Sweden’s Anti-Immigrant Backlash Turns against Religious Education

March 19 2018

The Swedish government is currently considering a law that would require the country’s 71 private religious schools either to close their doors or to undergo dramatic secularization—even though religious instruction in such schools is already subject to tight legal restrictions. Seeing the proposed law as a response to growing fears over the impact of Muslim immigration, Annika Hernroth-Rothstein argues that it functions as a way to avoid more difficult conversations:

The proposed new law is superfluous. Plenty of legislation to protect Swedish children from religious indoctrination already exists. . . . [Even under existing law], there is in fact no religious education in Swedish schools—it is legal only outside the state-mandated curriculum—and so there is no religious education to outlaw. What the state would now outlaw, however, should the proposed legislation pass, is the opportunity for Christian, Muslim, and Jewish children to feel part of a group they can identify with, to learn about their religious and cultural heritage, and to partake of a value system that isn’t built on a belief in the almighty state, blessed be its name.

The proposed legislation is based on fear, ignorance, and an astounding lack of national identity. As we all know, it is much easier to outlaw liberty—this has always been Sweden’s default choice—than to struggle with the questions it raises and the perils it poses. The real reason that the [reigning] Social Democrats are proposing their new law and that most other major political parties are supporting it is that they dare not speak the name of what they really fear. . . . The reaction against religious schools stems from a general unease not about having Swedish culture taken [away], or even about abandoning it or giving it away, but rather about not knowing what it was to begin with. . . .

Along with most of postwar Europe, Sweden deems patriotism, national identity, and religion obsolete, scoffing at all three and embracing a new ideology based on a secular striving for liberal consensus. [But] it has become painfully clear to us over the past few years that those values and ideas are still vital, no matter how emphatically we may deny and denounce them.

If there were such a thing as Swedish values and if they were clearly defined for any immigrant, regardless of religion, we could have a society of Swedish Jews, Swedish Muslims, and Swedish Christians living side by side, as strangers and neighbors, in true liberal fashion. If we dared have a social contract whereby we agreed to obey Swedish law without exception, we could release ourselves from the weight of the state and enjoy the freedom that Sweden is famous for but never really was able to deliver.

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More about: Europe, Freedom of Religion, Immigration, Politics & Current Affairs, Sweden

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey