Quite a few political discussions today centre around the far-right party Sweden Democrats that entered the Swedish parliament a few months back. The general consensus in media and among established politicians is that Sweden Democrats is a racist party, and the number one issue is how to make sure they are not re-elected in four years time. The current strategy seems to be political exclusion, a method whose effectiveness remains to be evaluated. Critics believe that it would be more efficient to meet the Sweden Democrats in open debate, since their policies are poorly executed and would make the far-right party fall of its own accord. This I believe is true.
Let's look at an example that I have been pondering lately. It is well known that Sweden Democrats like to blame crime on immigration, thus arguing that stricter immigration policies will also make for a safer society. Living in the city of Örebro, which was recently plagued by a series of violent rapes, I have personally experienced the feeling of insecurity and fear. I have avoided the streets at night and even carried a personal alarm. One of the first rape attempts that took place was allegedly made by a ”dark-skinned” man, and I believe that many of us pictured the serial rapist as ”dark-skinned” after that. Scurrilous portraits of the violent stranger stay with us whether we like them to or not.
But the serial rapist turned out to be a Swedish young man. And immediately, people start to wonder: Why? What made him do this? Maybe he was subject to sexual assault when he was a kid, maybe he is mentally ill. We want to find an explanation to his deviant behaviour. We don't expect someone like him to commit awful, brutal assaults on innocent women. There must be an individual explanation to why something went so wrong with this one.
Should the rapist have been of a different ethnicity, what would have been said of his individual circumstances? Of his parents or upbringing? Not much. Or at least, not so much. Discussions of culture would inevitably have sprung up, maybe even of race. And it makes me wonder; maybe Sweden Democrats didn't have such a long way to the altar, after all? Wasn't the way already paved by deeply rooted notions of cultural difference and xenophobia?
There are plenty of examples of how we percept acts of violence differently depending on the offender. Honor killing, for example, is widely discussed as a cultural phenomenon even though violence against women happens every day in every part of society. It is not a cultural issue, it is a global one. The problem is not just ”honor cultures”, but a tradition of male dominance all over the world. Yet we make a clear distinction between cultural violence (when it comes to other cultures) and individual violence (when it comes to ourselves).
This is something that Sweden Democrats will use in their rhetoric to gain support. They see what they want to see and make arguments out of it. If we want to get rid of the far-right party, we need to see through it and not let ourselves be fooled by the convenience of having a scapegoat for everything that is wrong in our society. And perhaps we have to face Sweden Democrats in an open political debate to reveal how weakly they support their cause and how feeble their arguments seem if faced with the weapon of logic.
Elin Hjelm is a media student in Örebro, Sweden. She recently defended her bachelor thesis at Örebro University.