I was just sitting down to a nice dinner on Saturday evening when I saw a news flash that said there were hundreds of masked men on rampage in Stockholm beating up refugee children. In complete shock, I forgot all about my dinner and started scouring the news and the Facebook timelines of friends in Stockholm to learn more about it. What I read there broke my heart since I have a number of friends in Stockholm who do not “look Swedish”.
There is a lot of unrest in Europe due to the influx of immigrants and anti-racial sentiments are on the rise in many countries. At times I am not so sure that these sentiments are “on the rise”; or whether they were always there buried under a thin layer of civility and are now breaking out into the open. As someone who “looks foreign”, this shift certainly worries me more than it did a few months ago.
As someone who “looks foreign” in most of the north European countries (I blend into many south-european countries), who has traveled extensively all over the world and lived in four countries out of which I lived in Germany for a total of over 17 years; I have got used to being blatantly stared at, had people I’d just met ask me direct questions about “my origin/my roots”, been asked very personal questions about my marital status or my life in general by people I hardly knew from many of these north-european countries. However one north-european country was different and this was Sweden. As many of you know, I worked for a Swedish company for 10 years, out of which I lived and worked in Stockholm for two years. As I often say, these years were by far the best years in my life, for reasons that are the topic for another post . One of them though is that Stockholm was the only city where I felt accepted for who I am, where the colour of my skin did not matter, where no one asked me “about my origin”, where people did not put me into any kind of box but wanted to get to know the person that I am and where people liked me for who I was. Interestingly this doesn’t even happen to me in the country of my birth!! So reading about hundreds of masked men marching through the city that I so love and call my home, attacking children that “looked foreign” hurt me to the core.
So I was very proud when I read in the news today about how many Swedish women reacted to this incident (see here). Incidents like the one on New Years Eve in Cologne has led to many groups clamouring for stricter laws to protect “their women” from being molested by “immigrant men”. As I said in one of my posts on Facebook: every time I hear or read about a terrorist attack or about violence against women, it saddens me. I strongly believe in freedom of religion and equal rights for all – irrespective of sex, ethnicity, religion or class. I believe that terrorism or abuse of any kind should not be tolerated and that the terrorists/abusers/those breaking the law should be brought to justice. What upsets and saddens me is that such instances are used to vilify people belonging to certain nationalities/ethnicities or religious groups. I think we all need to stand up against abuse of any kind-physical, verbal or emotional.
The campaign #inteerkvinna (#notyourwoman) gives me hope that women don’t just stand by and let themselves be “used” by those seeking to justify violence in their name. I am proud that the women in Sweden are not just bystanders and that they do their part to fight against racial discrimination.
Stockholm – my heart and mind is with you now more than ever!