Why did Vikings have ‘Allah’ embroidered into funeral clothes? – BBC News


Researchers in Sweden have found Arabic characters woven into burial costumes from Viking boat graves. The discovery raises new questions about the influence of Islam in Scandinavia, writes journalist Tharik Hussain.

They were kept in storage for more than 100 years, dismissed as typical examples of Viking Age funeral clothes.

But a new investigation into the garments – found in 9th and 10th Century graves – has thrown up groundbreaking insights into contact between the Viking and Muslim worlds.

Patterns woven with silk and silver thread have been found to spell the words “Allah” and “Ali”.

The breakthrough was made by textile archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University while re-examining the remnants of burial costumes from male and female boat and chamber graves originally excavated in Birka and Gamla Uppsala in Sweden in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries.

She became interested in the forgotten fragments after realising the material had come from central Asia, Persia and China.

Larsson says the tiny geometric designs – no more than 1.5cm (0.6in) high – resembled nothing she had come across in Scandinavia before.

“I couldn’t quite make sense of them and then I remembered where I had seen similar designs – in Spain, on Moorish textiles.”

Unlocking a puzzle

Larsson then realised she was not looking at Viking patterns at all but ancient Arabic Kufic script.

There were two words that kept recurring. One of them she identified with the help of an Iranian colleague. It was the name “Ali” – the fourth caliph of Islam.

But the word next to Ali was more difficult to decipher.

To unlock the puzzle, she enlarged the letters and examined them from all angles, including from behind.

“I suddenly saw that the word ‘Allah’ [God] had been written in mirrored lettering,” she says.

Larsson has so far found the names on at least 10 of the nearly 100 pieces she is working through, and they always appear together.

The new find now raises fascinating questions about the grave’s occupants.

“The possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out,” she says.

“We know from other Viking tomb excavations that DNA analysis has shown some of the people buried in them originated from places like Persia, where Islam was very dominant.

“However, it is more likely these findings show that Viking age burial customs were influenced by Islamic ideas such as eternal life in paradise after death.”

A past exhibit shows what a Viking woman’s boat grave in Gamla Uppsala may have looked like - similar to the tombs the above fragments were found in
Image captionA museum display gives a sense of what the Viking woman’s boat grave in Gamla Uppsala may have looked like – similar to the tombs the fragments were found in

Her team is now working with the university’s department for immunology, genetics and pathology to establish the geographic origins of the bodies dressed in the funeral clothes.

Historic first

Contact between the Viking and Muslim worlds has long been established by historic accounts and the discovery of Islamic coins across the northern hemisphere.

Two years ago, researchers re-examined a silver ring from a female tomb at Birka and found the phrase “for Allah” inscribed on the stone.

Again the text was Kufic, developed in the Iraqi town of Kufah in the 7th Century – one of the first Arabic scripts used to write down the Koran.

What makes Larsson’s discovery so interesting is that it is the first time historic items mentioning Ali have ever been unearthed in Scandinavia.

Source: Why did Vikings have ‘Allah’ embroidered into funeral clothes? – BBC News

Sweden launches program to fight Holocaust denial and antisemitism – Jerusalem Post

Some useful approaches in Sweden:

With surveys showing “lots of Swedish Jews are afraid of showing their Jewishness,” Stockholm has stepped up efforts to teach about the Holocaust as a means of fighting against antisemitism, the director of a government-run program targeting the issue said.

“The Swedish government is investing a lot of money to combat the phenomenon of antisemitism and Islamophobia,” Ingrid Lomfors, director of the Living History Forum in Sweden added, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post this past week.

The Forum is a public authority established by Sweden some 15 years ago with the aim of “promoting democracy, tolerance and human rights using the Holocaust as a starting point.”

In November the government announced an additional 156 million Krona (NIS 65 million) stipend to develop a new national program for Holocaust remembrance, with the aim of combating antisemitism and racism.

“Our task is to teach Holocaust education but also to learn from history – to learn about the Holocaust and to learn from the Holocaust – what lessons can be drawn in terms of how we look at democracy, the risk of populism and racism, how do we find early warnings,” Lomfors said.

