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Yes, Sweden Is a Paradise Lost—but Not Because of Immigration

Posted on Apr 20, 2017

By Kajsa Ekis Ekman

  Thousands of people attends a “Lovefest” vigil against terrorism in Sergels Torg, central Stockholm, on April 9, days after a hijacked truck drove into a crowd of pedestrians April 7, killing four. The poster in the center reads: “Love for everyone—hate toward no one.” (Markus Schreiber / AP)

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Back in February, when President Trump referred to a terror attack in Sweden that never occurred, the whole of Sweden was bewildered. What was he talking about?

Yet it wasn’t the first occasion in recent times that Sweden has found itself the object of racially-tinged rumors. In December, a story made the rounds in U.S. press about Sweden banning Christmas lights “To Avoid Offending Muslim Migrants.” Seeing Christmas lights outside of my window and all over my city—Stockholm, the capital of Sweden—I couldn’t figure out who could believe such an absurd idea. It turned out that in some small villages in the southern county of Småland, authorities had clamped down on individuals overloading the public lamppost cables with their own Christmas lights, thereby causing damage.

Then there was the time a Swedish drug addict fell asleep inside the church of Kristianstad with his penis out. This became raw material for a story about hordes of Muslim refugees “defecating and masturbating” inside a Swedish church.

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The Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter discovered a fascinating fact about the latter two stories: both originated from a “troll factory” in the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia. There, hundreds of young men make a living inventing stories designed to spread like wildfire on social media—in order to generate clicks for advertisers. The man who invented the church story, Ivan Stankovic, earned $25 for it, which he considers a jackpot.

Fake news is now a capitalist industry where a story serves merely as bait to drag customers to an ad. American consumers’ clicks are the sought-after product of this industry, and anything that might stir Americans’ indignation, curiosity or fear is worth gold. Firms like Facebook provide the platform. Young, unemployed men of Eastern Europe do the work, and advertising companies reap the profits. It goes without saying that a Ghanaian or Cambodian click is not worth as much as an American click. A Ghanaian or Cambodian might read the story, but do not possess the same consumer power to buy the products adjacent to it. To generate clicks, all means are allowed, as long as an American’s eyes will fall on the advertisement.

And what generates clicks nowadays? Stories about Muslims taking over the world.

In this new whirlwind of rumors, Sweden has come to occupy a central role. It is cast as the innocent, naive, white country in the North, which once was a paradise, but which has collapsed under its own goodness. A typical headline in the U.K. newspaper, The Telegraph, reads: “How Sweden, the most open country in the world, was overwhelmed by migrants.” Swedish people are cast as good-hearted, stupid liberals who want to save the world but end up being taken advantage of by evil immigrants who rape, plunder and subject everybody to their own religious faith.

There is also a gender dimension of this myth, with stories of rape and sexual harassment playing a crucial role. These stories work especially well because Sweden has a reputation as a sexually liberated country where equality between men and women has made significant advances. 

In the paranoid racist narrative, Sweden is therefore symbolized by a woman who has dared to venture too far from her white man, refusing him as head of household and castrating him psychologically. Instead, she is shown—heaven forbid!—holding up a “Refugees welcome” sign. She is now being “punished” for her openness by gang rape, sexual harassment and the soon-to-come law that will mandate that all Swedish women wear burkas.

Interestingly enough, this myth has two dimensions. It is used both to show that immigrants are in Sweden to take the white man’s women (which bears similarities to the rationale behind lynchings of young black men like Emmett Till in the U.S.) and that the sexually liberated woman deserves to be punished. It suffices to read the comments under videos in which rape is discussed, such as “Islamic Rape Wave in Sweden” or “Sweden; Muslims, Murder, Rape, Welfare, and Our Future! A Must-See,” to see that many right-wing extremists don’t pity said rape victims—they actually gloat about them. Comments such as “These sluts deserve it” and “Swedish men are gay” are intertwined with “Kill all immigrant parasites.” In a strange way, these white men actually use Muslims and African immigrants as a weapon against white women. “If you don’t shut up and obey me, the immigrants will come to rape you and I won’t be there to defend you.”

Another dimension of this narrative is a covert anti-socialist, anti-welfare punchline: Sweden is being destroyed because its social democratic welfare state has been too generous.

Why Sweden, one might ask. Sweden is, after all, the European country that has perhaps been the best at integrating immigrants. According to the 2011 British Migrant Policy Integration Index, or MIPEX study, “Swedish integration policies offer favorable conditions for migrants to participate in society” and “Sweden’s score of 83 gave it the highest rank among countries included in the study. Portugal ranked second with a score of 79, followed by Canada.”

These findings have now been disputed by other studies, but to argue that mayhem reigns in Sweden is untrue. Sweden is the 17th richest country in the world, with a GDP surpassing that of Germany and France and an unemployment rate of 7 percent compared to the EU average of 8.5 percent. If there really was chaos and misery due to immigration, this would likely have had an effect on the economy.

If any country has been overwhelmed by migrants, it would be Lebanon. A total of 1.2 million Syrian refugees have taken shelter in this small country of 4.4 million inhabitants, giving it the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world. Obviously, this doesn’t go unnoticed, and the U.N. has warned there is a danger the country could implode if the Syrian refugee crisis is not well managed.

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