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Thoughts on the Stockholm riots

June 5, 2013

First of all, apologies for abandoning this blog for so long!  I have been concentrating on my music career and not paying much attention to the news.  (I have a new music video out, which I will definitely promote on this blog as well!)  I have also been working overtime at my new day job, which is a great one for me as day jobs go–it’s $11/hour with a temporary offer of double pay for overtime (I’ve been taking advantage, as you can imagine!), and the work is typing and internet research with zero customer service interaction, overall a very low-stress position.

OK, enough with the personal blah-blah, back to the politics….

So there’s been a whole of rioting lately in the Stockholm suburbs.  The cause?  Police killing someone.  The actors?  Youth of immigrant Muslim communities that are economically depressed.  Very similar to the French banlieue riots, in other words.  But Sweden is widely seen as a near-perfect country in terms of social policy, one of the most equal countries in the world, although social policy has been tending in recent years towards more social welfare cutbacks.

It seems to me that the fatal flaw in the media coverage of these riots (and the ones before them) is that nobody seems to be talking about the success stories–the Muslim immigrants who have successfully integrated–except in order to say reassuringly that the problem is not that bad.

This is something I wrote on a web forum about the Muslims of France a while back:

I disagree about Islam being more tolerant than Judaism or Christianity–that’s obviously not true in Muslim states like Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Your statement about latter-generation French Arabs/Muslims is on the mark though–I’ve met a whole bunch of them and they are basically EXACTLY like the rest of the French in terms of attitudes, values, even ways of flirting 😉 which I think we can lay solidly at the feet of France’s beautiful secular culture. However we do have a population in the “cites” (housing projects) that is getting radicalized because of racial discrimination combined with a lot of fundie propaganda from overseas, and it has gotten BAD–to the point of having neighborhoods controlled by gangs who enforce sharia law, that the police are afraid to enter. The root cause in my opinion is that old-boy-network racism combined with a generally illiquid job market (hard to get hired, hard to get fired) has constricted economic opportunities for non-white French youth, so they’ve reacted either the French way: radical leftist or anarchist politics, rioting, burning cars–or taken refuge in a “traditional Muslim” outlook that is actually not at all traditional but more fundamentalist and far more hateful and murderous than anything their parents brought over with them.

Why should this matter to non-French? Well, first of all, the question of how to assimilate Muslim immigrants, whether it’s possible, whether they’re a threat etc. is something most nations in Europe are struggling with, and increasingly the US and Canada also. The responses are often blunderingly, stupidly racist, blindly assuming Muslim = evil, ignoring the myriad immigrant-integration success stories–hard to imagine France without Zidane, let alone Edith Piaf (Algerian grandma). But question is a real one: you have these neighborhoods where radical Islam is a viable option for youth, whether they become terrorists or regular citizens depends on how attractive it is to them compared to being totally secular, being Muslim on the holidays, being a strict Muslim but not trying to impose it on anyone else etc. And also on how attractive political Islam is to them vs. non-ideological anarchist rebellion vs. voting and protesting and community organizing.

Also, this issue of marginalized people turning to violent religion is not limited to Islam. Look at America’s home-grown Christian militia terrorists. Much of the same debate Europe is having about Muslim immigrants applies here: how do you make this option less attractive for people, give them opportunities so they try to succeed within secular culture rather than make war on it?  How do you respect their freedom of religion while not letting them take over and impose their religion on the rest of us?  Unfortunately, instead of debating what economic and social policies best promote happy integration, what we too often get are racist rantings about the invading hordes.

Well, that’s what I wrote about the French situation.  The point I was trying to make was that some people of Muslim/Arab/African descent there are living successful lives as citizens and others are not.  And it’s those latter who are rioting.  So here’s what we should be asking: what is the difference between those two groups?

We can talk to the ones with success stories.  Ask them what they think the difference is.  Maybe the difference is luck.  Maybe the successful ones faced a lot of job discrimination and/or police harassment but persevered in the face of it, instead of giving up on trying to find a place in European society.  That’s the most plausible thing I can think of right now…maybe others can think of something else.

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