A Message to Trump from a Swede: My Real Concern is Rise of Militant Anti-Muslim Neo-Nazis, Fascists
professor of comparative religion and leads the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism at Uppsala University in Sweden.
President Trump is doubling down on his false claim that Sweden is struggling with immigration-related security problems, after he faced widespread criticism and ridicule for appearing to invent a terrorist attack in Sweden. Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt responded to Trump’s claim by tweeting, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.” There has been one recent terror attack in Sweden: Three neo-Nazis attacked a Gothenburg asylum center in January with a homemade bomb. One person was seriously injured. According to The Independent, the suspects were members of the Nordic Resistance Movement, which opposes non-white immigration to Sweden. We speak to Mattias Gardell, professor of comparative religion and head of the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism at Uppsala University in Sweden.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump is doubling down on his false claim that Sweden is struggling with immigration-related security problems, after he faced widespread criticism and ridicule for appearing to invent a terrorist attack in Sweden while speaking at a campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida, on Saturday.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Here’s the bottom line: We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt responded to Trump’s claim by tweeting, quote, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” unquote. Trump later said his comment was in response to a Fox News story he had watched the night before about alleged refugee-related crime. Sweden’s crime rate has fallen over the last decade, even as it has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees, including from Syria.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, President Trump tweeted, “Give the public a break–The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!” exclamation point. Well, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven responded to Trump’s claims to highlighting many things in Sweden are, in fact, working “very well.”
PRIME MINISTER STEFAN LÖFVEN: It’s up to the president to decide what he wants to say. I can only say the World Economic Forum states that—written, “Why Sweden beats other countries at just about everything.” OECD reports that we have a very strong economic development in terms of, for example, GDP per capita. The European Commission states that Sweden is Europe’s most innovative country. The Global Innovation Index says Sweden is number two when it comes to innovative countries. So, we have some very strong facts that shows that Sweden is also handling the situation. But as I said, yes, we have challenges, like all other countries. There’s no doubt. We have a situation in the world where 65 million people had to flee their country’s last year, or the year before that—65 million. So that’s a worry for us together.
AMY GOODMAN: There has been one recent terror attack in Sweden: Three neo-Nazis attacked the Gothenburg asylum center in January with a homemade bomb. One person was seriously injured. According to The Independent, the suspects were members of the Nordic Resistance Movement, which opposes non-white immigration to Sweden.
Well, for more, we’re going to Stockholm, where we’re joined by Mattias Gardell, professor of comparative religion and head of the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism at Uppsala University in Sweden.
We welcome you, Professor, to Democracy Now! So, talk about what you started to hear on Saturday night, when President Trump, at his campaign rally for 2020, talked about what happened in Sweden, quote, “last night.”
MATTIAS GARDELL: Well, to us, it’s absolutely amazing that a president could be that detached from empirical reality as Mr. Trump. And had it not had such dire consequences for the U.S. population, possibly the world, it would have been entertaining. Last night, it actually did happen, a suspected terrorist attack. It was a Muslim Association house that was burned down, and possibly by people connected to the anti-Muslim neofascist scene here, you know, similar to the ones you cited before with the bombing attacks made by—suspected to be made by people from the national—Nordic Resistance Movement. And they are all jubilant, because they see Mr. Trump as their man. And Sweden is a place where, you know, it doesn’t really happen that much. It’s quite quiet. But terrorism has skyrocketed in 2015 and 2016. Last year alone, it was 92 suspected attacks. But they were all against asylum seekers, home for refugees, and probably made by the same political milieu that supports Trump.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the overall crime situation in the country? The critics of Sweden’s asylum policy say that crime has been rising as a result of its welcoming so many foreign asylum seekers and refugees into the country.
MATTIAS GARDELL: That’s another illustration of alternative facts. In fact, for a decade or more, crime rates, especially violent crime rates, have been going down. And if you judge by or compare by capita, United State has five—United States has five times as much murders as has Sweden. So, it’s not true.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you respond to President—well, let me ask you this. I want to turn to an interview from Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight that might have precipitated Donald Trump’s comments in some odd, twisted way. Carlson interviewed the right-wing filmmaker Ami Horowitz about his documentary on refugee violence in Sweden. Carlson asked Horowitz about the long-term effects of Sweden’s open-door policy toward asylum seekers.
