Discrimination against Muslims ‘too common’ in Sweden

Swedish Muslims have slammed the government for failing to combat discrimination, submitting a report to the UN with a list of proposed measures, such as setting up an inquiry into the abuse of Somali migrants in the tiny town of Forserum.

“Forserum really showed what proportions Islamophobia as well as Afrophobia can take when an entire town looks on as people have their human rights violated,” Kitimbwa Sabuni told The Local on Friday.

Sabuni edited the report submitted to the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by the Network of Swedish Muslims (Nätverket Svenska Muslimer i Samarbete), a cooperation of several different associations, in which representatives said Sweden was failing to tackle discrimination against Muslims.

The report estimated there are 350,000 Muslim Swedes, making it one of Sweden’s biggest minorities.

It asked the government to order an inquiry into how local authorities failed to help Somali migrants, some of whom were too afraid to let their children go to school after suffering verbal and physical abuse. “Not everyone partook in the abuse, but many silently witnessed it and the authorities were passive,” Sabuni said.

The report also urged research into prejudices that ethnic Swedes who convert to Islam face, in many cases from their own families. “We’re talking not only about excommunication, but also threats and violence that many converts tell us about,” Sabuni said.

One father, based in the US, reported his daughter to the FBI, which led to her being questioned by the Swedish intelligence service Säpo.

In another case cited in the report, a Swedish woman who became pregnant with her partner of Middle Eastern origin was beaten by her family. “They told her they would ‘rip the Arab out of her belly’ among other threats,” Sabuni said. “These are examples of honour crimes in ethnic Swedish families, even though the term ‘honour crime’ is usually reserved to people of non-Swedish origin.”

The list also asked that the government probe the effects of Sweden anti-terror law, including the extended surveillance rights of the security agencies. It noted that out of 26 known arrests using the 2003 law change, all cases targeted Muslims. Only two people were subsequently charged.

“As it is only Muslims who are detained on these flimsy grounds, the question of whether the terror law is a ‘race law’ must be asked,” read the report, which also proposed a “Truth Commission” that would have the power to look into specific cases.

It also mentioned housing segregation as a problem that could in part be solved by allowing Islamic banking, which forbids interest rates, which could unlock flat and house ownership for many Swedish Muslims.

The report also addressed how Muslims were represented by the Swedish media, urging that greater attention be paid to how Swedish news channels report on matters pertaining to the minority community. As an example, Sabuni referred to Sverges Television (SVT) debate programme Debatt on Thursday night featuring the topic “Repression of women among Muslims”.

“What kind of headline is that? And it’s on public service television,” he said. “As though women’s lack of access to education and not being able to support themselves wasn’t a problem in Sweden and other western European countries only 50 years ago, and that economic and social development weren’t the keys, rather than religion, to their emancipation.”

A further recommendation in the report was to foster a more diverse recruitment base for journalists working for the public broadcasting. It suggested that “Sveriges Television (SVT) remove the discriminatory ban on newscasters wearing headscarves.”

Additionally, the report asked that the government gives funds to Muslim congregations to secure their safe operations. It also cited statistics that showed that per capita, Muslims receive less funding through community association funding than other groups.

The report concluded that Islamophobia had “been allowed to creep into the political mainstream,” a comment that irked Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag.

“I think that’s incorrect,” he told Sveriges Radio (SR). “The big difference between the Swedish government and say Denmark or the Netherlands is that we are crystal clear when it comes to distancing ourselves from racism and xenophobia.”

The Local, 8 March 2013