Christian Christensen is a professor of journalism at Stockholm University in Sweden.
The “story” was classic Politically-Correct-Sweden-Gone-Nuts material.
The organizers of the largest youth soccer tournament in the world, the Gothia Cup held in Gothenburg, Sweden, had decreed that pork was “haram” (forbidden by the Muslim faith). Thus, pork would be “banned” from being served to players and coaches at the tournament, scheduled to begin July 15. The reaction from far-right, anti-immigration clusters on social media was quick and predictable. It was was yet another example of Sweden’s capitulation to “Islamic values” and further evidence of how Muslims simply cannot “integrate” into modern Western society, thus forcing Christian Europeans to give up their cultural heritage.
The story was picked up by right-wing websites, one of which refashioned the tournament logo to include a Muslim star and crescent, with the provocative statement: ”Maybe this is how the Gothia Cup logo will look in the future.” Across the Atlantic, Infowars and politicians such as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) picked up the story on Twitter. It was a story about the fight for Sweden’s identity.
But the story wasn’t fully true.
Was it true that pork was not being offered to the teams as part of the set menu for the week of the tournament? Yes. Was it true that pork had been banned because it was haram and because the organizers were submitting to “Muslim values”? No.
When interviewed about the accusation, a representative of the Gothia Cup stated that, with 1,700 teams from 80 nations, the tournament would be host to many players from Muslim countries (and, presumably, some Jewish players). So, for the sake of cost and efficiency, no pork would be served. And, while far-right websites congratulated themselves on their hard-hitting exposé about the lack of ham sandwiches at a youth soccer tournament, it turned out that the tournament has, in fact, not served pork for the past 15 years, and not a single complaint had been registered. And, as the tournament representative also noted, pork products would be on sale in and around the stadium during all the matches, so there was hardly a “ban.”
This was one of many recent cases from Sweden involving pork products and immigrants. In another, online xenophobic outlets breathlessly reported that a man in Sweden had been “sentenced for eating bacon” in front of Muslim women on a Stockholm commuter train. The truth? He had been sentenced not for eating bacon, but for stalking and threatening the women on the train, including by making religious slurs and putting bacon in their faces and demanding they eat it.
Manufactured pork scandals speak to the role of everyday practices in how identity is both constructed and attacked; food is a major part of those everyday practices. What we put on our plates, we like to tell ourselves, says a lot about who we are, and who we are not. When a Twitter account run by the Swedish government claimed that Swedish meatballs originated in Turkey, for example, there was outrage by some who deemed the tweet to be politically correct self-hatred. What we discuss far less is the fact that food is the quintessential byproduct of cultural hybridization, with recipes and cooking methods shifting and adapting as they spread across our constructed borders and boundaries.
Of course, these stories were never about pork. Or meatballs. They were really about immigration. They were about Muslims. They were about defending so-called national values. They were also about stoking the fires of an online outrage machine that works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to find issues to make people mad. And, if there are no issues? Well, make some up.
Airlines or large international conferences rarely serve pork for precisely the same reasons as the ones given by the Swedish soccer tournament. Muslims aren’t the only religious group to not eat pork. The outrage machine must be fed, and it is a classic strategy of this machine to take a tiny grain of truth (such as pork not being served at a youth soccer tournament) and to allow that grain to grow into a nail that finally seals the coffin of “true” Swedish identity.
It is easy to dismiss the exaggerated coverage of the pork-less Swedish soccer tournament as an insignificant drop in a larger ocean of problems. But there is something deeper here that warrants attention. What was once evidence of cultural awareness, sensitivity and basic good manners — not serving food that might violate a religious belief — is now refashioned by merchants of division as evidence of surrender to the enemy in an all-out cultural war. That is something we should never swallow.
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