Though a Swedish-Iraqi man's suicide bombing in Stockholm earlier this month failed to kill or seriously hurt anyone but himself, the incident drew international attention due to Sweden's well-earned reputation as a peaceful and tolerant society; Sweden was, so many said, the last place one might expect a terrorist attack. It doesn't have the immigrant-related tension of Germany, for example. But British journalist Andrew Brown, the author of a book about daily life in Sweden, writes in Foreign Policy that "Sweden's problem isn't immigrants, it's the Internet."
Brown says that the Internet makes it easy for immigrants to avoid the difficult work of integrating into the strange and alien Swedish culture. He doesn't blame them for this; as a young British migrant in pre-Internet Sweden, he "had no real choice then but to check Swedish books out of the library and speak Swedish with my neighbors and colleagues. Integration was painful and took a very long time." So he wasn't surprised to return more recently and find Middle Eastern immigrants "huddled around Internet terminals displaying Arabic and even English pages." By the ease of accessing more familiar culture online, the immigrants placed themselves in a mindset "not geographically anchored."
Neither, of course, was the small-town society around them. This, too, is increasingly constructed by people who see the world through screens and monitors. Closely knit small-town life was once the soil in which Sweden's concept of integration was rooted. With that life permanently altered by technology, that ideal is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to grasp. Not only are the immigrants reluctant to settle where they are; increasingly, there is no there there for them to integrate into. As national particularities and national cultures dissolve, it seems that we all -- immigrant and native, religious and secular -- are in this together. Wherever this is.
While it's difficult to draw a straight line between failing to integrate and deciding to become a suicide bomber, the web-facilitated alienation that Brown describes, so the idea goes, may have played a role in the Swedish-Iraqi man's willingness to strap a bomb to his stomach.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.