A less catastrophic election than expected – but we’re not out of the woods yet.

Yesterday was election day in Sweden. It was a day many anticipated with anxiety because of the increasingly popular far-right Sweden Democrats. Some polls put them at 25-28% of the votes, which would have made them the strongest party.

Luckily, those polls were wrong as in the end SD got about 17,6% of votes. Which is still higher than what they got in the last election, when they got 13%.

The party which won was the Social Democrats with 28,4% of the votes. But to rule a party needs at least 50% of votes. Since we have eight different parties in the Riksdag, this very rarely happens. So the Social Democrats have to form a coalition with other parties so that they together can get over 50%. Or they can make a deal with the other side to allow a minority government.

But other parties can also get together. If the right-wing parties would join forced with the Sweden Democrats, they could do just that. Then the far-right SD, a party started by an ex-SS and two neo-nazis, could become part of the government.

There are several different coalitions that could be made and right now the political parties of Sweden are negotiating a deal. Will fascists be let into the government? People’s lives depend on the Swedish traditional right standing against these forces of evil and saying no.

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A World Tour of Books: Raif Badawi: The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story by Ensaf Haidar. (Saudi Arabia)

In 2013 a Saudi man by the name of Raif Badawi was sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes. The next year, it was increased to ten years and 1000 lashes. His crime? Creating an internet site where he criticised Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian government and where people could freely discuss political ideas.

Since modern Saudi Arabia is a theocracy based on Wahhabism (an ultraconservative, fundamentalist branch of Islam), the authorities do not tolerate any criticism of the country’s cleric or any promoting of secularism. When they saw Raif Badawi do both these things, they decided to make an example out of him and gave him this cruel sentence.

Ensaf

This book tells the true life story of the love between Raif Badawi and his wife Ensaf Haidar. It began when they unintentionally ended up talking to each other when Raif called on Ensaf’s cell phone, which her brother had borrowed to call his friend Raif a few days earlier. Ensaf and Raif fell in love and a conflict ensued with her family who found their relationship inappropriate in a culture where men and women who aren’t relatives are not supposed to have any contact.

Eventually, they were allowed to marry and had three children. Raif ran a school and made a good living for them. But everything changed when the authorities discovered Raif’s website.

A long campaign of harassment began, both from the religious authorities and from Raif and Ensaf’s own families. Eventually, they decided to leave the country. Ensaf moved away first with the children but before Raif could join them, he was arrested.

Ever since, Ensaf has campaigned to bring attention to her husband’s situation. Many human rights organisations have taken an interest and Raif Badawi has won many awards for his activism. But as of 2018, he is still not free and has 950 lashes left on his sentence.

Raif Badawi: The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story is a shocking but inspiring tale of two brave people’s struggle for freedom in one of the world’s most conservative countries.

For more information on Raif Badawi’s situation and how you can help, please visit: https://www.raifbadawi.org/

An Accidental Manifesto

My thoughts are always the most restless when I wake up. I don’t really no why. Maybe because it’s before I take my ADHD meds. It’s both a blessing and a curse because it tends to make me anxious but it’s also when I get my best ideas.

I was having such a morning the other day when I suddenly felt the urge to write down my own political beliefs. Not as a statement anyone else was going to read but rather to clarify them to myself. I grabbed a pen and some paper and wrote down this:

Nothing is mine. There are the things I use and the things I do not use, but nothing in this world exists solely for me. Only I am entirely my own.

As I am entirely my own, so do every other person belong solely to themselves. I shall not bend them to my will through force or exploitation any more than I would strike my own flesh. I expect in return that they will respect me in the same way.

If you see me in bounds then will you help me, my friend? Whenever it will be in my power to do so I will help free you from your own chains. I will not turn a blind eye whenever I see oppression – this great enemy of freedom.

As I wish to be free, so I wish every human to be free. How could I truly enjoy the sweet taste of liberty when I see it denied to my siblings?

And so I say: let us all be free. Let us tear down the walls between us and burn the bounds around each of us. Let liberty be for each of us and for us all.

