Coexist – interreligious dialogue and other intercultural co-operations



Yesterday I read two disturbing pieces of news. First that flags with Nazi Swastika symbols were discovered this last Saturday morning fluttering in the wind from flag posts in Ljungby, Mönsterås and Vimmerby in the county of Småland, just north of the most southern province Scania. Nina Axelsson in Ljungby had just started working at the café this Saturday morning opposite the City Hall. She notified the Municipal Board in Ljungby and the incident with Nazi flags on official flag posts has been reported to the police. Then I read about the kidnapping of two Christian Priests in Syria. The civil war in Syria is a horror beyond description. Since the civil war started two years ago more than 70 000 people have been killed, and 1 million refugees from Syria have fled to neighbouring countries. Before the civil war against the Bashar Al-Assad régime about 10% of the Syrian population was Christian. How many today is difficult to say. The other day Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Boulos Yazji, head of the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped on the road near Aleppo/Halab when they were carrying out humanitarian work in the region. A group of militant terrorists kidnapped them. Christians and Jews are persecuted in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and other countries, while hate crimes against Muslims etc occur in other places. All this hate between religions, cultures and different ethnic groups is very worrying. That’s why peaceful dialogue and attempts for co-operation is so much better.

Last week I wrote about Islamophobia and the turbulence around the Social Democrat election of Omar Mustafa into the party leadership and how he was asked to leave the post after six days of many protests. Today I intend to write about some of the positive interreligious co-operations that do exist in Malmoe. Two days ago I went to the City Hall for a press conference about a new inter-religious co-operation project here in Malmoe called Coexist. The meetings began in October 2012 and now twelve congregations participate in Coexist. They are the Jewish Congregation, the Muslim Congregation in Malmoe, the Bosniak Islamic Congregation, the Pentecost Church, the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Stadion Missionary Church, Hyllie Park Evangelical Congregation, the Swedish Church in Möllevången and Sofielund, the Salvation Army and the Buddhists. Representatives meet every week and they make different things together to more easily get to know each other. Ask Gashi from the Bosniak Islamic Association says: “It’s important that we in the congregations get to know each other in order to work for security”. All these congregations reach tens of thousands of people in Malmoe every week, and they plan different events, excursions and other co-operations over the religious borders to improve the situation. This is also meant to involve the many congregation members, not just this small group. Malin Martelius from Malmoe Municipality’s Section for Safety and Security says that: “We want to work more actively with the religious groups”.

Coexist Malmoe intends to have a common festival tent on Stortorget/The Major Square here in Malmoe during May 13th to May 18th. That’s the same period as the international Eurovision Song Contest will be held here in Malmoe. Coexist will have lectures, debates and music. If you want to learn more about Coexist you may talk to Malin Martelius, the Section for Safety and Security on +46 (0)40-34 28 28. Björn Lagerbäck, the People’s Party, and leader of Malmoe’s Dialogue Forum said with intense sharpness during the meeting that we can’t afford any attacks, protest meetings and violent outbursts neither before, during nor after the Eurovision Song Contest. Rumours say that some Palestinians intend to use the event for protests against the Israeli participation in the song contest. There is a conflict going on in the Middle East, but Malmoe is meant to be a safe haven and a modern equivalent of an interculturally tolerant Al-Andalus. We need peace and co-operation, not violence, political or intercultural quarrels, terror attacks or war-mongering. One bad act from any direction is enough to destroy all the positive efforts and this city’s reputation. Lena Friblick, (whom you see in one picture above), leader of the organisation Xenophilia led the meeting two days ago. She is working hard to create different fora for positive intercultural work. She is also a journalist and uses her skills as such in her work.

Yesterday I went to Rosengård Library. I had recieved an invitation through the e-mail from Naimeh Doostdar Sanayeh. She was born in Iran in 1977. When Naimeh grew up she educated herself to become a journalist. She has written short stories and poetry and been published in Iran many times. She told me this when we met yesterday. I had come to this city’s suburb with most immigrants, Rosengård. At the library there they celebrated “Malmös äkta världsbokdag”/Malmoe’s Genuine World Book Day. A young Arab woman in hijab was arranging tables, putting plates with cookies on them, librarians were working on as usual while men, women and kids of various background sat there talking to each other. Rosengård Library together with the ABF and Smockadoll Publishing Company had arranged this event. They wanted to celebrate the international Book Day in a true international environment and with a dito agenda. Six artists from “A Thousand Comic Books” had their mostly serious material concerning migration, racism and nationalism on display in an exhibition outside the library. Their work was good and really really food for thought. If you can go to Rosengård and see the small exhibition do that. It’s important. The exhibition “Jag är inte här”/I’m not here will remain until May 21st.

When I was talking to Naimeh yesterday she explained the reason for why she now is in Sweden as an invited asylum writer. She had been active as a women’s rights activist and struggling for democracy in Iran. She had belonged to the young, green wave who wanted freedom, gender equality and democracy. Naimeh had participated in demonstrations on the streets of Tehran, and also had a web log where she in Persian wrote about social issues which made her impopular among the theocratic rulers. In 2009 she also applied for a journalist job in the Czech Republic here in Europe which was seen as a security risk and treason against the Iranian state. At the same time the democracy demonstrations were very intense and the religious security forces arrested, tortured and killed many. Naimeh also was in jail for a month. She had to escape and after a year in Malaysia she came to Sweden in October 2012 as an invited asylum writer. Her predecessor in that role here in Malmoe, Parvin Ardalan, has now been allowed to stay in Sweden. Now Naimeh’s poems are published in Swedish translation at Smockadoll Publishing Company.

During yesterday’s event three writers were presented: Refik Licina from Montenegro who read his melancholic poems which also had many connotations to Greek Mythology, and of course Swedish translations were read as well. Naimeh Doostdar presented her work in a similar fashion and the youngest participant was Omid Mahmoudi from Afghanistan. I have listened to him once before and was astonished how well he speaks Swedish after only two years in this country. He is only 19 years old and came here as a refugee, a single child. Omid belongs to a minority group in Afghanistan, the Hazars, and was as such not given any human rights whatsoever, but instead spat on and harrassed. This only proves that racism and exclusion is not a Swedish phenomenon but a global one and is aimed at different groups in different contexts. Omid’s story was fascinating as was his writings, but it is also extremely important to see the value of a better humanity. With these reflexions I left the library in Rosengård and said farewell to Naimeh Doostdar, her family and friends. Let Malmoe be a safe haven. Let our world wake up from its madness and find new ways of helping each other instead.


Anders Moberg, April the 24th 2013



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