Sweden may have come under attack, but it will never be overpowered

The people of Sweden are well prepared to fight back against hate and anti-immigrant sentiments.
Published April 13, 2017

On Friday, April 7, an Uzbek suspect hijacked a delivery truck and rammed the vehicle into the Åhlens City department store on Drottninggatan, a busy, crowded, partially pedestrian street in Stockholm, Sweden. Four people died and 15 were injured.

One of the pedestrian segments is lined by lion sculptures on either side. When my siblings and their children came over to Stockholm not long ago, one of my nephews stopped by each sculpture since he loved the lions so much.

We walked up the street to a cafe. As you look up from there, the street goes straight as far as you can see. That’s the way the attacker came from.

Åhlens City.
Åhlens City.

He hijacked a brewery’s truck that was making a delivery to a nearby restaurant. On his way, he crossed Kungsgatan (King’s Street) and passed by the office of my oldest client. I have spent several mornings and afternoons at that office, looking over Drottninggatan.

A witness was buying flowers at Hötorget (a square at the centre of the city) where I once used to work. Coincidentally, my office was right above one of the entrances to the Hötorget metro station, and my desk used to look over a flower shop from the first floor. Was it the same flower shop? I don’t know.

The witness reported people running and screaming, not knowing where they were going. Another witness at Sveavägen (another major street nearby) reported that the police told everyone to go to the other side of the street (away from the attacker).

Drottninggatan – Towards Åhlens.
Drottninggatan – Towards Åhlens.

Stockholm School of Economics, where I went to study, is on this street. Like every other student, I often walked between there and the location of the attack. Since the day I came to Stockholm, these are the streets I have frequented the most.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said “Sweden is under attack” and that may not be inaccurate. The last time Sweden had an attempted terrorist attack, it was also close to Drottninggatan but the attacker managed to kill himself only in a rather anti-climactic fashion.

The country has been at peace for more than 200 years and stayed neutral in both world wars. It was one of the pioneers when it comes to social equality, gender equality, clinical research, healthcare, innovation, technology, sustainability and more. It opposed the Iraq war and remains a generous host to a rather large number of refugees compared to the size of its own population.

I have lived here since 2010 and during these years, Sweden has won my love and affection. It is one of those places where you find the most beautiful people and characters. They are the kind of people who want sunshine, but not the kind you get from a warming planet. They are the kind of people who do not measure how wide their arms can stretch, but choose instead to figure it out in the course of the embrace.

Drottninggatan, Kungsgatan.
Drottninggatan, Kungsgatan.

I received a Master’s degree without paying a single dime in tuition fees because Sweden believed education should be free, even for non-citizens (the policy for international students has since changed).

I studied abroad across Europe after my first year in university, and could sustain myself well because my part-time employer allowed me to work remotely after only a few months of working there.

Upon my return and subsequent graduation, on the sincere recommendation of one of my closest friends, I was interviewed and later employed by a technology start-up. Most of the employees were Swedes, with a handful of foreigners, but it was one of the most openhearted and welcoming group of people.

I cannot remember ever feeling left out for not speaking Swedish. Instead, we had Swedish lessons over lunch, taught by a charming old Swedish woman named Bibi. When I had visas issues, the same client whose office looks over Drottninggatan stood by me and remained supportive throughout.

Sweden did not just give me Master’s education; the country has been my teacher, my mentor, my friend.

The Sweden that I know and love may be under attack, but it has not been overpowered. Despite the shock and fear from a mad man’s actions, local law enforcement came in full swing, already well-prepared for the scenario.

Swedish people, too, have been measured and calm. After the incidents in London, Brussels and Paris in recent memory, they seem prepared, especially to prevent any opportunistic resort to anti-immigrant fear mongering.

April 9, 2017 – Stockholm Strikes Back.
April 9, 2017 – Stockholm Strikes Back.

The attack triggered a campaign of misinformation on social media led by the Sweden Democrats, a nationalist anti-immigrant political party. But local newspapers were quick to debunk such attempts. In conversations with my colleagues in Stockholm, it became clear to me that the fact that such attacks are ideal breeding grounds for venomous political rhetoric was not lost in Sweden.

Finally, thousands gathered in central Stockholm on April 9, not just to stand in solidarity with the victims but also to stand up against fear. In the words of one of my close friends and former colleagues, “we all know what fear can do to a society”.

All photos by the author.

Do you live in a western city that has been a victim of terrorist attacks? How have the people of your city shown resilience? Tell us at blog@dawn.com