America’s immigration debate in recent days has been marked by grandstanding, brinkmanship, and not a little absurdity. Its tone has been degraded, owing mainly to You-Know-Who. But at least Americans are getting to have a debate. That is more than can be said for much of Western and Northern Europe, where mainstream parties for decades have suppressed debate about immigration and assimilation. The result has been a massive crisis of social cohesion and physical security–one that remains invisible to those, on both sides of the Atlantic, who treat any dissent from the policy status quo as beyond the pale.
Consider Sweden. Long known for its tolerance and quality of life, the Scandinavian country has lately seen an alarming rise in gang violence, sexual assault, and terrorism–most of it linked to a large and unassimilated Muslim minority. There were more than 320 shootings and at least 110 murders in Sweden in 2017, according to a Times of London report over the weekend. Rapes in 2017 were up 10 percent over the previous year, for a total of 7,226. The Times cited an opinion poll showing that “more than 36 percent of young Swedish women say they feel unsafe at night.”
Then there are the bombings. An explosive device went off Monday night outside a restaurant in Rosengard, a rough neighborhood in Malmo; no one was hurt, though the blast damaged the facade of the building. A week earlier, a powerful explosive device was hurled at a police station in Rosengard, damaging several cars. Those back-to-back incidents followed a string of similar attacks across the city in October through December–a rate of bombings that puts Malmo in the same category as Mogadishu and Quetta. Mercifully, their amateurism means that Sweden’s bombers tend to be less deadly than their counterparts in Somalia and Pakistan.
The atmosphere described by the Times and corroborated by local journalists lends yet more credence to the comparisons to violence-plagued nations in the developing world. Wrote the Times: “In Malmo, where a fifth of the 340,000 inhabitants are under 18, children as young as 14 roam the streets with Kalashnikov assault rifles and bulletproof vests.” The country’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, suggested last week that he might dispatch the armed forces to secure the ghettos. It bears repeating that we are talking about Sweden here, a nation of 10 million people with a per capita income of nearly $52,000.
There is no getting around the connections between Sweden’s crime wave and the country’s immigration-and-assimilation failures. As the Times’ correspondent delicately put it:
The crime surge is mainly confined to so-called “areas of social exclusion,” a code for neighbourhoods such as Rosengard that are predominantly populated by immigrants. They are not classic ghettos—the infrastructure and services are better than in areas of central London—but these communities are plagued by high crime rates and unemployment. . . . The average age of gang members is 22, the vast majority of them hailing from migrant families.
All of which suggests that Sweden is now reaping the rotten fruit of a generational failure to assimilate its newcomers. And yet its government, which likes to tout itself as the world’s “humanitarian superpower,” continues to extend an open-door invitation at a time when voters have run out of patience. Don’t be surprised if that frustration translates into significant ballot-box gains for the hard-right, neo-Nazi-linked Sweden Democrats come September’s parliamentary elections. When the responsible parties fail to deal with reality as it is, voters will turn to irresponsible ones.
Correction: The Rosengard police station was targeted with an improvised explosive device last week. An earlier version of this article misidentified the weapon as a hand grenade.