Vikings and Arabs – The Welfare State

Islamic, English, and German coins

A fine day in summer, I sat amidst hundreds of Swedish students in the university hall to witness the fierce debate between Jonas Sjöstedt, now leader of the liberal left-wing party and Edward Riedl of the moderates. It was a debate before national elections of 2010 which brought the right-wing Islamophobic party, Sverige Demokraterna in Riksdagen. Rhetoric was searing and historic revisionism, common between rival parties was at its peak yet I couldn’t miss the inclusiveness of the process.  Next to me was a Muslim, Swedish-born son of a Somalian couple. Umea historically a liberal city welcoming international students, tore the moderates apart for their capitalistic and elitist stance. Jonas carried the day with his eloquence but this was about it. In coming years mosques were attacked, slaughtered pigs were hurled its doorway, hate letters poured in and Islamophobic websites sprung up concocting utter non-sense research papers against growing threat of Islamic population in Sweden.

Contrary to the popular belief that Islam in Sweden came from Finnish Tartars who migrated to the country in 1940, interactions between the blond Vikings and Arabs took place centuries before that. A story from BBC broke the news of recently discovered coins in Stockholm that were coined in Baghdad and Damascus. Vikings would trade fur, honey, ivory and fish with their Muslim counterparts. Muslim sources refer to their interactions with Vikings when they established the Volga trade route during their expansion. Viking invasions on Iberian-peninsula Muslim settlements eventually got many of them to convert to Islam and they became the dominant cheese suppliers to Cordoba and Seville. Ivan Agueli was a Swedish painter, traveler, and Sufi who converted to Islam in Egypt and represented Shadiliyya Sufi order. He was born in 1869 in Sala, where today a museum is built housing his paintings. He brought great Islamic traditions and ideas from the middle east that influenced the modern Swedish society and was the one who introduced famous Muslim convert Rene Guenon to Islam. 1928 Per Albin Hansson coined the term ‘Folkhemmet’, ‘People’s home’ where people will have access to education, health-care, jobs, and housing without discrimination based on their religion, color, language and race. Idea changed the Swedish history forever. World today recalls this as the basis of welfare Swedish state, an economic case study that bewilders the academia.

Most recent wave of Muslims came into Scandinavia after tragic period of world wars and Balkan crisis. Rubric of decency however in recent times have gone so low that the right-wing extremist party shot a dramatic ad on TV that portrayed Hijabi women usurping health care benefits of an elder citizen as if 5% of it’s Muslim population does nothing but enjoy state benefits and make children. Reports have consistently highlighted discrimination in job markets against foreign-born employees. Ghettos in Malmo and Stockholm are further evidence of discriminatory practices in the housing area. The root cause of this is not very different from the one that fans Islamophobia in rest of the world. The diabolic depiction of Islamic societies and stereotypical representation of Arab societies. From Harvard business school studies taught in school that highlight Islamic terrorism as a threat to global business, misrepresentation of Islam in TV and marginalization of ethnic population, society is choreographed for its inbuilt superiority over the Arabs and Muslims.

As a fluent speaker of Swedish, I can tell you numerous jokes to drive the point  home. A Smart Arab when read backwards becomes ‘Bara Trams’ meaning ‘just rubbish’ in Swedish. This is just one of the many jokes attributed to perceived woman beaters, pedophile, violent and mentally arrested Muslims. Ironically, a 2008 WHO report, in Sweden says that, neuropsychiatric disorders are estimated to contribute to 35.6% of the global burden of disease. Most popular novels in the country are criminal investigations and it topped the list in suicides according to Emile Durkheim. Amidst its botched priorities and international hypocrisy on arms trade, Islam seems to have become a common enemy and rallying point. With that said, Norway and Denmark fare worse than Sweden in terms of Islamophobia. Norway has a right-wing extremist party in government and the Danish top the charts with its barbaric outlawing of immigrant possessions. Despite growing populism in Sweden, intellectuals speak against this Danish apathy in heated TV debates bringing out the argument that when Danish faced Nazi persecution of Jews it was Sweden that offered them a place to live. Years later the Kierkegaard’s hedonism blinds Danish of their history and they reject women and children escaping from torments of war calling them marauding gangster.

Naturalization laws in Scandinavia although lax than their more Islamophobic neighbors encourage very few because of its bureaucracy and red-tape. Educated workforce seems disillusioned and job discrimination is depressing to many young people of ethnic origin. Blue-collar jobs are a norm for graduating students and emigration is very common among youth. Sunnier regions, warmer people, and more job opportunities have lured many out of Sweden leaving it with an already huge plethora of older and disabled population. Immigration policies and utilization of skillfrom foreign countries have been very poor in comparison to Canada and Germany. Economic diversification is also a problem. It is built around industrial and service-oriented sectors and jobs require highly-skilled labor that gets filled up very quickly and leave menial jobs for the rest. Topography and weather do not allow mass production and irrigation opportunities like tropical regions resulting in higher unemployment especially among minorities. High taxes make up for this lack of possibilities by providing world-class education, health care, and housing but this is turning into a negative for more growth-oriented graduates. Neo-liberal economists disdain this socialistic distribution of resources that stifles the incentive for creating surplus like in capitalistic societies where these sectors are privately owned. World isn’t a rosy picture in laissez-faire countries.For Muslims in Sweden, this welfare state is reminiscent of Islamic Caliphate, the first example of a practical and welfare state in the history. Although less tolerant, more bureaucratic and frankly less efficient in comparison to its role model, Scandinavian model remains a bar for rest of the world to look unto. Until now they had lived in relative peace and security. Tides have turned though. The question however remains for Sweden, once a fearless proponent of human rights, equality, and openness, will it shrug away its populist weight and stand up for its ‘Folkhemmet’ or it will succumb to its hate-mongers, the bigots and demagogues? A country that has not been to war for 200 years in a row, will it turn to its citizens to feed its xenophobic parasites?

For Muslims in Sweden, this welfare state is reminiscent of Islamic Caliphate, the first example of a practical and welfare state in the history. Although less tolerant, more bureaucratic and frankly less efficient in comparison to its role model, Scandinavian model remains a bar for rest of the world to look unto. Until now they had lived in relative peace and security. Tides have turned though. The question however remains for Sweden, once a fearless proponent of human rights, equality, and openness, will it shrug away its populist weight and stand up for its ‘Folkhemmet’ or it will succumb to its hate-mongers, the bigots and demagogues? A country that has not been to war for 200 years in a row, will it turn to its citizens to feed its xenophobic parasites?

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Lahore Times.

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