Lomfors, an historian who has devoted 30 years to studying the Holocaust, was in Israel this month seeking information from such institutions as Yad Vashem to help to build the Swedish program.

“I am very happy it [the government] gave us this opportunity but at the same time you can also say that in a way it is sad that it is needed – it says something about the world in which we live in,” Lomfors said.

“Combating antisemitism is something that you have been doing here for quite some time now and learning from the Holocaust,” she said of Israel’s experience in these fields.

“I can see lots of possibilities for collaborations to adapt programs in Israel to Swedish society,” she said. “I also think it is important for Israeli institutions to learn from us because cooperation is the only way to combat this phenomenon.”

According to Lomfors, the impetus for setting up the Forum over a decade ago was in part a nationwide survey which revealed that Swedes had very limited knowledge of the Holocaust, and that a large number of youths showed signs of Holocaust denial.

“This was really shocking to all of us,” she said, though adding that “at that time, around 20 years ago, we didn’t speak about the Holocaust.”

Another factor behind Sweden’s endeavor was renewed interest and dialogue about the Holocaust due to headlines surrounding Nazi looted art.

Lomfors described the situation in Sweden today as “very complex.”

“On the one hand you can see a trend that tolerance is increasing – young people today are becoming more and more tolerant and the country, demographically speaking is becoming more pluralistic,” she said.

“At the same time, you have an increase in racist ideas – hate speech and hate crime – as well as increasing populism.”

“I think there is a rise in antisemitism, and a rise in hate crimes which is true for many minority groups,” Lomfors said.

But she said international surveys suggested antisemitism in Sweden was not as bad as in other European countries.

“Lots of Swedish Jews are afraid of showing their Jewishness,” she said.

According to Lomfors, Holocaust education in Swedish schools is “not enough.”

She thought teachers needed more of “an opportunity to learn more about the Holocaust.”

The Forum she runs seeks to help educators by running educational and cultural programs, creating digital materials, holding regional conferences, and developing exhibitions about the Holocaust, she said.

“We are a fusion between a museum and an education forum,” she said. “Teachers are our major target group in the hope that they will use our tools to reach the students but we also reach out to student groups around the country.”

Lomfors said further that the Forum trains thousands of teachers and reaches several hundred thousand students every year through workshops and traveling exhibitions – all with a focus on both the past and present day.

The Holocaust provided a “tool for discussion” for programs focused on modern day antisemitism and racism in Sweden.

Lomfors said it was too early to gage the impact that growing numbers of refugees settling in Sweden may have on a rise in antisemitic attitudes.

“It will definitely reshape Swedish society and my institution has to take this into account when we outline programs. We have to learn more about the attitudes of newcomers,” she said.

“Antisemitism is global and if you really want to combat it you have to work in a global way – racism doesn’t have any national borders,” Lomfors said.

Source: Sweden launches program to fight Holocaust denial and antisemitism – Diaspora – Jerusalem Post

Multiculturalism in Sweden: an Indian’s perspective – The Local

Interesting piece by Joy Merwin Monteiro, a climate scientist, currently working as a post doc at Stockholm University [Indian multiculturalism or pluralism is “deep” with greater emphasis on communal rights]:

Why India? Well, one can provide any number of reasons, but I would prefer to make my point by way of examples from Indian history. Due to its geographical location at the centre of the Indian Ocean and its fabled wealth, India has attracted immigrants for millennia, as traders, conquerors and refugees. We have had Jewish refugee communities fleeing from Portugal and Spain, Zoroastrians fleeing the Islamisation of Iran, Buddhists (including the Dalai Lama) fleeing the annexation of Tibet and Muslimrefugees from Iran.

Communities of ChineseEast Africans and Armenians have lived in India for centuries. The above list does not even include the conquering peoples of Central Asian and Turkicorigin, followed by the more recent colonisation by European powers. In contemporary times, India has become a preferred destination for those I would term “spiritual refugees“. In terms of actual numbers, these communities may be small, but their influence in Indian society has been disproportionately large: To this day, the economic and cultural achievement of some of the communities listed above is a source of envy and respect for other Indians. Note that here I have not even considered the huge internal diversity within India, with its various communities, castes and creeds, which in itself is a daunting subject to explore.

