Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Stockholm riots leave Sweden's dreams of perfect society up in smoke
A week of disturbances in Sweden's capital has tested the Scandinavian nation's reputation for tolerance, reports Colin Freeman
Like the millions of other ordinary Swedes whom he now sees himself as one of, Mohammed Abbas fears his dream society is now under threat. When he first arrived in Stockholm as refugee from Iran in 1994, the vast Husby council estate where he settled was a mixture of locals and foreigners, a melting pot for what was supposed to be a harmonious, multi-racial paradise.
Two decades on, though, "white flight" has left only one in five of Husby's flats occupied by ethnic Swedes, and many of their immigrant replacements do not seem to share his view that a new life in Sweden is a dream come true. Last week, the neighbourhood erupted into rioting, sparking some of the fiercest urban unrest that Sweden has seen in decades, and a new debate about the success of racial integration.
"In the old days, the neighbourhood was more Swedish and life felt like a dream, but now there are just too many foreigners, and a new generation that has grown up here with just their own culture," he said, gesturing towards the hooded youths milling around in Husby's pedestrianised shopping precinct.
"Also, in Sweden you cannot hit your children to discipline them, and this is a problem for foreign parents. The kids can feel they can cause whatever trouble they want, and the police don't even arrest any of them most of the time."
This weekend, after six consecutive nights of rioting, Mr Mohammed was not the only one questioning the Swedish social model's preference for the carrot over the stick. Many Swedes were left asking why a country that prides itself on a generous welfare state, liberal social attitudes and a welcoming attitude towards immigrants should ever have race riots in the first place.
The disturbances erupted in Husby last weekend, after police shot dead an elderly man brandishing a machete inside his house. Angered at what they saw as police heavyhandedness, youths torched cars and buildings and stoned police and firefighters. Police were then forced to draft in extra manpower from outside Stockholm as the trouble spread to other immigrant-dominated suburbs of the capital and towns such as Orebro in central Sweden, where 25 masked youths set fire to a school on Friday night.
Up too in smoke has gone the notion that egalitarian Sweden, which has largely avoided the global recession, might be immune from the social problems blighting less affluent parts of Europe.
Sweden's centre-right prime minister, Frederik Reinfeldt, blamed "hooligans" but also talked sympathatically of the difficult "transition period between different cultures". Meanwhile politicians from the Swedish Left, which ruled the country for most of the post-war period, blamed the trouble on social spending cuts introduced by Mr Reinfeldt, whose Moderate Party vowed to trim - though not slash - the welfare budget when he took office in 2006.
But amid the soulsearching last week, perhaps the most telling comment was the one from Kjell Lindgren, the spokesman for Stockholm Police. "We don't know why they are doing this," he said, when asked for a cause for the riots. "There is no answer to it."
Certainly, wandering around Husby last week, it was hard at first glance to see quite what the problem was. Built in the 1970s as part of the "Million Programme" that aimed to give affordable housing for all Swedes, the estate is one of dozens on Stockholm's outskirts that now house mainly immigrant populations, including large numbers from Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, comparisons to the Paris "banlieus", or indeed riot-hit Tottenham or Salford, are limited. Between the rows of clean-looking housing blocks are well-tended flowerbeds and neatly- kept public gardens, and in the shopping precinct, where an ornamental fountain still bubbles away, there are bars, shops, and a smart cafe-bakery that would not look too out of place in an IKEA catalogue. At eight per cent, Husby's joblessness rate is three times the Swedish average, but only slightly higher than that in the UK.
Likewise, although the rioting has been large scale by Swedish standards, seen up close it has less of the ferocity of the 2011 disturbances in Britain. When The Sunday Telegraph visited Husby late on Wednesday night, the highlight was a hit-and-run arson attack on two parked cars. Police were hardly to be seen, and when they did arrive, it was purely to protect the firefighters dealing with the car blaze rather than make arrests.
