Sweden: The tyranny of the halal hippies

Sweden: The tyranny of the halal hippies

The arrest in Ireland of seven people alleged to be planning to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks for a sketch he made of the Prophet Muhammad has once again turned the spotlight on the limits of free speech in Europe and the sensitivities of European Muslims. Two of those arrested earlier this month have been charged; five others have been released.

But the reactions in Sweden have been very different from the anger that erupted when similar cartoons were published five years ago in Denmark.


Aied Fayoumi, a teacher at a Muslim school and community leader in Malmo, Sweden, says the country is a "paradise" where the government emphasizes dialogue and consultation and freedom of speech is honored.

At that time, angry demonstrations by Muslims — and similarly angry support for freedom of speech — swept across Europe.

But the Swedish government relates differently to Muslim communities.

The city of Malmo, on Sweden's southwest coast, has seen huge levels of immigration in recent years. More than 20 percent of Malmo's population is Muslim. There are tensions from the sudden influx, but there have been no demonstrations on the streets demanding Vilks' blood.

According to Aied Fayoumi, the government takes a very hands-on role in dealing with any religious or ethnic tensions. Fayoumi, a Palestinian immigrant who works as a teacher in Malmo, says that if he met Vilks he would want to sit with him and ask him why he made the drawing.

"We should make dialogue; we should listen to each other," he says.

Fayoumi has been in Sweden for 22 years. He says the Swedish government has emphasized dialogue and consultation in a much more conciliatory way than the government of neighboring Denmark.

Sweden also has a generous welfare system, free health care and an ever-open door that keeps Muslims, and others, coming from abroad.

"It's like paradise," says Fayoumi. "If you want to write, if you want to go to a demonstration, it's OK. If you want to say your opinion, it's very OK. ... It is true paradise."

Tyranny Of 'Halal Hippies'

If the angry Muslim protesters have not materialized, neither have the angry Swedes protesting about the sanctity of free speech.

Pernilla Ouis at the University of Malmo says the deafening silence from most Swedes regarding the Vilks case goes to the heart of the Swedish self-image.

"If we take a strong stance for freedom of expression then we ... could be accused of being racist," says Ouis, who teaches social workers how to work in cross-cultural situations. "We want to protect ourselves, [show] that we are good people, we are not racist, so we don't take that position. So we sacrifice Vilks' freedom of expression for that."

Ouis says that Swedes are very nice people, but also that they are painfully politically correct. She says the PC brigade has acquired a new nickname — "halal hippies" — and she says it applies to almost all Swedish politicians, who tend to have a blind spot to the problems of Islam.

She says halal hippies are critical of one's own society — in her words, have "the white man's guilt" — and they embrace and defend "the Other" so much that they can't see that the other community has oppressive structures of its own.

Kent Ekeroth of the Swedish Democrats Party says the country is too liberal for its own good. The party, which currently has no seats in Parliament, wants to restrict immigration and renew emphasis on Swedish culture.

Kent Ekeroth is not a halal hippie. He works for the Swedish Democrats Party, which is the only group of politicians that doesn't go along with the liberal consensus in Sweden. So far, the party doesn't have a single seat in Parliament. Ekeroth is trying to change that and is certain his party will win seats in parliamentary elections in the fall.

Party members want to restrict immigration and re-emphasize pride in Swedish culture. Hoping to tap into what they think is the unspoken disquiet in Sweden about such issues, one of the party's slogans is "We say what you're thinking."

Ekeroth says what liberal Swedes don't realize is that if you take in groups who are against liberalism, then you don't have a liberal society.


Source: NPR (English)

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