CHAPTER TEN
MOTIVATION BEHIND SCHOOL BURNING

The motivation behind setting fire at the Swedish public school in Tensta district was not quite clear to the school principle, Eva Bromster, who was not on the scene at the time. On the evening of May 23, 2013, she received an urgent call from a colleague informing her that a group of young immigrants had burned the school to ashes. It was incomprehensible why teenagers and young adults would set their school on fire. Bystanders estimated some 500 young immigrants and Swedish-born adolescents of immigrant parents, calling themselves “immigrants and racists”, put their emotions to action and torched the entire school. The next day, the public media was flooded with myriad reports, debates, interviews and points of view. Each offered their account and rationale for the incident, with most putting it in the context of random street violence and the need for revitalization. Local and international news stations reported that the rage displayed by these young immigrants was the result of unemployment and feelings of oppression. Multiple studies later reached the same conclusion; that is, the vast majority of young immigrants in this community neither worked nor studied, and that this social problem had gone on unchecked and unresolved for decades.

Tensta epitomizes to some extent similar issues faced in segregated urban communities throughout Sweden. These state-funded housing blocks are occupied almost exclusively by migrants. They, like the arsonists in Tensta, lack jobs and competitive qualifications to enter college. All these factors interplayed and brought these immigrants to the point where they commonly referred to their daily affairs as “a life without future.” This was the primary reason why the entire community resorted to violence that night. It started as a simple gathering, then progressed to throwing stones, shouting, burning and vandalizing. They broke into the school’s gymnasium and started to vandalize. They set ablaze two schools and a dozen cars at an estimated cost of half a billion Swedish kronor. What they accomplished that night was a public relations coup, spotlighting to the world, vis-a-vie the international media, the plight of immigrants in Sweden. To the world, their hostility became iconic and the focal point of problems born in a Nordic social welfare state.

The news of the incident spread rapidly through social media and text messages like a virus, and then it multiplied further by word-of-mouth. People talked about how and why such a community should turn into a scene of uncontrolled aggression. Some blamed the immigrants directly. Others began to criticize Sweden’s multiculturalism and the state deregulation for migrants. Many reactions were laden with emotional statements pointing to the social problems of immigrants and hooliganism of youngsters. The NGOs and state media repeatedly expressed humanitarian reasons for the immigrants’ mental distress due to traumatic events and experiences in their home countries. The residents of Tensta were shocked and received endless calls and text messages from their friends and relatives from around the world who thought Sweden was a peaceful, orderly and undisturbed country. Their friends and families in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Uganda, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere questioned what went wrong and why these immigrants acted so violently. What made the outside world puzzled, confused and shocked at the same time was the fact that they could not distinguish the difference between peace and violence in a country where law and order had always been a matter of fact...

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