Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

How wrong was Trump about Sweden?

Fire fighters in the suburb Rinkeby outside Stockholm, Monday Feb. 20, 2017. Swedish police on Tuesday were investigating a riot that broke out overnight in a predominantly immigrant suburb in Stockholm after officers arrested a suspect on drug charges. The clashes started late Monday when a police car arrested a suspect and people started throwing stones at them. (Christine Olsson / TT via AP)
Christine Olsson/AP
Fire fighters in Rinkeby, outside Stockholm, on Monday. Swedish police on Tuesday were investigating a riot that broke out overnight in the predominantly immigrant suburb after officers arrested a suspect on drug charges. The clashes started late Monday when a police car arrested a suspect and people started throwing stones at them.

Maybe Sweden doth protest too much.

Two days after President Trump was ridiculed for criticizing the country’s refugee policies, residents of a Stockholm suburb populated mostly by immigrants clashed with police.

About 20 to 30 masked men threw stones and other objects at police after they arrested a man on drug dealing charges. It’s not the same as suicide bombers blowing up an airport or gunmen mowing down concert-goers. But the incident in Rinkeby highlights the real challenges associated with poverty and immigrant assimilation. It also shows the risk of treating all Trump utterances with equal contempt. Some are more contemptible than others.

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The president’s mention of Sweden was widely mocked by critics here and abroad as gibberish. And, as delivered, gibberish it was. “You look at what’s happening,” Trump told supporters at a Florida rally. “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe it?”

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During the time frame referenced by Trump, nothing bad happened in Sweden. “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” tweeted Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister. It turned out Trump had been watching a Fox News segment that featured an interview with a documentary filmmaker who produced a film that links rape and violence in Sweden to an increase in refugees from Muslim countries. That’s what he was referencing.

Swedish officials dispute the filmmaker’s premise. But the country’s humanitarian spirit does come with a price. According to a BBC report, Sweden took in more than 162,000 people seeking asylum in 2015. Almost one-third came from Syria. With a population of 9.5 million, the country is also reported to have produced the highest number of Islamic State fighters per capita in Europe. About 140 of the 300 who went to Syria and Iraq have now returned to Sweden.

Data released by Sweden’s crime prevention council document “no significant” spike in crime, according to The New York Times. However, “The council did note an increase in assaults and rapes last year, but it also recorded a drop in thefts and drug offenses.”

In an essay published in the newspaper Expressen, Benjamin Dousa, whose father was a Turkish immigrant to Sweden, suggested that Trump’s critique was right. “A battered journalist, stones thrown at the police, and stores that are being plundered, unfortunately, are not unusual occurrences where I live,” wrote Dousa, a member of a local board in Rinkeby that distributes money for schools, social services, and elder care.

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Countries like Sweden are taking in the huddled masses we don’t want. Under Trump, this country is also now prepared to send back those who managed to make it here. I hate the anti-immigrant sentiment that fuels Trump’s policies. I admire those countries that look at refugees and see desperate human beings, not hate-filled terrorists. But the influx of people in need of food, shelter, jobs, and a secure future does create problems for the host country. Ignoring that reality gives Trump license to continue his campaign to delegitimize the mainstream news media.

“Give the public a break, “ he tweeted. “The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!”

As Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, acknowledged, even as he disputed Trump’s assessment, “We have challenges, no doubt about that.”

Decrying every presidential tweet and utterance undercuts the media’s ability to call out Trump for words and actions with truly serious consequences. It also ignores the real social problems that must be addressed when refugees descend upon a country kind and generous enough to embrace them.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.