Sweden has the reputation of being a placid, comfortable place, where the contradictions of capitalism have been softened into irrelevance. That reputation is now very much out date. For the last four nights, mobs of young men have run riot through the suburbs of Stockholm. No deaths have been reported, but windows have been smashed, cars burnt, and police attacked with stones and other weapons.
The riots were set off by the police shooting an old man who threatened them with a machete. In light of yesterday’s atrocity in London, that decision looks eminently reasonable. But allegations of police brutality are really just a pretext. The rioters, most of whom seem to be Somali immigrants or their children, are angry at what they see as economic and social marginalization.
This attitude is particuarly disturbing because Sweden has invested more energy and money to integrating immigrants than any other European country. It’s also reliably prosperous: there’s no mass unemployment, as in France or Spain. What’s happening around Stockholm, then, can’t be explained away as a reaction to official neglect or poverty. Rather, it’s a predictable consequence of mass immigration from the Third World into a small, ethnically and culturally homogeneous society.
Immigration critics on this site and elsewhere worry that the United States is failing to assimilate the millions who have come here, legally and illegally, since the 1960s. I think those fears are mostly exaggerated. Although fashionable multiculturalism can inhibit assimilation, American life has proven to be an reliable solvent of foreign identities. As Christopher Caldwell has argued, however, the classic nation-states of Europe lack the cultural resources to absorb an influx of population from some of the poorest and most backward societies in the world. I’m glad I don’t live in Stockholm tonight.