By Alex Newman
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Three nights of violent rioting by immigrant youth in the suburbs here have seen dozens of cars burned, multiple police officers injured, numerous windows shattered, schools set ablaze and more.
The riots began on Sunday in Husby, just outside of the capital, where about 80 percent of the population is either first or second generation immigrants. Most of them come from largely Muslim countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Somalia.
Chaos quickly spread on Monday and Tuesday, with authorities reporting that at least six areas of Stockholm were affected by rioting and violence. A police station was also attacked.
Roving youth gangs threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at first responders trying to rein in the disorder and clean up the mess.
By early Wednesday, even more vehicles and buildings were burned out as first responders worked to put out the flames.
It was the worst turmoil experienced by Sweden in years, with hundreds of youth participating in the riots. Police say at least 15 have been arrested so far.
Calls for peace
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called for an immediate end to the violence while admitting that it may go on for some time.
"We have groups of young men who think that that they can and should change society with violence," Reinfeldt said, urging parents and adults to help restore order.
"Let's be clear: This is not okay," he added. "We cannot be ruled by violence."
The prime minister, who belongs to what Swedes consider to be the "center-right" Moderate Party, said Husby residents "must get their neighborhood back."
Despite the calls for calm, however, violence continued into the night.
As the riots raged, the sudden outbreak of violence and chaos in normally peaceful Sweden – reportedly sparked by police shooting an elderly man wielding a large knife on May 13 – led to an intense debate about the underlying causes.
Not enough welfare?
Unsurprisingly, advocates of bigger government claimed not enough public money was being spent on various social causes – schools, jobs, training, social services, welfare and more.
More than a few commentators and far-left politicians tried to link the violence to slight reductions in the size and scope of Sweden's welfare state – one of the world's most expansive.
Some rioters quoted in media reports made similar claims, while others alleged that the violence was a response to "police brutality" or "structural racism."
"We see a society that is becoming increasingly divided and where the gaps, both socially and economically, are becoming larger," said co-founder Rami Al-Khamisi with the group Megafonen, which purports to represent suburbs and minorities.
"And the people out here are being hit the hardest,” he added. “We have institutional racism."
Backlash against immigrants
Others in Sweden lashed out at immigrants and massive immigration in general, saying the riots illustrated the "failure of multiculturalism" and the problems with allowing too many foreigners in without a real plan.
As the debate over immigration raged, the Sweden Democrats party, which seeks to implement broad restrictions on further immigration, has now become the third largest political party based on recent polls.
About 15 percent of the people in Sweden were born in other countries, and the numbers are growing.
In certain areas of the country, which have become virtual "no-go" zones for native Swedes, almost the entire population is either foreign or born to immigrant parents.
While the Sweden Democrats were largely ostracized and demonized by state-funded media even in recent years, last election saw the controversial party's first entrance to Parliament.
With general elections set for next year, analysts and pollsters expect the Sweden Democrats to see major gains – especially in the current economic and social climate.
Much of the native Swedish population is proud of the openness and tolerance in accepting foreigners, but as immigration continues unabated, significant segments of society are having second thoughts.
Many immigrants also adapt to Sweden and its culture, but large areas in major cities dominated by foreigners have become known as "ghettos" where the people refuse to assimilate.
It was not always that way, however.
In a 1965 speech to parliament following violent race riots in America, then-Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander celebrated Sweden's uniformity.
"We Swedes live in a so infinitely happier situation," he reportedly told lawmakers in remarks that have once again entered the immigration debate. "The population in our country is homogeneous, not just according to race but also in many other aspects."
Integration of Immigrants
Experts on the integration of immigrants into Swedish society, meanwhile, pointed to the welfare state itself as one of the problems contributing to the chaos.
Nima Sanandaji, a Swedish author of Kurdish-Iranian origin who has published two books on the subject, told WND that the government has played a role in fomenting the problem – but not in the way members of the Left Party and other supporters of a large welfare state claim.
"A common explanation given in Sweden is that the riots are due to social exclusion, and that the correct measure is to aim more public funding to the parts of Sweden where riots are occurring," he explained.
"But in fact, Sweden has a massive welfare system, aimed at the same segments at society – and it is even partially to blame since so much welfare dependency has been created," Sanandaji said.
There is, of course, a strong link between poverty and the riots, he continued.
"But one has to understand the concept of poverty in modern societies, where every citizen is granted publicly funded health care, schooling, higher education as well as various financial supports. Why does poverty remain in such a society?
"The answer, formulated well by Nobel laureate Robert Fogel, is that much of modern poverty is spiritual, or social if you will," Sanandaji continued.
"If you grow up in an environment where most adults are supported by welfare rather than work, in a system where high taxes and rigid labor regulations hinder entrance in the labor market and where much of the reward for success through hard work is taxed away, you are likely to have weak working norms," he added.
Sanandaji said that people who grow up in immigrant-dominated neighborhoods where the riots normally occur tend to go to public schools "that fail them."
They also live in environments where young people can earn more respect by ditching school or joining a gang than doing well on math tests, he added.
"Politics is definitely to blame," the integration expert told WND.
Still, Sanandaji noted that it is "far from impossible" to succeed in Sweden, regardless of one's background.
He recently wrote a book about Iranian immigrants in Sweden, who constitute close to one percent of the population. Arriving mainly during the 1980s, they were, for the most part at least, highly motivated and very well educated.
"But most were trapped in welfare dependency," Sanandaji said, citing a study showing that as late as 1999 fully one third of adult Iranian immigrants lived solely on welfare while another third had some income but was primarily supported by public handouts.
"Only the remaining one third mainly supported themselves, often with jobs far below their level of education," he continued.
Despite cultural norms that encourage careers in medicine or engineering, most young Iranians in Sweden today grew up in families supported by welfare.
In his 2012 book "From Poverty to Success," Sanandaji showed that 45 percent of Swedes started higher education by the age of 25, compared to 37 percent of immigrants generally and just 16 percent of Somalis.
Among Iranians, however, the number is closer to 60 percent, he said.
"So what does this teach us? The rigid Swedish system did not allow the first generation of Iranians, the same group that has achieved much success in countries such as Canada and the UK, to realize their potential," Sanandaji said.
"But the strong norms that survived welfare dependency make it possible for the young generation to succeed – often by physically moving away from the neighborhoods where the cars are burned.
"It is possible to succeed in the Swedish welfare state," he concluded. "But the process might take a generation, since entering the system through business ownership and work is made difficult by the high taxes, the rigid labor regulations and the generous public handouts."
While Sanandaji sees very big government as a major obstacle for immigrants, Swedes – even on the "right" – generally support the welfare state.
The rest of Europe
The riots in Stockholm this week follow much larger and more devastating unrest in recent years seen in major European cities like London and Paris. In London, a horrific case developed Wednesday where two knife-wielding attackers allegedly beheaded a soldier.
Both areas saw raging violence as immigrant youth, primarily Muslim, marauded through the streets wreaking havoc.
Countries like Greece and Spain, meanwhile, have also witnessed dramatic riots in recent years.
However, in those nations the turmoil was primarily fueled by the economic crisis, from which Sweden has largely been spared so far.
Analysts say similar economic and demographic conditions in the United States could eventually lead to problems as well, and America has already seen more than a few major, deadly riots.