Sverige med andra ögon

Journalisten Nadia Muhanna från Syria Today Magazine är på Sydsvenskan för att studera opinionsbildning i sociala medier. Och ser på Sverige utifrån – med lite häpen blick.

Här är hennes intryck:
Nadia Muhanna_Sydsvenskan

It´s 25° in Damascus and I’m packing the warmest clothes I have, happy to get away from this hot weather to cold Scandinavian Stockholm. Getting there however, I’m all in sweat again and I meet Arabs all over the city. Syrians smile at me in the shops, Iraqi waiters greet me with “marhaba”, and a Lebanese couple, who I randomly meet in an Arab restaurant serving falafel and Kebab, invites me for lunch. I almost feel home.

I quickly discover that the Swedish-Arab population’s presence in Sweden is more than loud Arab greetings and delicious falafel. They are present in the country’s political scene. Photos of Abir Sahlani, an Iraqi Swedish candidate running for the European Parliamentary elections fill the streets of Stockholm as well as small posters reading “Boycott Israel”.

An exhibition by a Swedish Arab artist in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet also touches upon important Arab issues such as the Palestinians’ right of return and movement within Palestine. In her exhibition, the artist tells how she visited houses in Israel and paid bills on behalf of Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank and some Arab countries because they are not allowed into Israel to do so.

Sweden’s cultural scene is no different. Museums like the Vasa Museet have flyers in Arabic, Arab artists give regular concerts and Swedish discos’ DJs remix Arab songs.

But despite of the Arab population’s presence in Sweden’s daily political, social and cultural scene, to what extent are they actually integrated into the Swedish society?

The growing popularity of the Sweden Democrats political party that calls for the restriction of immigration and encourages the repatriation of immigrants means immigrants are not that welcomed. In fact, many immigrants suffer unemployment and segregation in Sweden.

According to Quick Response, an independent part of the Swedish Red Cross that investigates how the Swedish newsmedia report on immigration and integration issues, even those immigrants who actually have the Swedish nationality are often perceived as “others” rather than Swedes. The best way to bridge this gap between immigrants and Swedes is by a better presentation of immigrants in the Swedish media. According to Quick Response, following the Caricature Crisis, only a small percentage of people interviewed by the Swedish media were actually Muslims or Arabs.

To achieve a better understanding between the two cultures, the best way is probably for the Swedish media not to talk about the immigrants. Rather, talk to them.

Published in Sydsvenskan morning newspaper’s blog on 4 June 2009. You can see a screenshot of it here.

From Warm Syria to Cold Sweden

Syrians always brag about the openness, good heartedness and the easy going quality of their people. It’s only natural for a Syrian passerby to grab you by the hand and take you to the address you are searching for in case you were lost. If you faint in the street, tens of Syrians would hurry towards you carrying water, a small chair and some strong perfume (Most of us Syrians believe that strong fragrances wake people, I personally faint from them but anyway… they do work sometimes!)

And this, as all other points mentioned above, I believe applies to most Arab countries. Oh yes! I’ve always been proud of how friendly and willing to help Syrians are, unlike cold individualist westerners who are too busy building their carriers or too afraid of getting into trouble to help out strangers. But is it true? 3 weeks in Sweden made me realize that we should never give in for stereotypes.

During my stay in Malmö, an industrial city and port in southwestern Sweden, I got lost. I was heading to Sydsvenskan daily newspaper for a two days study visit but unfortunately I had the wrong map. And what do you do if you get desperately lost? Catch a cab. So, I took one to the newspaper and tried to figure out a cheaper way back to the hotel, one that wouldn’t cost me around 100 kronor. To my surprise, the middle aged driver not only wrote down the directions but he even took me (free of charge) to the bus stop to make sure I wouldn’t get puzzled.

Other Swedes I stumbled across in the street enthusiastically studied my map to explain the road, spent 5 minutes checking google maps on their mobiles or simply took me by the hand to the place I was searching for. In fact, Swedes are so polite that a young car driver stopped in the middle of the street so that he wouldn’t appear in the photo I was taking of a store on the other side of the street!

Nevertheless, it was only in a restaurant in Stockholm’s Skansen park that I had to admit to myself, I know so little about Western values and hospitality. I had a terrible flu. Might sound weird but I got the flu in mid June. Oh yes! Spring in Sweden is THAT cold! So, I was having an open buffet dinner with a large number of friends in Skansen. We were offered a cup of tea after the meal. When the elderly waiter finally brought me a cup of hot tea, I told him how much I was waiting for this tea because I have a sore throat. Next thing I know the waiter comes back with a nice smile on his face and a huge gratis tea pot. “Got it especially for your throat,” he beamed.