This Year’s Average Swede: "No Go Zones" in "Europe’s Most Refugee-Friendly Country"

Authors: Nathan Swanson*, Purdue University
Topics: Migration, Europe, Political Geography
Keywords: refugees, migration, discrimination, feminist geopolitics, Syria, Sweden
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Governors Square 9, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I contextualize and analyze the short film Årets Svennebanan (This Year’s Average Swede), released in 2018 by Omar Al-Zankah, a Syrian refugee in his early 20s who arrived in Sweden at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015. That year, Sweden accepted more refugees per capita than any other EU member state, widely earning it the reputation of “Europe’s most refugee-friendly country” (before the government tightened its asylum policy later that year). These arriving refugees, predominantly Muslim, arrived in an era of growing support for nationalist parties in Sweden and throughout Europe, parties that have been characterized predominantly by anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Muslim communities in Europe have been targeted, in particular, by far-right populist movements as representing a whole range of “problems” and “harms” associated with migration, and in their most extreme forms, attacks have positioned Muslims as “invaders” creating “no go zones” for police and state officials throughout Europe. In Årets Svennebanan, Al-Zankah counters the claims of Islamophobic political figures with his own experiences as a migrant in Sweden discovering his “no go zones” in housing, employment, and entertainment. Drawing on feminist geopolitics, I argue that Al-Zankah’s engagement with “no go zones” reveals a dissonance between masculinist territorial projects of the state (and the supra-state) and the lived, everyday experiences of marginalized subjects. I further argue Al-Zankah’s film be understood as a broader challenge to ongoing Orientalist representations of Arabs/Muslims in Europe and to Sweden’s stated identity as a post-racist and feminist society.

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