So, do these various immigrant communities maintain their distinct identity? Yes, very proudly. Do they tend to live in areas dominated by their own kind? All the time. Do they marry outside their community? Hardly, if ever. Do they consider themselves Indians? Very much! To the Western observer, steeped in the notion of “one people, one state” – a modern notion, even in Europe: there are vineyards that predate the concept of the Nation-State by a century or two  – it must seem incredible that India can function as a modern democracy without much in terms of shared culture and values. In fact, most observers expected the Idea of India to collapse without British “stewardship”; Today, no one would dispute the fact that India is one of the most robust and politically energetic democracies to emerge from the ruins of the Second World War.

It is true however that almost all communities in India, immigrant or not, are wary of each other, and most don’t even like each other. However, they need each other to go about their daily life – most Hindus would prefer a Muslim butcher or mechanic over someone from their own community, I would bet my money on a Parsi businessman, and everyone wants to send their children to a Jesuit run school. You don’t have to like each other to respect each other; you don’t even have to respect each other to tolerate each other. If there is any such thing as a universal shared value in the hodge-podge of nations that make up India, it is tolerance. We even tolerate things that we should not – corruption, poverty and exploitation being prime examples. To my mind, these two aspects of Indian society – a dense network of interdependencies, and tolerance towards values utterly foreign to you – have not only kept us ticking, but have also provided the political stability required to build one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Joy Merwin Monteiro, the author of this opinion piece. Photo: Private

There are two ways to integrate an immigrant: The American “Melting Pot” way, where the immigrant is expected to lose her personal value system in deference to the larger national value system, however defined, or the Indian “Mosaic” way, which allows her to retain her values, which adds to the larger set of national values, while emphasising tolerance as a way towards social stability. The “Mosaic” way was probably best summarised by M K Gandhi:

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

These are troubled times in the world. Troubled times are also revelatory, since they provide us with an opportunity to look deep within, and decide who we really are. Sweden has been exemplary in its handling of environmental and humanistic issues; I wish the Swedes all the best in their journey ahead towards becoming a truly multi-cultural society.

Source: Multiculturalism in Sweden: an Indian’s perspective – The Local

Douglas Todd: Does Sweden’s migration crisis contain lesson for Canada?

Douglas Todd correctly asks the question: Would Canada have the same opens to immigration if we were not protected from unmanaged immigration by our oceans and the US?

Highly unlikely:

Could Canada, which Swedes tend to admire because of our multicultural policy, survive what the Swedes are enduring?

With a population of almost 10 million, Sweden took in more refugees per capita since the beginning of 2015 than any country in the European Union, including Germany.

If Canada had accepted the same proportion of asylum seekers as Sweden, it would have added up to more than 570,000 people. That’s far from the 25,000 the federal Liberals approved.

The rest of the EU, other than Germany, has shown no interest in following open-hearted Sweden. Neither has the U.S., which has only accepted 6,000 Syrians.

Some called ‘naive’

“I’m horribly disappointed in the rest of the EU states,” said Anna Rehnvall, migration specialist for Fores think-tank, which represents Sweden’s Green and liberal parties.

anna-rehnvallRefusing asylum seekers is not an option for Rehnvall, who has worked on migration issues with the Conference Board of Canada.

“When asylum seekers show up on your border, you have to look them in the eye. In Sweden, it’s really hard to say no to someone who arrives on your doorstep.”

Given her attitude, Rehnvall admits she’s been called “naive.” But so have many Swedes.

Seventeen per cent of Sweden’s population is now foreign born, with most admitted as refugees or through family reunification.

In Canada, 21 per cent of the population is foreign born; the portion rising to more than 45 per cent in Metro Vancouver and Toronto.

Since Canada is protected by the U.S. border and three oceans, relatively few newcomers to Canada show up as asylum seekers. Most arrivals have been skilled, educated or wealthy.

Source: Douglas Todd: Does Sweden’s migration crisis contain lesson for Canada? | Vancouver Sun

A Swedish Muslim takes on anti-Semitism | Religion News Service

From one minority community to another:

When Derakhti speaks, the criticism — and unnerving threats — come from many quarters.