When I feel I had written everything I needed to write, I added the title “A Individualist-Solidarist Manifesto” on top of the page. I realised then that I had ended up writing a statement of my own political beliefs and values.

The term “Individualist-Solidarist” to me means someone who believes in personal freedom but that it can only truly exist in a world where people help each other out and help protect each other’s freedom. I used to think the problem with a lot of individualistic ideologies was that they took it too far. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t take it far enough.

For example: Ayn Rand was a big proponent of individual rights. But her philosophy of Objectivism when applied to political policies leads to nothing less than Corporate tyranny and individual freedom for only a very small percentage of the population. If she had been serious about individual liberty she would have wanted it for everyone. She would have wanted all things that keep people from being their own to be abolished, not just the oppressive structures that come from the state.

Individualist-Solidarism, I believe, is the core principle of Libertarian Socialism and it’s what has drawn me to this particular ideology.

But how exactly do we create a world where everyone gets to be their own person? Well, that’s an issue you can’t really answer in one post. Not that I claim to have all these answers. But I sure will continue to bring up these questions and look for ways to help liberate both myself and others.

A new ID and a brighter future

I haven’t posted a life update in a while so here comes one.

The first big thing that’s happened is that I’m now officially legally male. Along with the change from a F to a M on my IDs and passport, I’ve also been given a new social security number because of this silly Swedish law that says men and women must have different kinds of SSNs. It makes the process of changing legal gender a bit more complicated than it needs to be. A new SSN means a completely different legal identity and that creates trouble for a lot of trans people. Just to name one example: you can be denied a bank loan if you haven’t lived in the country under the same identity for more than three years.

The second big think that’s happened is that I’m soon going to start a course to become a certified accounting clerk. I’ve actually worked as one in the past but as I’m mostly self-taught and don’t have an official education I’ve had a hard time finding work in the field. After this course I will hopefully one day be able to leave the janitor job I currently have and which I probably shouldn’t even be doing since I have such bad joint problems.

My long-term goal is to be self-employed in my own accounting bureau or to start a cooperative one. Either way, I think it’s important for workers to own their own means of production. That’s the socialist in me, I can’t help it.

Which brings me to the third big change: my political activism. I’ve had a strong interest in politics for a long time but have only been politically active since becoming a libertarian socialist. After being a hardcore individualist (and really kind of a douche) for years, I’ve now realised how isolated I was all this time. Ironically, going outside of myself to help others has help me find myself in a way solely pursuing my own individual freedom never could. I have made many connections and doors have opened for me which I never dreamed possible. Solidarity among workers really is a great liberator.

Between political rallies and planning my future career, I still find time to write. The last part of my fantasy trilogy is about 70% done. I’ve also recently decided to make all my books free. Bringing money into it kind of ruined a lot of the fun and put a certain pressure on me to write something people would be willing to buy rather than simply write from my heart. It feels like a burden has been lifted from my shoulders and right now I don’t much care if I ever make another cent from writing.

I have been slacking a bit when it comes to reading but I’m still working on reading a book from every country in the world. At the moment I’m reading a fascinating novel from South Korea and will be posting a review in the coming week.

My Political Evolution

Ever since taking an interest in politics, I have been concerned about one issue in particular: freedom. Having grown up in a conservative and highly repressive religious environment where Church elders decided everything from what you were allowed to wear and what movies you could watch to who you were allowed to marry, I had never known what it was like to be my own individual. From a young age I have to been conditioned to ignore all personal wishes and dreams and to submit entirely to my religious leaders’ wills. Now that I was free, I promised myself that I would never let anyone rule over me like that again.

Because of my experiences, I had an almost visceral reaction to words like “group” or “collective”. Even the term “solidarity” made me cringe because of how I had heard it being used growing up. To name one example, the notion of “solidarity among God’s people” was used as an argument to justify covering up sexual abuse of minors within the church.

The idea, which I would hear from time to time from leftist friends, that certain types of collectivism could be liberating to the individual sounded to me like the dumbest thing I had ever heard. I’ve since changed my mind on that issue. But more on that later.