Instead, teams of well-intentioned volunteers from local community groups and Islamic associations mingled with the crowds of excited onlookers, politely suggesting that they expressed their grievances peacefully.
Among a large group gathered on an overhead walkway was Mohammed Abdu, 27, whose family came to Sweden from Eritrea when he was aged three, and who now works as a security guard. While he condemned the violence as "hooliganism", he claimed that many Husby residents still suffered from discrimination from the police and employers. Besides, he added, living in such a prosperous, advanced country offered no real satisfaction for those so conspicuously at the bottom of the heap.
"It's true that the welfare system here is an example to the rest of the world, so if you fall here you do not fall all the way to the bottom," he said. "But people don't like being dependent on social welfare, and there is hidden racism."
Not so, argued Yusuf Carlos, 32, a construction worker from Palestine. "It is just kids causing this trouble, that is why the police are not doing much about it," he said. "Sweden is fair towards immigrants and it isn't hard to find work, or not before these riots anyway. The problem is that the Swedish people are angry now. They don't know why people here in Husby are doing this, only that they come from this neighbourhood."
Certainly, claims of racism upset many Swedes, who have little colonial history, and whose decision to admit large numbers of Third World migrants from the 1980s onwards was born of no particular political obligation, more just a very Swedish sense of humanitarian duty to the wider world. From the very start, the government also sought to avoid creating a German-style "guest worker" class by promoting immigrants' rights and introducing a plethora of programmes to promote racial integratkion.
Yet despite Swedish language education being offered free to all long-term immigrants, ghettos of foreigners have flourished in recent years. So too have Far Right parties challinging the political class's long-standing pro-immigration consensus, who now command up to 10 per cent of the vote and may increase their share in next year's elections.
"We have tried harder than any other European country to integrate, spending billions on a welfare system that is designed to help jobless immigrants and guarantee them a good quality of life," said Marc Abramsson, leader of the National Democrats Party. "Yet we have areas where there are ethnic groups that just don't identify with Swedish society. They see the police and even the fire brigade as part of the state, and they attack them. We have tried everything, anything, to improve things, but it hasn't worked. It's not about racism, it's just that multi-culturalism doesn't recognise how humans actually function."
Aje Carlbom, a Swedish academic and author of a critical study into Swedish immigration policy, added that despite the increasing appeal of Far Right parties, mainstream Swedish politicians were still reluctant to even ask the kind of questions that the likes of Mr Abramsson was already offering answers to.
"Anyone who wants to regulate immigration is immediately classified as a nationalist, which also implies a racist as well," he said. "It is still almost impossible to debate this question."
Still, some of Husby's younger generation argue that it is unreasonable of Swedes to expect them to be perennially "grateful" for taking them in, even from the dire circumstances in their homelands.
Among them is local youth worker Rami al Khamisi, 25, whose family escaped to Sweden from Saddam Hussein's Iraq back in 1994, smuggling themselves first through Turkey and Russia and then across the Baltic in a fishing boat commandeered by a people smuggler. "I was six years old and the boat was packed with about 60 people," he said. "An old man died, and they threw him in the water because his body was smelling a lot."
That, though, he says, is his only real memory of the hardships of his early life, and as such, he finds it hard to be as thankful as his parents still are to his adopted homeland. "They compare it to Baghdad or Somalia," he said. "But we younger immigrants only really know Sweden, and we just compare our situation to the one around us."
With Stockholm still burning this weekend, though, that may be asking for just a little too much understanding - even in compassionate, generous Sweden.
Incompetent socialist Britain cares for no-one
Passengers packed into sweltering carriages, overflowing toilets, clueless staff and police called to quell a mutiny: My Bank Holiday nightmare on Britain's Third World railways which cost £125 a ticket for a 10-hour journey
Friday evening and Kings Cross station was bedlam at the start of the Bank Holiday weekend — but it was a happy kind of bedlam.
The working week was over and expectations were riding high as families, students, elderly couples, children of all ages and hundreds of tourists waited to learn from which platform the 7pm London to Edinburgh train would leave.