The most potent anti-Semitism in Sweden and Europe today comes from Muslim immigrant communities, where some have called Derakhti a traitor and told him he should fear for his life. Some ultra right-wing Swedes nurse their own brand of prejudice, rooted in historic European anti-Semitism. And on the left, many are staunchly anti-Israel and extend their disdain to Swedish Jews. Some Swedes say the liberals among them have failed to denounce anti-Semitism on the part of the country’s Muslim minority for fear of appearing Islamophobic.

This apathy and vitriol seems only to deepen Derakhti’s empathy. “I feel like I am a Jew,” he said.

But he comes off as a cool young Muslim.

Derakhti is a hip dresser, accessorized with earbuds, an earring and tattoos — including a prominent one in Arabic. He talks cool — in both English and Swedish — and quickly admits that, to his parents’ chagrin, he was no student. He and David fought off anti-Semites, but Derakhti also casually mentions how, in their teenage years, they had fun smoking pot, and generally driving the adults around them crazy.

Derakhti’s image can only help him convince more young people to summon the courage to confront bigotry, said Silberstein, a well-educated, middle-aged Jewish man who has been working on the issue far longer than Derakhti.

“I’m pretty used to speaking in public,” Silberstein said. “But when I went into a school with Siavosh, when I spoke they hardly listened. When he got up and spoke, that’s when they really started listening.”

Derakhti has lost count of the number of times he has taken a busload of Swedish teenagers to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. He thinks it’s close to 20. He has also toured them through Srebrenica, the site of the worst massacre in Europe since the Holocaust, where Bosnian Serbs in 1995 slaughtered more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys during the Bosnian War.

His Jewish friend David was not the only one to inspire the trips he now leads to concentration camps and killing fields. His parents — persecuted in their native Iran as members of the Azerbaijani minority — moved the family to Sweden, where Derakhti was born. His father took him to Bergen-Belsen when he was 13, and Auschwitz when he was 15, to show him where hatred can lead.

“My father told me that if you’re in a minority, you always have to stand up for a friend,” Derakhti said.

Growing up in Malmo, a city with a reputation for intolerance in a country known for just the opposite, Derakhti saw its tiny Jewish minority — including its Chabad rabbi — attacked by members of the city’s much larger Muslim community. Many Malmo Jews fear wearing a yarmulke or other symbol of Jewishness. In the capital, Stockholm, Jews feel safer, but still wonder about their future in Sweden, particularly when Israel is at war, as it was during the summer of 2014 against Hamas in Gaza.

Source: A Swedish Muslim takes on anti-Semitism | Religion News Service

Sweden’s rape crisis isn’t what it seems: Saunders

Doug Saunders provides the needed nuancing regarding Sweden and refugees:

But aren’t refugees and immigrants responsible for a greater share of Sweden’s sexual assaults?

In a sense. Statistics show that the foreign-born in Sweden, as in most European countries, do have a higher rate of criminal charges than the native-born, in everything from shoplifting to murder (though not enough to affect the crime rate by more than a tiny margin). The opposite is true in North America, where immigrants have lower-than-average crime rates.

Why the difference? Because people who go to Sweden are poorer, and crime rates are mostly a product not of ethnicity but of class. In a 2013 analysis of 63,000 Swedish residents, Prof. Sarnecki and his colleagues found that 75 per cent of the difference in foreign-born crime is accounted for by income and neighbourhood, both indicators of poverty. Among the Swedish-born children of immigrants, the crime rate falls in half (and is almost entirely concentrated in lesser property crimes) and is 100-per-cent attributable to class – they are no more likely to commit crimes, including rape, than ethnic Swedes of the same family income.

What also stands out is that almost all the victims of these crimes – especially sex crimes – are also foreign-born. But for a handful of headline-grabbing atrocities, it isn’t a case of swarthy men preying on white women, but of Sweden’s system turning refugees into victims of crime.

That is the real Swedish crisis. Refugee shelters are terrible, dangerous places, whoever is in them. When such shelters, then known as displaced persons camps, held millions of Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s, histories show they were at risk of sexual predation and organized attacks against Jewish refugees.

Because otherwise generous Sweden doesn’t allow refugees to seek work until they know the language, tens of thousands of people are stuck in these awful places, in similar conditions, or in welfare-dependent netherworlds.

