Michael Winiarski, a Transatlantic Media Fellow and Middle East correspondent for Sweden’s largest circulating daily newspaper, will become that newspaper’s Washington correspondent in January. Last month he gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about the Swedish perspective on the Middle East, and answered a few of my questions.
First I asked him how much the Swedes care about the Middle East. “They care a lot,” Winiarski replied, but more and more Swedes have gone from traditionally pro-Israeli to pro-Palestinian because of the suffering and “very unfair treatment” of the Palestinians. But Swedes have also become very pessimistic on the prospect of peace between Palestinians and Israelis. “Nowadays nobody wants to talk any more about the peace process because nothing happens.”
Next I asked him about the public attitude about Islam and Muslim culture in Sweden since the country has received many Muslim immigrants in the past several years (2:50). The majority of the society has no problem with it, Winiarski said. However, there is a small but loud anti-Muslim group that may have a chance to get over the 4% vote threshold in next year’s election and enter the parliament. In comparison, there are much larger anti-Muslim parties in both Denmark and Norway.
Where do people get information about what’s going on in the Middle East and Muslim world? In Sweden (4:49), Winiarski answered, people get news from domestic media as well as international TV channels such as BBC and Al Jazeera English. After observing news in the US for a couple of weeks, he was surprised that American mainstream television has very little foreign news reporting (5:55). Even the CNN here is different than the CNN he watched in Europe (CNN International). There is much more foreign news in CNN International, he said, “here’s mostly entertainment.”
At the end, Winiarski also talked briefly about how Swedes think of the American handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (7:12) and the war in Afghanistan (8:25).
Does this Swedish perspective on the Muslim world surprise you in any way or is it what you expected? Are there other perspectives from outside the US that you would like to know more about? What can be done to help us become more informed both about the Muslim world and about other countries’ perspectives on it? We welcome your comments.