In Sweden, No One Wants to Talk about Muslim Persecution of Christians
The horrific attacks in Paris should force us to ask hard questions about elements within Islam in Europe, questions mainstream leaders have tried hard to avoid. All too often such questions have been labeled Islamophobic or racist. The threat from radical Muslims has often even been relativized by organizations specializing in intercultural dialogue. In my own country of Sweden, the transition to a more pluralistic and religiously diverse society has led to increasing tension over religion. The majority of victims of anti-religious crimes in Sweden are Muslims and mosques, which have rightly received media coverage and support from politicians. But there has been little corresponding engagement concerning Christian victims.
According to recent numbers from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, hate crimes with Christophobic motives have increased sharply in Sweden. In fact, hate crimes against Christians and churches have tripled in the past five years, making it the sharpest rise of hate crimes in Sweden. Compared to 2013, the number of reported crimes has increased 76 percent. But only recently have crimes against Christians started to receive media attention. Around 330 hate crimes against Christians were reported in Sweden last year (2014). Forty-nine percent were graffiti/vandalism of churches and parish houses and 35 percent were threats/harassment.
When bakery owner Markus Samuelsson arrived at his café Le Pain Français outside the city of Gothenburg, on the west coast of Sweden, early Tuesday morning some weeks ago, he found the front of his business covered with the message, “The caliphate is here,” and “Convert or die.” The Arabic letter “N” (nun), used by ISIS to mark houses and shops belonging to Christians, had also been painted on the front of his café.
The pizza restaurant next to the café was also covered with similar threats — for the second time in a week. Samuelsson, himself of Assyrian decent, told Swedish media that he, his family, and employees felt extremely threatened.
These threats should not be taken lightly. Sweden is among the European countries with the most jihadists in Syria per capita. According to research done by the Swedish Security Service, 125 Swedes have joined terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. And Gothenburg, the nation’s second largest city, is one of ISIS’s biggest recruitment bases in Sweden.
“Imagine yourself having fled from persecution in one country and then live next door to an IS-sympathizer here in Sweden,” says Josef Garis, chairman of the Assyrian association in Gothenburg.
Yet government support for persecuted Christians in Sweden has been rather weak compared to other religiously motivated attacks.
According to a recent report from the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities, there have also been attacks on Muslim converts to Christianity from their Muslim former brothers.
This summer a group of Christians from Syria and Iraq fled an asylum accommodation in the southern part of Sweden after receiving several threats from radical Muslims. The group was told to stop wearing Christian symbols and crosses and not to use the communal areas of the building while the Muslim group was there. Mikael Lönngren, acting director of the regional Migration Board, promised to take necessary steps to protect these Christians and launched a preventive program in their asylum accommodations.
But evidence shows that the preventive program missed the mark. After a court hearing at Kalmar District Court on October 12, a 26-year-old who claims to have fought together with jihadist groups in Syria and was convicted of threatening a Christian refugee at the local asylum accommodation was released from custody. The jihadist was released despite several witnesses hearing him threatening to “slaughter” and to “cut the throat” of the Christian refugee.
The prosecutor insisted on 35,000 kronor in damages (around $4,000) and imprisonment. The self-proclaimed jihadist was later sentenced only to probation for unlawful threats and fined 8,000 kronor (around $900) in damages.
This was hardly reassuring for the Christian victim.
Meanwhile, the Lutheran parish of the Stockholm Cathedral, a bastion for liberal and postmodern teaching, recently invited a Muslim scholar to lecture on the Quran for the parish’s course on Christian faith. The reasoning behind the event was to deal with prejudices about Muslims and the “fear of Islam.” One would hope for corresponding initiatives to counter prejudice against Christians in Swedish mosques. The Swedish Evangelical Alliance would gladly conduct a Bible study.
Jacob Rudolfsson is the deputy general secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. The Swedish Evangelical Alliance (SEA) represents about 100,000 evangelical Christians from different denominations and churches in Sweden. We are a constructive voice in public and theological debate. Together with 127 other national evangelical alliances, the SEA constitutes the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), which in turn represents 600 million evangelical Christians around the world. WEA holds consultive status at the United Nations.