Condemnation of the terrorist attack on soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday has been strong and universal in Britain and around the world. Other than echoing the disgust that a soldier was so brutally executed in such a mediaeval style on British soil, and the admiration we all have for passers by who attempted to intervene, I have little to say on the Woolwich incident that hasn’t been expressed a thousand times over. Instead, I want to examine parallels this has with the topic that inspired the headline of this article: the riots in Stockholm.
Did you know that there are racial tensions in Sweden, of all places? The very centre of liberal social democracy, the model for a socially just and egalitarian society, and a nation with a flourishing far-right party, the Sweden Democrats.
As in London in 2011, the trigger of the riots was the police shooting a man from an ethnic minority. There, the parallels end. In Stockholm, officers shot a machete-wielding 69 year old who was threatening to kill them. It isn’t clear what facts about the case are in dispute, but the result has been a methodical strategy of rioting in which cars are burnt and emergency services attempting to respond are attacked with stones and green laser pointers, which are shone into workers’ eyes. The overwhelming majority of rioters are young and from ethnic minorities, in particular from the Asian community.
A lot of the problem lies in the fact that, despite its reputation as a socially just nation, Sweden has allowed inequality to grow. While the effects are relatively modest on native Swedes, it is immigrants who have generally found themselves on the wrong side of the gap. In the meantime, many Swedes are resentful that ‘their’ youth is being displaced in parts of the labour market. And together with the creep of commercialisation, this is contributing to nothing short of a national identity crisis. It is in such times that it is dangerous to be in a minority.
So whilst prejudiced groups such as ‘ Unite Against Muslim Terror’ attempt to use events in Woolwich to divide our society, we’d be advised to consider news from Norway and Sweden before allowing a racist edge to creep into the national consciousness.