The suspects in the crimes in both Gothenburg and Malmö are all refugees from conflict-torn parts of the Middle East. Too often we have seen that some refugees bring with them not only anti-Israel but also anti-Semitic views that they have been indoctrinated with in the countries they have been forced to flee.
This is undoubtedly a serious challenge to our society, and not the only one. Sometimes the refugees come from societies where views on issues like women’s position in society or LGBT rights more resemble what we had in our part of the world a century or so ago. Their views and values don’t change immediately once they cross into Sweden.
With a far more diverse refugee population, we are unfortunately not immune to the effects of conflicts flaring up in different parts of the world. When tensions increase in the Middle East, we unfortunately feel it here as well. Today, conflicts over Jerusalem have very few geographic restrictions.
Most refugees coming to our country from Muslim countries have adjusted to the values of tolerance central to our society. The fact that many of these people have often fled different systems of intolerance helps that process.
But there are those who have not, and there are even those who seem to have no intention of doing so, inspired by the new waves of hatred we have seen during the past decade. There is no doubt that our society has to be even more vigilant and firm against groups and individuals preaching messages of hate toward other beliefs or nationalities.
That absolutely applies to those preaching hatred and mistrust against Jews, irrespective of their numbers or origins, and it naturally applies also to those preaching hatred and mistrust against Muslims. This is a serious problem, and certainly not only in Sweden.
When the Anti-Defamation League last tried to measure the support for anti-Semitic views across the world, Sweden came out near the bottom of that list. The group’s polling found that anti-Semitic views had roughly twice as broad support in traditionally tolerant countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States and 10 percent more in Australia than in Sweden.
None of this means that there hasn’t been anti-Semitism in Sweden in the past. But even in the heydays of anti-semitism in Europe, Sweden was less affected by that evil plague than most other countries.
Historically in Sweden it was the Catholics that were seen as the dangerous threat that had to be fought and restricted. The legacy of the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century and the Reformation conflicts that preceded it run deep. Up until 1951, Catholics were legally banned from a number of professions in Sweden, which Jews were not, and the return of monasteries was not allowed until much later.
But that is history. This year a Swede, Anders Aborelius, was appointed as the first Swedish cardinal since the Reformation; he has also just been selected as the Swede of the year by a prominent political magazine.
Sweden certainly has its share of far-right groups and political parties, and we have unfortunately seen the strengthening of them during the past decade or so. But like elsewhere, these groups have often turned staunchly pro-Israel, in the belief that an enemy of your enemy has to be your friend. And their enemy is clearly the Muslim world.
There was a time when our country could live in relative isolation from other parts of the world. Immigration not too many decades ago was primarily a question of people coming from Finland, either fleeing war or seeking a job. But recent decades have seen a distinct change, not only in Sweden but also throughout Europe. And there is no doubt that immigration has made our society far more dynamic, creative and interesting — Stockholm is the fastest-growing capital of Europe in terms of population, and our economy is one of the high-growth economies of Europe.
There is equally no doubt that immigration has brought new challenges that we are still struggling with — questions of immigration and integration have been at the very center of the political discourse in Sweden. The past few months have seen a decline in the polls for the populist anti-immigration political party, as the distance from the dramatic months of the autumn of 2015 increases, but the issues will certainly figure as the country approaches elections in September.
Sweden’s problems are there, including anti-Semitism. But overall I am confident that if the Anti-Defamation League were to repeat its global poll measuring support for anti-Semitic views, it would come up with the same — or an even better — result for Sweden today.