Saturday, October 24, 2009

Set the Debate Free

Jimmie Åkesson’s recent op-ed in Aftonbladet has provoked unprecedented outrage in polite Swedish society.

Denmark, in contrast to its neighbor across the water, has a tradition of robust and contentious open debate. An editorial in today’s Jyllands-Posten extends a little advice to Sweden about free speech. Many thanks to our Danish correspondent TB for the translation:

Set Sweden free

Sweden is up in arms after Jimmie Åkesson, the leader of the immigration-critical party the Sweden Democrats, was allowed to publish an op-ed in Aftonbladet, in which he castigated the multicultural society and identified immigration from the Islamic world as the biggest threat against the country.

Before publication, editor of the paper sought advice and counseling from an army of lawyers, and he made it clear that although he gives room for the leader of the Sweden Democrats to express himself in the paper, he will not allow the party to gain access in connection with the election next year.

The op-ed itself has triggered the initiation of a police investigation for “agitation against a minority group”, and person responsible for the police investigation states that the article is so openly racist that she really does not need to explain herself.

Several things come to mind when observing our neighbor country from the other side of Øresund.
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First, the established Swedish media who, thanks to a stunted view of the role of the press in a democracy and the Swedish way of consensus thinking, have taken upon themselves the role of a censoring institution. The media know best what Mr. and Mrs. Svensson can withstand hearing. But pluralism implies that that a multitude of opinions can meet in the marketplace of ideas and not — as seems to be the case in large sections of the Swedish press — that the media decide which opinions are house-trained and which are not. Grownups are quite capable of doing that for themselves.

Following the debate in Sweden in recent days, one could get the impression that the media sees it as their task to educate the people. They want to teach the population to limit themselves. But that collides with the core of freedom of speech, because confidence in the free word implies that no opinions will be denied access to the debate as long as they do not incite violence. Can we, with no other comparison whatsoever in this connection, remind the reader that an important cause of Hitler’s advance in popularity in the 1920s was that the authorities denied him the opportunity to speak in public?

Secondly, it is clear that the press and the old parties have difficulties treating the Sweden Democrats in the same manner as other legal parties. The critical, fair, and non-prejudiced journalistic approach. This is a challenge the Danish press have been facing concerning the Danish People’s Party and solved with mixed success. In Denmark the old parties, and especially the social democrats in the 1980s, conflated the voters’ concerns about immigration and critical questions about the immigration laws with racism, and that boosted the Danish People’s Party.

Thirdly, the debate about Islam in Sweden this week raises a central question: What is the connection between debate and the tone in the debate about immigration on the one side and the quality of integration on the other side? Does it benefit integration if critical opinions are kept out of the debate, and what are the consequences if these opinions are censored when they reflect the broad opinion of the population? Nothing indicates that integration succeeds better in Sweden than in Denmark. On the contrary, Denmark must be permitted as a Nordic little brother to approach with advice: set the debate free.


xlbrl said...

Of course immigration is not the greatest threat to Sweden, the ideology that brings hostile immigrants to Sweeden is.