AMI HOROWITZ: We don’t have to actually prognosticate on what the long game is. You can look at France and Belgium and—because they’ve been doing it for that period of time, for longer. And you can see the social unrest that’s going on there, the terrorism that’s happening there. Sweden, this is a relatively new policy phenomenon for them. And by the way, Sweden had its first terrorist Islamic attack not that long ago. So they’re now getting a taste of what we’ve been seeing across Europe already.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was the conversation that took place Friday night. Saturday night, Donald Trump talked about that a—talked about terrorist attacks and then referred to Sweden. He said, “We all know what happened last night.” And when there was a great deal of outcry and when the Swedish Embassy asked for clarification in Washington, he said he had watched television the night before. I guess that’s “what happened last night.” But the response to that, and also the uptick in hate crimes and terror attacks in Sweden that are actually being committed—and I don’t think this is what Donald Trump was referring to—by neo-Nazis?
MATTIAS GARDELL: That is true. I mean, it was so many mistakes in that right-wing, anti-Muslim filmmaker’s—his so-called documentary, what was all a fabrication of alternative facts. Sweden does not, in fact, have an open-door policy. One of the problem is that we have sealed our borders, and preventing people seeking to—refuge and seeking asylum from coming into the country. And we all know what consequence that has in human life—drown in the Mediterranean.
And when it comes to the rise of the very militant anti-Muslim, neo-Nazi or protofascist movement, that’s a subject of great concern to us here in Sweden. And we have a protofascist party elected into Parliament, that now, according to surveys, is the second-largest party. And this has not happened before in Swedish history. And behind them is this whole industry of social media that also informs President Trump. So it’s of grave concern to us now. And you can see that fascism is returning with a vengeance to Europe, maybe dressed in a way that we don’t necessarily recognize it as fascism, because we have had this Hollywood stereotyping of national socialism and fascism, that we expect fascism to be the only ideology that doesn’t really change. We don’t recognize people as fascist if they don’t come dressed as in the Second World War II mediatized by Hollywood. And that’s of great concern. And this is not what’s happening only in Sweden; it’s across all over Europe. And maybe we will have a new axis forming, with these strong, populist, ultranationalist white men—you know, Trump, Putin, Orbán in Hungary, Zeman in the Czech Republic. Let’s see what’s going to happen in France. The same kind of movement is also gaining strength in Sweden, and it’s quite deadly.
And it comes also at the—in a very precarious time in Sweden, because we now live 25 years into the experiment of neoliberalism, that really undermined the so-called Swedish model and transformed Sweden into a society that has the greatest levels of segregation, for instance, and also differences between the classes in the whole OECD region. And lots of people in Sweden are concerned now about their future and the future of their kids. And fascism, as we know, is not a right-wing extremism as much as it is an extremism of the center. It comes from the people who claim that we belong to those who built this country, and now we cannot afford to accept more people. And they’re all built on contrafactual news or facts, because we all know that, in terms of GNP, Sweden has actually benefited from accepting more people coming in. It’s simple economy. If the country grows larger, more people live here, the economy will also get a boost. But fascism is not only spreading its agenda with references to empirical facts, but it also has a very strong affective dimension. And this sort of affective dimension today, formulated by the ultranationalists, this sort of fascist vision—and you see the same phenomenon in the U.S. So, they are all really interconnected. And this causes us great concern at the moment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor Gardell, in terms of—you mentioned the economic problems that have created the basis for the rise of fascism. What about the issue of race? As Sweden, like many other European countries, has become more multiracial than it was in the past, how has that affected the rise of fascist tendencies within the country?
MATTIAS GARDELL: Could you please repeat the question? I couldn’t hear you.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I said, what about the issue of race in the rise of—racism in terms of the rise of fascism in Sweden, as the country, like many other European countries, has become more multiracial than it was in the past?
MATTIAS GARDELL: That’s true, but it’s also true that Sweden has never been a homogeneous nation. We have had national minorities, such as the Roma people, here for half a millennium. And so, the image of a homogeneous Sweden doesn’t really exist. But it’s true now that racism has risen and become normalized. If you look at structural racism, for example, it’s very easy to see from research that if you have a Muslim name, you will have—much harder to try to get a job according to your qualifications in competition with people with non-Muslim or Swedish names. So, structural racism is strong. And also, these movements now, that has gained from the global spread of anti-Muslim rhetoric, that started actually already at the fall of the wall and gained, you know, a breakthrough with 9/11, has just continued to gain momentum, and very much so due to this industry of alternative facts.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gardell, we want to thank you for being with us. Professor Mattias Gardell is a professor of comparative religion and leads the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism at Uppsala University in Sweden.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we head to London, where massive protests have been taking place. More than—close to 2 million people online have called for the state visit of President Trump to be canceled. Stay with us.