Sunday, February 05, 2006


Pity the poor Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians. They are such good neighbors. They don't want to offend anyone. They always give troops for peace keeping missions. They sat out (for the most part) the age of nationalism in Europe, and made it through the Cold War without selling their souls to either the Consumer Crazy West or the Bureaucratic Socialist East. They had a consumerist model of socialism that seemed to work. Two of them are (and were) members of NATO, but even so they carry very little colonial baggage, and were never perceived as being running dog lackeys. Yes, the Scandanvians are the model of content, middle class good neighborism.

Until they got a new set of neighbors. First, a Danish newspaper did some cartoons in which Muslim topics were depicted in a manner offensive to Muslims. The newspaper was the Jyllands-Posten, which is hardly an international powerhouse of a paper. The cartoons caused an uproar back when they were published in September, but they have somehow come back around to really piss people off. It appears that they were reprinted elsewhere in Scandanavia. The Syrians burned the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Damascus Saturday, and the Danish mission in Beirut was burned today. This has got to be the first time in the modern era that the Danes evacuated people for being "Danish" rather than "Western." This has gotten so bad, the Danish foreign ministry has a FAQ on its web page (and a version in Arabic) addressing these cartoons. Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria have pulled their ambassadors from Denmark and the Iraqis say they are cancelling their contracts with Danish companies.

Meanwhile, the Swedes have avoided having their embassies burned (so far), but they have their own problems. The New York Times Magazine today had an article about the integration of Muslims and other immigrants into Swedish culture. Actually, an article about their integration would have been quite short. This one was about their lack of integration. Much longer article.

It turns out that what we would call "projects" in the United States were built slightly differently in Sweden. First, they are built so that cars are excluded from the middles of the complexes, and pine trees and lakes are common. In other words, they are built by Swedes for Swedes who share a cultural vision of a rustic life being the "good life." This means that the projects are not in central cities, but rather, out on the outskirts. Not a problem if you are an employee at the local Volvo, Saab, or SKF plant, but bad if you move there without a job.

As it turns out, the Swedes for whom these complexes were built moved to houses as soon as they could, leaving the projects basically empty. Thus, when hundreds of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers arrived in Sweden in the 1990s, there were empty projects just waiting for them. Unfortunately these projects made it almost impossible to integrate these people into Swedish society. The projects were designed to be isolated to make you think of the rustic parts of Sweden. Now they serve to isolate the residents. Now there is white flight from these areas, and schools are being abandoned by Swedes to these immigrant communities. The Swedes fear that they are slowly but surely creating the sorts of neighborhoods the French had explode on them in November.

And so, pity the poor Scandanavians, who thought they had made it through the worst of times when the Cold War ended and now find themselves in as hot a pot as the Cold War ever produced.

ADDENDUM: As of Monday, fresh protests were breaking out across the Muslim world. Newspapers in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Poland, the United States, Japan, Norway, Malaysia and Australia have published the cartoons. Malaysia is a majority Muslim country.


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