'Jonas, my friend'
The "Dear Beatrice" letter author Jonas Hassen Khemiri wrote to Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask (and which Nordstjernan reported on here: www.nordstjernan.com/news/sweden/5368/), received an interesting reply from Jasenko Selimović, an artistic leader, director and politician (the Liberal People’s Party) born in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
In the letter, which is quite long, Selimović picks up where Hassen Khemiri left off; trailing the latter’s complaints on what it is like to grow up in a closet-racist Sweden.
“You offered Beatrice Ask to change bodies with you, but I took the opportunity and did the same thing. I did what you did, thought like you, felt like you. It was overwhelming. The world was simple, comprehensible, and I longed for that. We two were good. Ask and the police were the bad ones. I saw the country as full of closeted racists, xenophobia and arched backs.”
Selimović says that if one really wants to, one can choose to see Sweden as nothing but a terrible country: There’s contempt for women, discrimination against Moslems, against Jews, against the working class, against homosexuals. The non-believers discriminate against the believers, the believers against the non-believers. Young people are convinced police hate them. Roma people aren’t allowed to rent a car. The elderly are discriminated against. As are the Sami. The Catholics. The blacks. The handicapped. The homeless. The overweight. Well, you get the picture.
Writes Selimović: “All of these people felt that they were the ones hit the hardest, the most unfortunate. Whose discrimination is the worst? The most important? What group can we deny the right to feel discriminated against?” He encourages Hassen Khemiri to think a bit further. Is Sweden really divided into groups of anti-Semites, homophobes and misogynists? “Are we really like that?” Selimović asks. “When that police officer was brutal to you (Jonas Hassen Khemiri), as you describe in your letter, it may have been for several reasons. We rarely know why people act like idiots. Perhaps he’d been fighting with his boss all day, perhaps he was yelled at and you had to pay for it, perhaps he was just one of those difficult types who rage at anything and anyone. Or perhaps he was a racist. There are all kinds of answers. We don’t know which is the right one. But you chose to interpret it as racism.”
Selimović asks that we are careful when we use the stamp “racism.” “When I came to this country, my friend, I sent my CV to different theatres. Nobody got back to me. Not one! Xenophobia, many around me said. But one friend said: ‘Don’t overanalyze. Be careful. We suspect the individual more than we suspect the foreigner. Study at some Swedish institution and things will work out for you.’ I applied to and was accepted at DI (Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts). Shortly thereafter I sent out my CV to the same theaters, but this time with DI’s official letterhead. And? Everyone answered the same way: ‘Welcome!’ So be careful how you interpret things, my friend.”
Selimović says the problem Sweden has is not immigrants. Neither is Sweden a racist country. Nor are Swedish men oppressors like the Taliban. Which does not mean, he points out, that there are no problems with the integration policy. It doesn’t mean there’s no ethnic discrimination. Nor does it mean that men and women are equal.
“Is there nothing that points to the fact that Sweden is one of the most generous countries in the western world? That we receive the highest number of unaccompanied children?” Selimović asks whether facts like these don’t count.
“I know of few countries, including Bosnia and Tunisia (where Hassen Khemiri’s father is from) where success like ours would be possible. You are a celebrated author, I am a celebrated theater director and under-Secretary of State. If this country did not give me a chance, then what does ‘give someone a chance’ really mean?”
Jonas Hassen Khemiri has replied in media to Selimović, saying he objects to the term “friend," as the two men are not friends at all. He further states that Selimović’s letter is full of misquotes, and he criticizes Selimović for not devoting more time to racial profiling and the Reva project, which is what Hassen Khemiri’s original letter to the Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask, was about.