Things We “Shouldn’t Talk About”

Immigration, Media & Politics

“It would be irresponsible to avoid the issue just because it’s uncomfortable to talk about.” — Al Franken

Last week Trump confused a lot of people, myself included, by insinuating that something awful had happened in Sweden the day before. Was it a terrorist attack?

Nope, nothing really remarkable happened.

Later he clarified that his statement was referring to a piece on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” about immigration in Sweden. The piece contained some factual errors like:

  1. Claim: More than 160.000 new people sought asylum in 2016. The actual number? Less than 30.000. To be fair, the amount of people seeking asylum in 2015 was 163.000. The amount of people granted asylum during 2016 was 67.000 out of 112.000 total decisions made. That’s about 60% approved.
  2. Claim: Sweden feels a moral obligation to open their borders for all immigrants. Well, during 2016 Sweden actually went from having the most generous asylum laws to following the EU’s minimum level guidelines.
  3. Claim: The police have “No Go Zones”, certain areas that are “too dangerous”. Not true, the police have in fact increased their presence in several problem areas. On a side note, while the number of rapes are rising it’s due to other factors like changes in legislation on sexual crimes as well as a greater propensity to report it. The number of violent crimes with a deadly outcome have risen in the last 2 decades, at the same time the amount of people has increased as well. Thus, the average is still 1 in 100.000 people (for comparison it’s 5 in 100.000 people in the USA). While it’s important to look at these numbers, as the saying goes “correlation does not imply causation”.
Asylum seekers, statistics from Migrationsverket

In addition, the piece on Fox contained footage from a movie called “Stockholm Syndrome” (by Ami Horowitz) where Swedish police were interviewed. Here’s a quote from from one of those interviewed, Anders Göranzon:

”It was supposed to be about crime in high risk areas. Areas with high crime rates. There wasn’t any focus on migration or immigration.
We don’t stand behind it. It shocked us. He has edited the answers. We were answering completely different questions in the interview. This is bad journalism.
It feels like hell. The real questions should be shown along with our answers. We don’t own the rights to the film, but the end result is that we don’t want to talk to journalists after this. We can’t trust each other.”

And then there’s this tweet:

What we’ve got here is a failure of institutions to trust, or at the very least respect, each other.

When I’m talking about trust I don’t mean blind, uncritical trust. I mean trust in the sense that a person is qualified, and that the job is done to the best of their abilities.

If and when people and institutions fall short of what we expect from them we should be able to criticize their performance. But we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn them to be fake, corrupt, racist, etc.

While some blatantly are, blanket statements like “all politicians are corrupt”, “all cops are racist”, “all mainstream media is fake news” are dangerous. They breed contempt and mistrust.

When people and institutions wall themselves off from each other those checks and balances that were put in place to keep things stable go away.

Here’s a question for you, do you believe that people are doing the best they can?

This question isn’t about being an optimist or a pessimist. It’s about whether or not you can take more than 3 seconds to really think about where you stand on the issue, and realize that the real answer is more complex than “Yes” or “No”.

Back to Sweden. Is immigration and migration “working out beautifully”? This is a matter of both factual numbers as well as anecdotes. Taking the long term, at scale, big picture view immigration is going to work out. As long as we don’t let fear guide our choices.

Right now? It’s growing pains. Many of us have been viewing events in the outside world and keeping it at a safe distance. It hasn’t affected us on that deep, personal level. Now that it is, we’re naturally fearful of what that means.

We’re finding out that the world is indeed round. We can’t pretend like problems in different regions aren’t going to affect us.

When you go into a grocery store and see a sign that says “Due to unrest in *insert country* we’re out of *insert item*”, for you it’s a minor inconvenience. At the other side is someone who doesn’t know if they’ll live to see tomorrow.

If they do, they might not be able to stay there. That’s when the question becomes who lets them in and who says “Not in my backyard!”

Naturally, no single country was equipped to handle what happened during 2015. But are we going to pretend now that it’s not going to happen again? Or could we perhaps learn that unless we work together to create more stable systems and put precautions in place, this is what we’re going to get?

We could say “It’s not OUR responsibility, let them figure it out amongst themselves”, but it’s easy to see where that reasoning leads. Again, the world is round. Sooner or later it’s going to land on your doorstep, whether you like it or not.

I’ve seen both success stories and talked with people who ended up on the streets. Neither one is exclusively true.

Looking at those discussions now, I can see 3 main factors that influenced their outcome:

  1. Their actions. Did they take the proper actions to make sure they learned to speak & write Swedish, make friends & contacts, look for work primarily in a field they were interested in and qualified for?
  2. Their environment. Were they in the best possible position to succeed? Did they receive proper support? Was there opportunities open for them?
  3. Pure dumb luck. Did they land the right job? Meet the right people? Have the right Swedish teacher?

That’s a pretty scary place to be in, especially when you’re trying to make the best of a less than ideal situation. While the system is working decently (great according to some, sucks according to others), it’s not working well enough. We can acknowledge the fact without having to say: “Alright, close down the borders, we can’t deal!”

The reason I’m saying it’s working “decently” is because problems do arise and people do feel dissatisfied. People voice their worries and complaints, both the people arriving here as well as those who’ve lived here their entire lives. But it’s not chaos, it’s something we can have rational conversations about and find solutions to.

The fundamental issue is that we don’t really have these conversations. Because they’re hard.

The most refreshing conversation starter I’ve heard recently was when a white woman asked a young man: “What’s it like to be black experiencing winter in Sweden?”

You could cut the tension with a knife.

He laughed and spoke about how growing up in Ghana he’d only seen snow on TV before. After a while people were a lot more relaxed.

Look, it could’ve gone the other way, it could’ve been viewed as a “racist” or ignorant thing to ask. But if we’re afraid to look or seem stupid for asking “So, turbans. What’s the deal with those?”, we’re probably not going to ask a lot of the tougher questions like “Besides fermented herring, what’s the hardest part about integration and the Swedish culture?”

I don’t have the solutions, but I do believe that we aren’t systematically giving people the tools they need. Not because Sweden lacks the capacity to do so, but because we don’t know what tools people need. Most people probably don’t know either.

But that doesn’t mean we throw our hands in the air and give up. It means that we sit down, ask some uncomfortable questions, and figure it out.

Yes, it’s going to cost us time, money, and energy.

But if we don’t deal with it now, sooner or later we’re going to be forced to. And not just Sweden and a dozen other countries.

All of us.

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