MORE THAN 4,000 MILES northeast of Aberdeen, a similar but much wider conversation is taking place in Sweden, a country that has taken in more refugees per capita than any other European nation.
Here too, rural areas and small towns are making the biggest noise about the immigration influx, citing some familiar concerns: increased crime and sexual assaults, media cover-ups of Muslim crime, and economic burdens. Housing shortages in cities have created an overflow to the country, where vacation resorts and apartments in small villages are transforming into refugee housing.
The Swedes take great pride in their self-proclaimed title of “humanitarian superpower.” The Swedish company IKEA won the 2016 Beazley design of the year award for its flat-pack refugee shelter, and a general mindset of multiculturalism and political correctness pervades the landscape.
But the reality on the ground is far from ideal: Stephanie Heino, a 28-year-old Swedish native, says she used to feel safe walking the streets at night in her coastal city of Helsingborg, population 124,000, but no longer ventures out alone past dark: She’s heard too many stories of sexual assaults.
Heino says it’s difficult to get prompt medical care these days due to the prioritization of more urgent needs among Sweden’s migrants, and the housing situation is a nightmare: She was on a waiting list for three years to get a firsthand housing contract and eventually settled for secondhand: a year-to-year lease in a prefurnished apartment.
As the number of asylum seekers entering Sweden rose from 20,000 in 2012 to 163,000 in 2015, so has the popularity of the Sweden Democrats, a former neo-Nazi party that claims it has reformed itself and campaigns on an anti-immigration platform. In 2010, only 6 percent of Swedes supported the party. Now the party has a 20 percent approval rating.
Despite her concerns, Heino said she does not support the party’s platforms: “I really think we need to help the refugees.”
Kent Ekeroth, a Sweden Democrat representative and member of Parliament’s Justice Committee, says it’s time for Sweden to halt all immigration and move some asylum seekers to wealthy Middle Eastern countries. Sweden’s acceptance rate is the highest in Europe, and those who are denied asylum often disappear before they can be deported.
“Before long it’s not going to be Sweden anymore, and we’re going to see violence,” Ekeroth told me in September after a talk in Stockholm, bodyguards nearby. The Swedish Democrats do not leave room in their immigration platform for the acceptance of persecuted minorities.
This leads to a question that is at the heart of President Trump’s executive order, the rise of anti-immigration parties across Europe, and the controversy that has ignited protests across the United States: Does Muslim immigration present a unique and greater risk not associated with other immigrant groups? Jihadists aside, if an estimated 15 to 20 percent of Muslims identify as Islamist, has Europe opened its doors to a subtle and long-term transformation over time?
“With Islamism, you have religion mixed with politics. We got rid of that a few hundred years ago,” said Magnus Norell, an adjunct scholar at The Washington Institute for Near East Studies and a native of Sweden. “Now it’s coming in through the back door and we’re still trying to get our heads wrapped around it.”
Pierre Durrani, a former Islamist youth leader in Sweden who is now an agnostic, said Muslim Brotherhood adherents pose a greater threat to the West than jihadists due to their ability to blend in and play the long game. Islamists may be a minority in Sweden, but they are politically active, proclaim the right to speak for all Muslims, and are funded by Swedish taxpayers.
Islamists who have made their way into the nation’s Green Party, part of a coalition government, made headlines last year when one member refused to shake hands with a woman and another was seen making the four-finger Muslim Brotherhood sign during a live television broadcast. Sweden may be the most politically correct country on the planet, but more Swedes are beginning to ask questions and cast their lot with the Sweden Democrats.
THE UNITED STATES is far from reaching the demographic tilt that is altering the landscape of Europe: The 1 percent Muslim population in America is expected to reach only 2 percent by 2050.
But in a small state like South Dakota, with a statewide population of only 850,000, small trends can have vast consequences, especially in farm towns with limited resources and fledgling economies. Europe has underestimated the number of Muslim refugees coming in and overestimated the ability to assimilate them—lessons Jensen of the Hatune Foundation says Americans would be wise to note.
The challenge for South Dakota, Sweden, and the rest of the Western world will be this: promoting a much-needed and reasonable conversation about Muslim immigration while also reaching out with compassion to Muslim neighbors. This twofold approach may be the best defense against the deep-rooted ideology of Islamism and the Western denial of its true face.