Is Stockholm burning?

Stockholm riotsIt’s world news that Stockholm has been troubled by five nights of unrest.

It’s also mostly taken place, if you’ll excuse the phrase, within a stone’s throw of where we live. As I began to write this post I could see from my study window, in the near distance the smoke from another burning car. It’s not happening somewhere else, it’s happening here.

Last night I joined a group of parents and residents who spent their night hanging out around the local nurseries and schools, doing their bit to ensure that all was calm. It was.

This is where we live, it’s now our home and we don’t see ourselves as temporary but permanent residents here. We care, it matters, so I went. All this to say, that what is happening isn’t simply just news reports to us.

CIMG3220In fact the picture on the left is of a burnt out classroom in an infant school just a few hundred metres from where we live. Our kids are on the waiting list to go to that school and we regularly play in the playground there. The arson attacked happened two nights ago while we slept peacefully and blissfully unaware.

But as the world takes pictures of burning cars it’s easy to wonder what on earth is happening here in Stockholm? Yet it’s important to get the picture right.

Is Stockholm burning and it’s society on edge? If you read this report you might think the answer is yes. The headline throws the spotlight on Swedish inequality, which actually isn’t very unequal. Read this report on the other hand (and one which I think is nearer the mark) and you’ll conclude the answer is, instead, no.

So here are a few thoughts on what has been happening the last week:

  • Riots is perhaps too strong a word. There haven’t been running battles with the police, no real fighting and no looting. If when you think of riots you think of what happened in London in 2011 then this is not the same. No deaths, no looting, a few hundred not a few thousand people, no stories of ordinary people getting caught up in extraordinary mob violence. It’s mostly a bit of stone throwing and burning of cars. Now it feels more like ongoing vandalism and it’s calming down.
  • A picture of a burning car in a news report can make you think it’s happening everywhere and the whole neighbourhood is in flames. It’s both true and a distortion at the same time.
  • The word ‘deprived’ is similarly misleading. In terms of signs of urban decay the area where we lived in middle-England had more signs of deprivation than these large communities. What that tells me is that social exclusion has a variety of different forms and in Sweden the sense of alienation is not accompanied by decay and neglect in the urban environment.
  • We live close to the main troubled areas and regularly visit those areas but we don’t feel unsafe. We’ve (so far) never been threatened, robbed, hassled or in any other way felt like these areas were no-go areas for us.
  • All the main areas are predominantly immigrant communities but that includes immigrants like us. There clearly are some underlying issues at work, some of which will be the fault of the host society and some the fault of the immigrant. That’s not news, nor is it startling social analysis but it is most likely the case. Are most immigrants well provided for? Mostly, yes. The Swedish welfare system is still generous. Are there jobs around for the young and unskilled? No, there aren’t. Are there some injustices, of course – it would be surprising if there weren’t. Is life easy for the people of these communities? No.

Our response is to pray, is to join in the community efforts and I think to represent our area well, to stand up for it – to correct misrepresentations when they happen and to be committed to its welfare – physically as well as spiritually. All prayers appreciated as we seek to do just that!

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