There they become victims of violent crime, victims of economic exclusion and victims of a grotesque, viral story that portrays them as predators, entirely because of their skin colour.

Source: Sweden’s rape crisis isn’t what it seems – The Globe and Mail

Swedish Anti-Nazi Activists Fail to Invite Jews to Kristallnacht Rally – The Daily Beast

The organizers of an anti-Nazi rally in Umeå face intense scrutiny for not inviting the local Jewish community out of security concerns.

When commemorating the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht with an anti-Nazism rally, you’d think perhaps the most obvious people to invite would be Jewish citizens. Not so for organizers in one Swedish city, where a Monday evening event will transpire without the presence of local Jews.

“Umeå Against Nazism” is set to take place in Umeå’s Town Hall Square, timed to the anniversary of the 1938 violent pogrom largely seen as the start of the Holocaust. The event’s organizer, Jan Hägglund, is a local lawmaker and member of the local socialist Workers’ Party.

The decision not to invite local Jews, he said, was because the rally could “be perceived as unwelcoming or unsafe situation for them.” According to Norrköping Tidningar, previous rallies have included Palestinian flags and banners where the Star of David was equated with the Nazi swastika. Another Workers’ Party official told The Jerusalem Post that, in the past, this rally has been “a narrow affair for ‘leftists.’”

The event’s Facebook pageacknowledged Kristallnacht as the moment when ”Nazis stepped up the violence against the Jewish population in Germany.” Additionally, the page beckoned, “Knowledge of the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews and Roma must be kept alive.”

Noting that Nazi activists marched on Umeå for the first time since World War II two years ago, the page declared that “our rally should be seen as a defense of Umeå as a city of openness towards people with different culture, religion and sexual orientation. As well as support for those forced to flee from war and hopes for a future in Umeå.”

Critics see that latter statement as a hint that the event has ulterior political motives.

 “How much clearer can the anti-Semitism of the left be?” one Facebook commenter wrote. Another person added that not including Jews for a Kristallnacht memorial is like only including whites to take part in a demonstration against South African apartheid.

Source: Swedish Anti-Nazi Activists Fail to Invite Jews to Kristallnacht Rally – The Daily Beast

Racist violence reveals Sweden’s xenophobic underbelly

Not much new in this account, which highlights Sweden’s integration challenges:

For thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe there is only one goal — to get to Sweden, a country known for its acceptance and tolerance of those escaping war and persecution.

But Sweden may not be as welcoming as they had hoped. A recent stabbing at a school in the small industrial city of Trollhattan, which killed a 20-year-old teacher and a 17-year-old student from Somalia, was described by police as an attack against “people with immigrant backgrounds.” There have also been 20 fires at refugee asylum centres.

The Scandinavian country has an underbelly of racism and xenophobia that could make life difficult for newcomers, says Daniel Poohl, managing director of Expo Foundation, an organization designed to shed light on racist ideas and organizations in Sweden.

Known for its civility and social cohesion, Sweden has seen an influx of immigrants, from the Balkans in the 1990s and more recently from Iraq and Afghanistan. But the latest wave of Syrian refugees — 190,000 are expected this year alone — has triggered an “agonizing” debate both politically and culturally, says Marie Demker, a professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg.

One outspoken anti-refugee and anti-immigrant group is the Swedish Democrats — a right-wing party that won 13 per cent of the vote in the September 2014 election. Now the third most powerful party in parliament, it is calling for a referendum on whether Sweden should close its borders to refugees and immigrants.

“Sweden is a country that is divided by the idea of us being a multicultural society,” says Poohl. Those who oppose the acceptance of refugees and immigrants are mobilizing and making their voices heard, he says.

Sweden is “very schizophrenic” when it comes to attitudes about racism and xenophobia, he says. “If you look at the majority of Swedes and their attitudes, Sweden stands out as an open and accepting country and people.” But, he adds, it is also clear people with “another skin colour” do not have the same opportunities.

“We’re very good at opening the first door for people, but very good at closing the next doors.”

According to a recent UN report, the rising level of racist violence and “Afrophobic” hate crimes is triggering “an extensive social problem” in Sweden, where 16 per cent of the population is foreign-born.