The political ideologies which I was first drawn to were strongly individualistic. Right-wing Libertarianism, Objectivism and even anarcho-capitalism all captured my interest because they focused primarily on self-determination, something I had been denied most of my life. I became a die-hard individualist who believed that the best thing one could do was to focus on one’s own goals and not worry about trying to make the world a better place. I also wholeheartedly embraced capitalism, which for all its destructive aspects I couldn’t imagine could ever possibly be worse than a system where the group was placed above the individual.

Liked many people, I assumed that the notion that there is a fundamental conflict between the individual’s longing for freedom and the well-being of society as a whole was true. But after pondering about it I realized that not only does this not make sense but that the one cannot truly exist without the other. How can an individual be happy if the society around them is turning to shits (unless maybe they’re a sociopath)? Likewise, how can a group thrive if the individuals that make it up are not happy?

I witnessed first-hand an example of the later in the church I grew up in. We were often told that our congregation was made up of “the happiest people in the world” but the broken dreams and repression of individual wills made us miserable. Alcoholism, mental health issues, spousal abuse and suicide was rampant. We lived only for the church, the collective, but the collective felt like a prison.

Getting out of that environment was incredibly liberating and I have been passionate about freedom ever since.

I considered myself an individualistic, pro-capitalist libertarian for a long time because I genuinely believed it was the best system for liberty. But some things made me reconsider my position.

The first was the fact that freedom is far from accessible to all under capitalism. As a working-class person, it became increasingly clear to me. I realised that what I had loved all along about capitalism was that it gave the possibility of liberty. Because under this system you can have an incredible level of freedom – if you can find a way to amass enough capital. Freedom then becomes a prize you have to prove yourself worthy of, it’s the carrot dangling in front of the donkey to urge him to keep running. Most people, the working-class, are never allowed to catch that prize.

If I truly love freedom as much as I claim, I asked myself, why do I support a system that denies it to the majority of the world? But on the other hand, what would even be an alternative? Centralizing everything and letting the state redistribute the resources in a way some self-proclaimed Benevolent Overlords deem just? That has been tried before and it always ends in tyranny. Socialism then was not an option, I concluded.

But that was because I had a fundamental as well as common misunderstanding about politics: that it’s all about centralised socialism/communism vs. decentralised capitalism. Discovering thinkers such as Noam Chomsky and other left-wing anarchists and libertarians opened my eyes to another option: voluntary socialism. That is: people of their own free will joining forces in a decentralised fashion to gain freedom from the shackles of the corporations as well as of the state, both which struggle for ownership of the people.

Voluntary solidarity among workers has already achieved a lot. Without workers’ unions, for example, child labour would still be common. So would 14 hours work days and workers having no paid vacations or even days off. Worker cooperatives are another example of how workers can help liberate each other.

Of course, raising solidarity among the oppressed takes a hell of a lot more time than some violent revolution to overthrow the current system. But if the culture does not change first, can the change brought on by a revolution persist?

Today I believe free, voluntary cooperation between workers is the greatest way we can liberate ourselves. Since becoming involved in workers’ rights activism, I witness every day both big and small ways people help each other out. Whether it’s holding demonstrations, starting co-ops together and just lending emotional support. There is so much we can do without having to ask for permission from the state or private exploiters.

I will be writing more on this in the future but for today I would like to end this post with a slogan we shouted at the syndicalist manifestation I attended yesterday (translated from Swedish):

We free the people and the people are us!

Winter is coming (in September)

2018 is election year in Sweden. A new government won’t be voted in until this fall but it’s already keeping me up at night.

Every poll shows the far-right Sweden Democrats to be either the second most popular or the most popular party. As September steadily approaches, I have to start planning what to do if a party who wants to strip me of my rights comes to power.

Because SD is a party who is known for its bigotry against minorities. Mostly racial (the party has its roots in the white power movement that swept the nation in the 90’s) but they have also shown that they despise LGBT people. High-ranking SD politicians have said vicious things about us and the party has voted against every single reform to improve our rights. Among other things, they were the only party who voted to continue the forced sterilization of trans people.

