canada and Australia, traditionally alien to these problems – which leads many to fear, even in far north Europe, that no country is able to avoid being somehow pulled from the global climate created by clashes of cultures.

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