Even the weather forecast was half-decent.
We were a group of four and had reserved seats in carriage C several weeks in advance. We paid £125 each for a return ticket.
Nearly eight hours later, on a trip that should have taken three hours and 40 minutes, we had still not reached our final destination — though we had long reached the end of our tether.
Friday evening and Kings Cross station was bedlam at the start of the Bank Holiday weekend ¿ but it was a happy kind of bedlam
Friday evening and Kings Cross station was bedlam at the start of the Bank Holiday weekend ¿ but it was a happy kind of bedlam
It was a journey that tested many of our fellow passengers to the limit; a frightening experience for some and confirmation that in so many areas of life Britain is nothing more than a Third World country run by overpaid incompetents accountable to no one.
Hundreds of us put up with it because, as a nation, we are still good in adversity. Perhaps the increasingly overused wartime slogan, Keep Calm And Carry On, has subliminally persuaded us that the shambles of day-to-day living in this country is a perfectly normal state of affairs and will never change. So why fight it?
But many of us who were stranded on the Nightmare Express might beg to differ. As one pensioner said to me at one point as the lights went out and the temperature rose higher and higher in our hermetically sealed carriage: ‘You can bet your life that if a member of the Cabinet were on this train, heads would roll.
As it is, we’ll be fobbed off with excuses and the promise of a refund — then the same thing will happen all over again in a few weeks’ time.
When we boarded our train, it did dawn on me that it was dangerously overcrowded. One of the guards on the platform practically pushed passengers on to the train, shouting: ‘Move right down the corridors, we need to get this train off.’ People did as they were told, taking their cases with them because there was no room in the racks near the doors.
Every inch of space was occupied. It took us 40 minutes just to get to our seats, and yet the hapless ‘train manager’ still had the audacity to ask passengers to ‘keep the aisles clear for your safety and comfort’.
He never dared move through the train to inspect tickets. He would have been lynched a hundred times over if he had.
Apart from the general sense that we were all jammed into a giant sardine can hurtling through the countryside, the journey progressed without incident for the first 30 minutes.
Then, shortly before Newark in the East Midlands, the disembodied voice announced that there was a problem with a section of the northbound track, and that our train was in a queue to use the southbound track for a mile or so — while, hopefully, going in a northern direction.
While we conjured visions of travelling all the way back to London, those with connections to meet at York resigned themselves to a very long evening — or even an expensive night in a hotel. In the end, the to-ing and fro-ing caused a delay of two hours, during which the passengers around us became increasingly frazzled.
We were seated near a group of South Africans, who were preparing to run in the Edinburgh Marathon on behalf of the cancer charity Macmillan Caring Locally.
One of them said he had never seen such an overcrowded train, and asked me if there was a limit to the number of people allowed on board.
Shortly after Newcastle, the train slowed down and then, as we approached Berwick-Upon-Tweed, which was our stop, it came to a complete halt. And remained stationary for a further 90 minutes.
The gormless guard had been replaced at Newcastle by a woman who said the train had stopped because someone had pulled the passenger alarm.
This might have been true, but the real reason was that the train before us — the 6pm London to Edinburgh service — had broken down in the station and all its passengers had been told to disembark.
Unsurprisingly, late on a Friday, when most of us are desperate for the week to end, tensions were running high, not least because the station staff refused to open up the First Class lounge so the elderly or frail could shelter from the cold. The police were called.
I know this because my wife, who had driven up from London earlier in the day, was waiting at Berwick for us to arrive.
She said the scene was more chaotic than anything she had ever seen in India, whose railways are famous for their lunatic overcrowding.
Our guard finally told us about the broken-down train ahead of us. She said that ‘fault finding’ was ‘ongoing’, but she had no idea when we might be on the move.
As she finished her announcement, my daughter told me there was a distressed young man slumped on the floor by one of the doors. I went to see him and helped him to his feet.
