Natur och Kultur, 2012.
Reviewed by Željka Černok in SBR 2012:2
Niklas Orrenius is a well-known journalist at the daily newspaper Sydsvenskan, and someone who has written a lot about political extremism. Recently, he has followed the rise of a Swedish right-wing party, the Sverigedemokraterna, and investigated the source of its popularity.
This book is a compilation of his newspaper articles that all deal with intolerance and racism around the world. Orrenius is a smart journalist with a keen eye for paradoxes in legal systems and widely held beliefs. He lets people talk freely while he interviews them and, rather than ending an article with his own conclusions, he lets the readers think for themselves. The titles he uses are often direct, and very telling, quotes from the people he interviewed: ‘They are ruining the whole country with such behaviour’, ‘You can see clearly that he is a Jew’ and ‘You cannot move to Bjuv and automatically think you are one of us’.
Although his main focus is on the southern Swedish region of Skåne – e.g. on anti-Semitism in the city streets of Malmö and racism in small villages – the book also contains insightful reports about the Guantanamo prison camp and the growing desperation of the inmates, as President Obama keeps failing to sort out the situation there. In another report, he writes about US/Mexican border and the Mexicans who struggle to join their families on the other side, the old army guys who patrol the border to hunt down the ‘illegals’ and the local US citizens who at strategic points leave water for the immigrants.
A report from Kenya again shows a skilful journalist at work – he was aware that focusing on an expected story of starving children would get an instant result and more donations for the Red Cross, but he also chose to portray a group of young girls playing volleyball in a camp, a glimpse of normality that a Westerner can more easily relate to: girls who have problems with their conservative and religious parents and with the boys who come to leer and steal their ball.
The stories that made the greatest impact in Sweden are naturally the ones dealing with the local problems – dying small town industries, people accusing immigrants of reaping social benefits, dissatisfaction and growing hate, even cases of people throwing stones at women in burkas. Children of immigrants are often severely bullied and Orrenius clearly shows the danger of this being signed off as mere childhood pranks. The book also features a heart-breaking story of a young Iraqi girl whom he followed for several years and whose family had to take drastic measures to ensure that their children got a residence permit in Sweden.
To anyone without an insight into the recent developments in Swedish politics and society this book will be an eye-opener. There is still the general feeling that Sweden is a country that takes extra care of integration and, as a famously open and tolerant society, surely does everything to embrace ‘the new Swedes’. Orrenius gives us both sides of this story: he lists the efforts of the government, talks to individuals who are horrified about their racist neighbours and the general and growing anti-immigration trend, but the final picture the reader is left with is quite bleak and could be summarised with the title of one of his articles that describes a small town: ‘Cheap housing and quite nice (if you are not Muslim)’.