Sweden is probably considered one of the most tolerant and egalitarian countries in the world. I married a Swede, so are we a success story in assimilation with our two mixed raced children who can speak, English, Swedish and are now learning Bengali? I am not entirely sure because after 20 odd years the fundamental differences between us, due to our Western and Eastern sensibilities, have never been more acute. I continuously must fight for the children to retain their Bengali-ness, but my husband sees his children as Swedish. They are not though, and never will be.
Perfect Sweden (pen and ink on paper, A5, 2009)
Divisions exist within families and societies and with division comes conflict and violence.
This random knife attack in Sweden in Trollhattan near Gothenburg involved fatally stabbing a boy and a teacher and wounding two others; but it is not the first display of violence in the country. As the debate rages over immigration and asylum in Sweden, the far right utilise such incidents to consolidate arguments that it's time to close the door.
Before the identity of the perpetrator of these killings was revealed I'd already formed assumptions about his/her identity, but when I saw the picture of the wholesome Swedish twenty-one-year-old, who looked more like a boy than a man, I was shocked. Then on reflection after the 2011 Norway Breivik attack, does it really come as a surprise? We cannot speculate what the motives were, but the changes in the demographics of a country like Sweden might have something to do with it.
The problem with mass immigration is that the current influx is overwhelming and it's simply not possible to place such large numbers in decent accommodation or expect them to assimilate, learn the language over night and become best friends with the citizens of their host country. Some may never speak anything other than their native tongue, which I observed in ghettoised areas of east London, with first generation Bangladeshi immigrants failing to learn basic English. And if immigrants are shoved together in ghettos and not integrated with the rest of society, how can they be expected to get out of the pit that is dug for them? And that's what these ghettoised communities can become. It's a case of them and us, resentment seethes, and people feel stuck as a dichotomy of haves and have not's arises. You would think that in Sweden such disparity wouldn't happen, but it does. The same divisions have emerged in the UK, Germany and other European cities that are facing an influx of immigrants that is unprecedented.
What is the solution? I don't think closing the doors - that would be too facile and inhumane if people are fleeing a very real and terrifying threat that is ISIS, for example, where children don't even get spared a beheading. I don't profess to have any answers, but if you are going to let people into your country then certainly more planning and thought is needed because without it surely chaos will ensue. The building of suitable housing with green spaces, the desire to create genuine cross-cultural communities, generating opportunities for the young and the skilled to work and make a contribution - all this would help. And importantly not making your own citizens feel displaced and usurped - the objective is the creation of harmonious and peaceful coexistence. But we know this.
Where is the money? Where is the space? Where is the will?
Is my vision just utopian nonsense - maybe? Many of these people are fleeing the prison their countries have become, don't chuck them into another prison and call it a home with just scraps to sustain them because then you are asking for trouble.
Of course there are many immigrants who have carved successful lives in Sweden, made it their home, learnt the language, but there are just as many who have not, most probably, and feel excluded. We have seen that sense of disillusionment in the Paris suburbs and also the UK where pockets of Islamic extremism are flourishing as a direct result.
Do we really think this crisis in immigration is going to go away? As long as extremist groups wage war in distant lands people will flee and seek refuge - and not just the skilled and educated; the poor and unwanted will try to survive, too.
It is going to take a great deal of imagination and vision to create a society in which people: Swedish and non-Swedish can flourish. It is naïve to expect full blown assimilation, but don't ghettoise a people who are already desperate. Give them decent housing, education, respect their culture and ways, listen to them, have a dialogue, use art and words to form bridges, allow people to fulfil their dreams and then something amazing could happen.
There is no pure race, we are all part of the same colourful mix and if we see the world as one without borders, where people bleed and spill into other continents - rather than spit them out - just open the door, make a cup of tea and have a conversation; it's a risk worth taking.
There will always be incidents of violence in the world, we cannot eradicate those, but when patterns emerge and these bloody acts become more frequent questions need to be asked - why is this happening and what can we do to make the madness stop?
A Piece of Swedish Heaven, (digital photo 2009)
Whenever I have visited Sweden it is a truly idyllic place, with forests in which wild strawberries grow and blueberries can be picked in copious handfuls, where the lakes are clear and act as mirrors to the wide open skies, and people reside in the summer houses in their perfect Swedish bubble insulated from the horrors taking place outside. To be candid, for this very reason and often blatant myopia, I seldom visit because bad stuff is happening and it's happening on your doorstep - open your eyes, discuss it and talk to those who are allegedly part of the problem on both sides - those that are anti-immigration and the immigrants themselves.
Sweden will probably emulate Norway's example and adopt a calm and considered approach to the whole sorry affair, but they have to accept the idyllic Swedish bubble burst long ago and it's time to examine the rot and stench that reeks at the core of their very society.