He explained that he suffered from claustrophobia — then, suddenly, he began pounding the window of the door with his fist and shouting: ‘I need fresh air NOW!’
I told him to walk with me to the guard’s carriage at the other end of the train, where I knew there was a small window that could be opened.
On the way, we passed crying babies, despairing old people with vacant eyes, lavatories blocked in such a way that urine was seeping under the doors, and everywhere there was anger and bewilderment.
When we got to the buffet car, I asked for some water for the man I was accompanying. There was none.
As we entered the First Class carriages, a member of the train staff had the gall to ask if we had First Class tickets.
When we reached the little window at the back of the train, the young man gulped the air like a dog trapped in a baking car.
Then the lights went out again. This, the guard eventually explained, was because it had been decided that our train would couple up to the broken down one in front and attempt to shunt it past Berwick station into a siding, and reverse back into the station.
Then all those leaving the train could do so, and those waiting on the platform at Berwick could continue their journey aboard our train — if only they could fit on.
Not once did any member of staff walk up and down the train to see if any passengers needed help. I came across a pregnant woman who told me she was expecting a baby in less than five weeks.
She was struggling in the heat, and her mobile phone battery was dead. I told my daughter’s boyfriend to sit with her and offer her his phone. Increasingly, the place began to feel like a relief centre in a war zone. We pulled into Berwick at 2.40am.
Those going on to Edinburgh eventually arrived at 3.39am, which means passengers who were on the 6pm from London had been travelling for nearly ten hours. Some Bank Holiday.
‘We are sorry for any inconvenience that may have been caused,’ was the last thing I heard our guard say, still reading from a script and still with an inflection that suggested she wanted us to feel sorry for the stress she was under.
The next morning, I was reading about the Government’s plans for the High Speed Rail link from London to Manchester. If ever there was a case of running before you can walk, this is it.
Our public transport is a disgrace. The East Coast Line, which is now State-owned and will remain so until at least 2017, is particularly dreadful.
Passengers are treated like fodder; no one takes responsibility for abject failure and not even the ‘duty spokesman’ knew the answer to most of my questions.
I wanted to know if there is ever a cut-off point on the number of people allowed to board a train. ‘I don’t have information about that,’ he said. Is there always water on board in case of emergencies? ‘There is sometimes in the guard’s carriage, I think.’
I told him I wanted the East Coast line to issue a statement. Which it did: ‘We would like to apologise to customers for the disruption on Friday evening.’
So that’s all right then.
Peers plot homosexual marriage revolt
Lords from all main political parties will unite next week in a last-ditch attempt to block the Government’s introduction of gay marriage.
Peers expect the Upper’s House debate over same sex weddings will go through the night or even into a second day, with a key vote that could scupper the policy regarded as “too close to call”.
The former head of the British army Lord Dannatt and Lord Lothian, a former Conservative Party chairman better known as Michael Ancram, are amongst those set to criticise the draft legislation in next Monday’s session.
Other opponents will include Lord Waddington, a former Home Secretary, Lord Luce, who served as a minister in Baroness Thatcher’s government, and Lord Singh of Wimbledon, a respected figure in the Sikh community.
The Sunday Telegraph has also established that the senior Tory Baroness Warsi, a practising Muslim, refused to lead the bill through the House of Lords when asked to do so by David Cameron, the Prime Minister.
Some peers believe dozens Lords who rarely attend Parliament will flock to Westminster to make their position on homosexual marriage clear.
Seventy-five members of the Lords have already asked to speak in the debate, suggesting that dawn could rise on the Tuesday morning before all the peers have their say.
Government whips are fighting calls to allow the Lords to hold a second day of debate on what has become the one of the most emotive issue in parliament for many years.
Some critics of same sex marriage legislation believe the policy undermines the institution of marriage while others simply regard it as a “distraction” from the country’s economic problems.
Mr Cameron has championed homosexual weddings and Tory strategists hope it will entice new voters to the party at the next general election.
