Back in April of 2005 we posted our first original translation, a two-part interview from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten with the American professor Jonathan Friedman, who at the time was teaching at the University of Lund in Sweden.
The following article describes the trials and tribulations of Prof. Friedman’s wife Kajsa Ekholm Friedman back in 1997. Many thanks to LN for translating this post from the blog Invandring och mörkläggning:
It was just as prejudiced and mean a quarter of a century ago
by Professor Emeritus Karl-Olov Arnstberg
March 1, 2022
At the end of April and the beginning of May 1997, the social anthropologist Kajsa Ekholm Friedman gave a lecture at a gathering organised at a hotel in the centre of Solna, by the organisation Folkviljan och massinvandringen. Those who listened to her were mainly middle-aged ladies and gentlemen, worried about the consequences of immigration. On DN Debate she wrote a week later:
How can one get the idea that multiculturalism in the sense of multi-ethnicity is enriching for a country? In fact, alien ethnicity has always caused serious problems, from antiquity onwards. […] Alien ethnicity is devastating for social solidarity, for the glue that makes a society work. In a multi-ethnic society, there is no “we” at the national level. Instead, people direct their loyalty towards their own ethnic groups, with the resulting lack of loyalty and solidarity towards society at large and towards those who are not part of their own “we” group.
Ekholm Friedman gave the example of Los Angeles. She also pointed out that neither Native Americans, Hawaiians, Maoris, nor Australian Aborigines perceive the multiculturalism of their respective communities as particularly enriching for themselves. Towards the end of her article, she used unfortunate imagery:
Today, the situation is very different. Western Europe is in decline, and, moreover, our former homogeneity is being broken up by the insinuation of outside tentacles. Europe’s colonial past may mean that we should not complain, but on the other hand we need not celebrate our own disintegration.
Two days later, the Social Democrat Juan Fonseca and the economic historian Mauricio Rojas wrote in DN that the article was part of a Swedish conspiracy to build a Swedish equivalent of the French National Front:
If this neo-Nazi rhetoric were merely an outburst from a hateful assistant professor, we could safely put the article to rest, but that is not the case. On the contrary. Something important is happening in our country.
Fonseca and Rojas do not spare the chestnut when they end their article by urging democratic Sweden, the country we love and are part of, to show that Sweden is an open society. The fact that they call Sweden open does not mean open in terms of how the debate should be conducted. Without the slightest hesitation, they conclude that Ekholm Friedman’s opinion piece is neo-Nazi rhetoric. It is also interesting that they describe her prose as hateful, given that the criticism is not directed against immigrants but against an immigration policy that Ekholm Friedman perceives, on a scientific basis, as clueless and ill-informed. They could also have taken her concerns seriously and entered into a debate: Is it really true that immigration and multiculturalism are disruptive to society?
Another debater who fights for “the good”, the Kurdish journalist Kurdo Baksi, reported Ekholm Friedman to the police for incitement to hatred and sedition. He begins his denunciation in DN on 12 May as follows: “On DN Debate, the ever-confused anti-immigrant and assistant professor of social anthropology Kajsa Ekholm Friedman wrote that multiculturalism has always meant serious problems.” He announces that he is “pissed off at Kajsa Ekholm Friedman and all others who claim that my ethnic background is a problem”. He cites societies where multi-ethnicity is said to work — Switzerland, Canada and Iran. He then lists all sorts of “immigrants”, from people to saxophones, and concludes with the rhetorical question, “What would Sweden be without all this?” The artist Dilba and her sister Dilsa follow the same line when they point out what immigrants of various kinds have brought to Sweden. They point out that “it is not immigration that is the problem but the mechanisms that discriminate against immigrants.”
The Red Cross Youth Federation and the association Youth Against Racism are demanding that the Lund University Board impose a professional ban on Ekholm Friedman. The University Board never raised the issue, nor did Kurdo Baksi’s police report lead to any prosecution.
Four leading social anthropologists — Gudrun Dahl, Ulf Hannerz, Karl Eric Knutsson and Kaj Århem — also strongly attack Ekholm Friedman. In DN on 12 May, they begin as follows:
As representatives of the subject of social anthropology, we have followed with dismay the debate surrounding associate professor Kajsa Ekholm Friedman’s participation in a meeting with the organisation Folkviljan och mass immigration and read her post on DN Debatt on 6 May.
Their rejection is absolutely unquestionable. The professors stress that they are enlightened and good humanitarians, that “people fleeing war, persecution and social breakdown are worthy of our support and our human concern.” They write that “we should not support groups and organisations that hand out mental blinders to preserve an aging Swedishness.” Of course, they are also internationalists. Sweden cannot return to being a monocultural and monoethnic society. The only little finger they really give to Friedman’s perspective (if not to her as a researcher) is with this sentence:
But when Sweden hastily shifted from assuming cultural homogeneity to supporting organised cultural diversity, perhaps this policy was not yet based on sufficient insights into the problems of integration processes. A more in-depth discussion is needed here, in which the experiences of recent decades also have their place.