“There continues to be a general Swedish self-perception of being a tolerant and humane society, which makes it difficult to accept that there could be structural and institutional racism faced by people of African descent,” the report says.

Source: Racist violence reveals Sweden’s xenophobic underbelly | Toronto Star

Anti-Semitism in Malmö reveals flaws in Swedish immigration system

Another story on antisemitism in Malmö, exacerbated by the marginalization of Muslim immigrants and refugees:

Sweden has a generous immigration policy – last year the country of 9 million took in 85,000 refugees. According to an OECD study, that is more than twice as many immigrants per capita as any other member country. Canada, in comparison, takes a twentieth as many refugees proportionately.

In Malmö the immigrants are concentrated in one pocket of the city, Rosengaard. Unemployment in the area runs at 70 per cent, stones are thrown regularly at mail carriers and police, and 150 cars were torched during summer riots in 2013. Protests for and against Muslim immigrants are frequent and tough.

Engineer Peter Fribourg and his wife Marie, a lawyer, are what are now called ‘ethnic Swedes.’ “It’s a tough matter, you have different cultures colliding. We are not succeeding in the way we would like.”

Marie agrees, adding that Malmö meant well but was not properly prepared to help the huge influx of immigrants settle. “I was much more liberal and welcoming before … (but) there have been so many in the last few years we do not know how to deal with them. They will not assimilate.”

There have been 137 anti-Semitic incidents reported to authorities in Malmö the past two years.

The Rabbi of the Malmö synagogue, Shneur Kesselman, says he has been spat upon and cursed. Most recently, a bottle thrown from a passing car narrowly missed his head, he says.

The Rabbi of the Malmö synagogue says he has been spat upon, cursed, and was nearly hit recently by a bottle thrown from a passing car. (Karin Wells/CBC)

Some have left because they are scared. The Jewish community in Malmö has shrunk by 50 per cent to about 1,000 in the past 10 years.

“Hatred of Muslims, as bad as it is — and it’s terrible — is not challenging the Muslim minority, their safety,” Kesselman says.

“Anti-Semitism here in Malmö today is threatening the existence of a minority.”

Anti-Semitism in Malmö reveals flaws in Swedish immigration system – World – CBC News.

Sweden’s Immigrant Influx Unleashes A Backlash

More on tensions in Sweden:

The Sweden Democrats insist that there is no connection between these attacks [on mosques] and the party’s anti-immigration rhetoric. At an interview in Malmo, party official Nima Gholam Ali Pour suggests that Muslims may have fire-bombed the mosques.

“Were there personal problems in the mosque, or was it someone from another mosque,” he asks. “There are conflicts between Muslims.”

When pressed about swastikas that have been painted on the side of mosques, though, Ali says, “Of course that’s racist. That’s racist.”

The story is more complicated than just white racist Christians attacking Muslim immigrants. Jews in Sweden say they are being attacked, too. A recent documentary on Swedish television showed a reporter walking down the street wearing a yarmulke, as a hidden camera filmed bystanders shouting insults and threats.

And in many cases, the people attacking Jews are Muslim immigrants.

“Almost exclusively, they have some sort of background in the Middle East,” says Aron Verstandig, a leader in Stockholm’s Jewish community.

Verstandig says many people try to paint these ethnic tensions as good versus evil. They want clear victims and perpetrators, in separate boxes. But in fact, he says, the roles overlap and switch.

“You have these immigrants who are very poor, and they are the victims of a lot of violence, a lot of hatred from Sweden Democrats and other right-wing parties. And they are victims in one way,” Verstandig says. “But some of them — a minority of them — are perpetrators in another way. You don’t have people who are just good and bad. It’s a very complex situation.”

Omar Mustafa of the Islamic Association of Sweden agrees. He says it’s part of humanity that there are always extremists.

“We have it in Islam, there is in Christianity, there is in the Swedish community. There is everywhere,” Mustafa says. “So it’s a good opportunity for us, the rest of society, to really take back the agenda. And we have to say to them, we don’t buy it.”

Mustafa says when fringe groups try to speak on behalf of everyone, the moderate majority needs to speak up — and say, “We have a different story to tell.”

Sweden’s Immigrant Influx Unleashes A Backlash : Parallels : NPR.