However, gay marriage so far appears only to have played havoc with the Conservative party’s grassroots, sparking resignations of members and fierce criticism of the Prime Minister.
Lord Luce said: “You can’t suddenly pounce on the 2,000 year-old institution of marriage after such little consultation and with such little thought.
“This is all part of the Prime Minister’s 'modernisation’ of our party, whatever that word is supposed to mean. This is all being handled in a very slap happy, careless manner.”
This weekend there is speculation in Westminster that the Most Rev Justin Welby, the recently appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, will also voice his concerns about the policy in next week’s debate. One of his predecessors, Lord Carey of Clifton, has already put his name down to speak.
Lord Dear, the retired chief constable of West Midlands Police and crossbench peer leading opposition to the Bill, said that critics of the policy were not “anti-homosexual”.
“This is ill-thought through legislation that is being rushed through,” the peer said. “There are some 8,000 further amendments that will be necessary to existing legislation because of this single policy.
“Of those who said they would speak about half seem to be opposed. I really think the vote will be too close to call.”
If the Government loses the Bill, ministers could use the Parliament Act to drive the policy through. However, Lord Dear thinks this is unlikely.
He added: “The Parliament Act has been used only three times before. Opposition in the Commons in the Commons was strong and there is not strong appetite amongst the public for this.”
Lord Stoddart, an independent Labour peer, described the whole concept of gay marriage as “bogus”. He said he was baffled as to how gay people and lesbians would “consummate” their marriage.
“Without consummation the marriage could be annulled at any point,” the peer said. “No one has been able to explain to me how homosexuals or lesbians would be able to actually consummate their marriage.
“People who voice concerns about this policy are told that we are bigots. I honestly think the bigots are on the other side of the argument. Many homosexual people do not want this.”
Those peers who will vote with the Government include Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive and friend of Lord Mandelson, and Lord Deben, the former Conservative minister better known as John Gummer.
Lord Hodgson, a Conservative peer who expects to back the bill, said that the policy was “clearly a very divisive issue”.
He said: “I have children in their twenties who wonder what all the fuss is about and friends in their sixties who think this is the end of the world.
“The number of people who have put down to speak is quite staggering. We could go through the night on this… it looks very close.”
Nick Herbert, the Conservative MP who has campaigned for same sex marriage, said: “The Lords always has an important scrutiny role but they can’t ignore the fact that this BIll passed the elected House with a two to one cross-party majority.
“The Bill was debated for hours in Commons committee and every independent poll shows majority public support for the measure.
“Equal marriage is being introduced across the western world and I don’t believe peers will want to be out of step with changing attitudes.”
Woolwich attack: New bid to muzzle Muslim preachers
A high-level task force is to be set up in a fresh attempt to muzzle Islamist clerics who radicalise young men through extremist preaching.
David Cameron has ordered the setting up of the new body in the wake of last week's killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in the street in Woolwich, South London.
Made up of senior ministers, police officers, security officials and moderate leaders, the new committee will study a range of options, according to reports.
These inlcude banning extremist clerics from being given public platforms to incite students, prisoners and other followers – and forcing mosque leaders to answer for so-called "preachers of hate."
It was being made clear in Whitehall that the launch of TERFOR (the Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Task Force) should be seen as an overhaul of the government's counter-terrorism strategy in the wake of Drummer Rigby's murder.
A senior Whitehall source said: "The Prime Minister is determined to challenge the poisonous narrative of extremist clerics and confront religious leaders who promote violence. We are looking at the range of powers and current methods of dealing with extremism at its root, as opposed to just tackling criminal violent extremism.
"We will look at ways of disrupting individuals who may be influential in fostering extremism. We cannot allow a situation to continue where extremist clerics go around this country inciting young people to commit terrorist acts. ‘We will do everything we can to stop it."
Sources said, however, that there must be no question of restricting freedom of speech. Any moves to do so would quickly bring Mr Cameron and other Conservative ministers into conflict with their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.