They point out, as scholars always do, that more research is needed, and that this should be about our own times. For their part, however, they hardly give any examples of this, but the only Swedish empirical evidence they cite is an historical exposé that demonstrates the great importance of immigrants: ‘Even Sigtuna, the most Swedish of all places, is an old cultural meeting place where merchants and craftsmen from different cultures met.’
It is clear that if these professors have their way, Ekholm Friedman can consider herself ostracised from the social anthropological community. In other contexts, too, attempts are made to exclude her. In SU-Nytt, Stockholm University’s internal information organ (no. 5/97), one can read that Kristina Svartholm, a lecturer in Nordic languages, no longer wants to remain on the Swedish Institute’s research grants committee if Kajsa Ekholm Friedman is allowed to keep her seat as a member. She strongly questions “the appropriateness of a researcher who has shown such poor judgment and expressed herself in such an unscientific manner holding a position of trust…”
In Svenska Dagbladet on 25 May, the editorial writer Håkan Arvidsson notes that virtually all commentators start with a caricature of Ekholm Friedman’s opinion, which is then dismissed as unscientific:
One can of course, as always, discuss careless formulations, and I can see the controversial nature of Ekholm Friedman’s position, but I can also see that she makes apt and thought-provoking observations. The large-scale immigration of peoples with different ethnic identities and cultural traditions undoubtedly creates social tensions. Otherwise, what is the ongoing debate about integration versus assimilation about? Why do we have a gigantic state immigration system at all? What do all the municipal immigration administrations do, if everything is all problem-free harmony? You don’t have to be very perceptive to see how language and cultural communication problems are increasing in the world of schools, how worrisome discrimination is spreading in the labour market or how parts of most large cities are tending to ghettoise.
Arvidsson also notes that all the debaters and scholars make it clear that they are open to an unbiased discussion, while at the same time making it clear that they do not want to engage in it with Ekholm Friedman or anyone else with similar views. In other words, they can only discuss with those who share the same basic values. Håkan Arvidsson concludes with a real roar:
Swedish public opinion has periodically shown an astonishing magnanimity, as when it came to giving Jan Myrdal a platform to proclaim his firm support for massacres and genocide around the world. Nothing seems to be able to interfere with his right to column space. Although he has been repeating his bloodthirsty message for 40 years, the media are not tired of it. He is constantly slaughtered, but like the mythical madman Särimner, he is always resurrected the next day just as fat and smug. Why does Kajsa Ekholm Friedman not have the same right to speak her mind and to borrow our ear? She has not supported genocide, terror or dictatorship. She has — based on her original DN article and the two clarifications she has been pressured to make, SDS 23/5 and DN 24/5 — only wanted to problematise the notion of multicultural society. In doing so, however, she has accidentally wounded the moral self-image of the folk-intellectuals, and that is the limit of what our public discourse can endure.
Kajsa Ekholm Friedman returned to DN Debatt on 24 May and defended herself against her critics. The fact that she had to start by explaining at some length that she is neither racist nor xenophobic is a kind of measure of how she has perceived the storm of criticism to which she has been subjected:
Throughout my adult life I have been surrounded by non-Swedes, I have been curious about the foreign and have found it easy to make friends with non-Swedes, especially Africans. In addition, I am married to an immigrant, also a Jew, and two of my children are half-Jews and “second-generation immigrants” for that reason. Over the years, a large number of non-Swedes have felt welcome in our home.
As for the destructiveness of multi-ethnicity, she writes that it is one thing for economically vital societies to be able to integrate or assimilate foreigners, and quite another for societies in decline:
What tends to happen when “the wheels stop turning” is dehomogenization, old identities reassert themselves, polarization and social unrest increase. Just when the game’s players could really use all their wits and cooperation, they lose both. Instead, sects and conflicts flourish. Can our society escape this fate, which has befallen all flourishing societies before us?
Of the fifty or so contributions to the debate that I read, not a single one sided unreservedly with Mrs. Friedman. On the other hand, there were shades of dissent, from those who thought she should be dismissed, ostracised and convicted of incitement to hatred and sedition, to those who felt that it was enough to refute her views. Håkan Arvidsson was the only dissenting voice. He said what everyone already knew to be true.
Although it was probably not her intention, Ekholm Friedman managed to expose what a strong moral field immigration to Sweden was already 25 years ago. As Svante Nycander wrote in DN Debatt on February 18, 1998: “Among those who set the tone in Sweden there is a great, anxiety-ridden fear of not being considered one hundred per cent pure in terms of racism and Nazism.”