Alexander and Leah Namdar have lived in the Swedish city of Gothenburg for 26 years, serving as emissaries of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Since there are no Jewish schools in Gothenburg, the Namdars have been homeschooling the youngest of their children. As a result, they have been involved in a six-year legal battle with the government in their efforts to be exempted from a 2010 law forbidding homeschooling, which states explicitly that exceptions will not be granted “on account of the religious or philosophical convictions of [a] family.” Sohrab Ahmari comments:
The public schools were religiously inadequate [for the Namdars] and, more importantly, physically unsafe for Jews, [given the pervasiveness of anti-Semitic attacks and harassment]. Private schools were no better. All schools, including “private” and religious schools, are government-funded in Sweden, and therefore required to accept all comers. For the Namdars, then, homeschooling was the only way to ensure their school-age children’s security and the Jewish character of their education. . . .
Throughout the [ensuing] litigation, the education board has never contested the quality of the Namdar children’s education. . . . Nor have municipal authorities been able to allay the family’s security concerns, which the Namdars argue fall under the special-circumstances exception to the anti-homeschooling rule. The city insists, however, that concerns about physical security and anti-Semitic violence don’t trigger the exception. . . . Officials have responded callously to [Rabbi Namdar’s] pleas, with one telling him last year: “Why don’t you leave the country?” . . .
The official zeal for rooting out religious homeschooling isn’t all that surprising when viewed against the backdrop of the country’s failure to integrate newcomers from Muslim lands. Swedes have good reason to worry about Islamist madrassas and other informal settings in which young Muslims are taught to hate the liberal society that has welcomed them. The city is going all out against the Namdars, I suspect, because it wants to make a show of applying the law uniformly and ruthlessly—as if to say: “See, we don’t permit the Jews to homeschool, either!”
But there is more to it than that. Nordic countries maintain narrow “opinion corridors” for acceptable ideas in the public square, and serious believers frequently find themselves locked out. Swedish authorities “don’t respect religion,” the rabbi told me. “They don’t understand that religion is part of your life. They see religion as a sort of hobby. And you either have a hobby, or you don’t.” Biblical religion is at best an amusing curiosity in this view and at worst a grave threat to secular order.