Belfast Telegraph

What we can all learn from the harmonious Swedes

On Monday, Sweden was awash with candles. How do I know? I know, because December 13 is Sankta Lucia, the feast day of St Lucy, when pretty blonde girls dance around in long, white nighties and crowns of candles.

On Monday night, my mother, who is 76, and has a computer much snazzier than mine, called to say I must watch the Sankta Lucia service on Swedish TV, and dictated the link.

What struck me, as I gazed at the flickering candles in the beautiful Kingsholm Church, and felt the familiar swell of homesickness for a country I've never even lived in, was that the girls in the white nighties no longer looked like adverts for Hitler Youth.

Some of them, like Anni Dewani, the Swedish-born bride of a Brit who may or may not have paid to have her bumped off, were really quite dark. But they all - blonde, dark, in white nighties, or in winter coats - looked remarkably calm. Remarkably calm considering they were a short walk from where, two days earlier, Sweden saw its first suicide bomb.

By Monday, when the facts were clearer, the papers were full of the handsome young Iraqi who moved to Sweden in 1992 and then went to study in Luton. "It looks," said a friend, and I felt a rush of something like shame, "as if he was radicalised in England".

Well, yes. I'm afraid it does. They give us Wallander, dragon tattoos and shocking, but fictional, deaths in pretty Swedish towns. We give them the real thing.

Give us a nice, polite young Muslim and we can turn him into a mass-murdering nutter. Or would-be mass-murdering nutter, since our wannabe mass-murdering nutters seem, with their non-ignitable shoes, ineptly wired explosives and damp squibs, to be infused with British amateurism.

In the past 20-odd years, Sweden has changed from a largely homogeneous society to one where 11% of the population are immigrants and 5% are Muslim.

As in most immigrant communities, levels of unemployment and crime are higher than for the native population.

According to the Government Offices of Sweden website, which boasts a Benetton-style photo of an adorable black child arm-in-arm with a pale-as-Assange blonde tot, newly-arrived immigrants are offered 'tuition in Swedish' and 'contacts with the labour market', as well as 'schools and childcare services'. The objective, it says, is that 'the newly-arrived learn Swedish as soon as possible and be able to support themselves'. It promises 'social cohesion built on diversity' and 'equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for everyone'.

This is a country which cares passionately about the rights of all its citizens and enshrines those rights in law. It tries to ensure that obstacles to equality - like having a dark skin, or a body that bears babies - aren't.

It takes non-consensual, unprotected sex between a man and a woman extremely seriously, because it takes all differences seriously, and knows that men are physically stronger than women, and that a sexual disease, or an unwanted pregnancy, arising from an sexual coercion, is serious.

The result isn't Utopia, but it is one of the most equal societies in the world. It's a country that will stand up for the right of a cartoonist to depict Mohammed as a dog, and the right of a Muslim not to like it. It's a country, above all, which hates a fuss.

Sweden will hate the fuss over Julian Assange. It will hate the fuss over Taimour Abdulwaha al-Abdaly. It will do not what other countries ask it to - but what it believes to be right.

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