By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
After US President Donald Trump criticized Sweden in a speech there has been a lot of pushback from Sweden’s government and its supports boasting about the country’s supposed perfection. Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister, mocked Trump. He also claimed that “last year there were app 50% more murders only in Orlando/Orange in Florida, where Trump spoke the other day, than in all of Sweden. Bad.”
The Swedish embassy in the US attacked Trump, boasting of the country’s perfection in integrating migrants. “We look forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies.” Later it admitted it had “challenges.” It re-tweeted a World Economic Forum claim that “Sweden beats other countries at just about everything.” Former US ambassadors to Sweden such as Mark Brzezinski were also trotted out to praise the country.
Many commentators have latched onto comparing the total number of murders in Sweden with the US. A popular twitter account @sweden claimed “We have around 100 murders per year. Thats like two days in the US. Two. Days.” On the surface these claims appear enticing. But what happens when you compare Sweden to the most Swedish part of the United States, rather than compare a mostly white Scandinavian country to Orlando, Florida? Rather than compare a country of 9.5 million with a country of 320 million?
In 2000 the US Census published a map of the US based on largest ancestry by county. In the midwestern states such as Minnesota the largest ancestry is made up of the same kind of mostly homogenous, mostly white, and mostly northern European demographic that exists in Sweden. Sweden has a population of 9.5 million and its percentage of urbanization is similar to Minnesota. Stockholm’s population is 789,000 while Minneapolis (400,000) and St. Paul (294,873) combined population is similar. Minnesota only has 5.4 million people, so to carve out something that looks like Sweden in the US, I added half of Wisconsin (total population 5 million) and North Dakota (800,000).
There were 101 murders in Minnesota in 2014 and when combined with half of Wisconsin (80) and North Dakota (15) there were 196 murders in a part of America that is actually comparable to Sweden. The murder rate in Sweden is about two per 100,000 and in Minnesota it was 1.6 in 2014 while Wisconsin is a bit higher at 2.9, while North and South Dakota are between 2.3 and 3.
The fact is that there are other states in the US with very low murder rates that are comparable to Sweden, such as Maine (1.6), New Hampshire (.9), Idaho (2.) and Massachusetts (2.0). These states tend to “look” more like Sweden as well as their having a more homogenous demographic. They tend to be less diverse and their ethnic origins tend to be more northern European. That doesn’t mean they don’t have migrants. Like Sweden, Minnesota has been taking in migrants in recent years, especially Somalis. There are around 300,000 immigrants in Sweden.
The reality is that there are swaths of America that are similar to Sweden. The myth of Swedish perfection, needs to be held up against reality. Like all countries Sweden has its problems. It has its right wing parties, its rising anti-semitism, riots, and issues relating to integration.
However Sweden has devoted politicians who are better at spreading propaganda about the country’s false utopian narratives than being self-critical.
We hear a lot of stories about the success of integration in Sweden. However the reality is far from perfect. Bloomberg reported in 2016 as Yasri Khan, a member of the Green Party’s executive board who refused to shake hands with women because he claimed it violated his religious beliefs. The same article noted Sweden had “abandoned” its open door policy on refugees. “Many Muslims now feel that there’s no room for us in this society, or in politics,” Khan, who’s head of Swedish Muslims for Peace and Justice, said in a phone interview. “In the past week I’ve had to defend norms as a practicing Muslim. I think it’s very cowardly of the government,” said Khan.
Then there is the story of Sweden’s minister of housing dining with the extreme-right wing Turkish Grey Wolves organization. In the latest scandal, Sweden’s self-described “feminist” government was slammed for sending a delegation of women to Iran and ordering them to cover their “immodest” hair for Iran’s extreme-right wing theocratic regime. Instead of condemning Iran’s treatment of women and minorities, Sweden has been seeking trade deals. When asked about the incident the foreign minister Margot Wallstrom compared going to Iran to going to a synagogue in Sweden. As if being forced to wear a headscarf by law, and choosing to wear a yarmulke was the same.
After the Paris terror attacks Wallstrom also attacked Israel, rather than condemning ISIS. “How worried are you about the radicalization of young people in Sweden who are fighting for ISIS?” According to the translation provided by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Wallstrom said: “Obviously, we have reason to be worried, not just in Sweden but across the world, because there are so many that are being radicalized. Here, once again, we are brought back to situations like the one in the Middle East, where not least, the Palestinians see that there isn’t a future. We must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”
Even this week CNN reports “Riots broke out in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood of Stockholm Monday night, as residents clashed with police officers and set vehicles on fire, Swedish police say.” It isn’t the first time either. Swedes have also been lured to join ISIS, and the country seems oblivious to prosecuting them or acknowledging the extreme right wing rhetoric among some immigrants that encourages hate.
All of this paints a picture of a Sweden that may not be a model, and at the very least is not as perfect as it attempts to present itself. It has integration issues, it has radical rightists and it has a problem when it comes to working with regimes such as Iran that are among the most brutal in the world in suppressing women’s rights. Even its murder rates are not what they seem. Perhaps Sweden can learn from how America integrates immigrants. Perhaps it can look at the social mobility many immigrants have had in the US, rising in one generation to run major companies and founding tech start-ups.