Being white, the racism of SD is one thing I know will not affect me personally. But I worry about what will happen to people of colour. Racist bigots will likely be emboldened by a SD victory and racist bashings could very well increase after the election. And who knows what racist reforms SD are going to try and pass.

Then there the many rainbow families I know. Will the government try to destroy them by taking children from their same-sex parents? Will same-sex marriage continue to be legal? Will trans people still have the right to change their legal gender? Or is it going to be like SD wants, that a person can only be legally defined by their biological sex?

These are some of the many questions I have and which have been giving me insomnia. I also ask myself what I’m supposed to do if the unthinkable happens and the Sweden Democrats actually win. My first thought was to get out of the country, perhaps immigrate to a more progressive place such as Iceland.

But then I got angry. Like in really fucking pissed. I don’t want to fucking run. This is my country too and I’m not going to leave. If SD, and the people who support them, want people like me out of Sweden, they’re going to have to push me out themselves.

The nice thing about anger is that when you’ve got enough of it, you stop giving a shit about the consequences. Maybe I’ll run out of it soon and get on a plane to Iceland with my tail between my legs. But right now I’m up for a fight. Bullies have tried to break my spirit since I was in freaking kindergarten, they haven’t succeeded yet and I’m not ready to let them win.

I’m not sure exactly where to go from here. I’m planning on connecting with likeminded people in my area and together we could make a game plan to fight SD. Not in a violent way. But somebody’s got to do something and there are many who are prepared to stand up for what’s right. If I don’t stand among them, I’ll never forgive myself.

I’m going to try and catch up on getting enough sleep and I’ll get to it. Definitely going to use my love of writing in this, so heads up, a lot more political posts coming.

 

A World Tour of Books: The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola (France)

For the country of France, the place where I spent most of my childhood, I wanted to read a book in its original language. French has a special poésie to it which simply can’t be translated. I once tried to read through an English version of one of Rimbaud’s poems and found it utterly depressing how the almost musical touch of the words got lost in translation.

I looked through my parents’ library is search of a French book I hadn’t read yet and found Le Ventre de Paris or The Belly of Paris as it is called in English.

Émile Zola being one of the greats of the genre of Naturalism, which I would like to describe as hardcore realism, I immediately became interested. The era of Naturalism is, in my opinion, one of the best periods in literature and its proponents’ determination to portray fearlessly the realities of life is a personal inspiration to me as a writer.

emil

The Belly of Paris tells the story of Florent, who returns to the French capital after years of exile in South America. Having been sent there after being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, he is full of resentment towards the Second Empire of Napoleon III.

He reconnects with his younger brother Quenu, who is now running a successful charcuterie alongside his beautiful wife Lisa.

Florent takes a job as an inspector in the now gone marketplace known as Les Halles. There he witnesses the affluence it brings to the city, but also the misery that exists within its walls. A distinction is made between the fat and the thin – the rich and the poor.

Although Florent lives with Quenu and Lisa, who are both unmistakably among the fat, he remains thin both in the physical and figurative sense. What he hungers for more than anything is justice and he begins to dream about a great revolution.

But while the thin might envy the fat, the fat are full of suspicion towards the poor. The idea that you should never trust a skinny man is expressed by several affluent characters throughout the book. And it is that very suspicion which will make sure Florent’s dreams remain only that.

The Naturalist beliefs of Zola are obvious in The Belly of Paris. Both in the milieus (I don’t think I’ve ever read such detailed descriptions of piles of vegetables or stinking fish) and in the dialogues. I sometimes caught myself feeling like I was reading the scenes of a documentary rather than of a novel. Although it felt a bit excessive sometimes, like when the narrator suddenly starts giving an incredibly thorough image of piles of cheese in the middle of one of the most suspenseful conversations of the story, but it does the trick. I feel quite confident that if I somehow could travel back in time to the Paris of the late nineteenth century, that I could find my way around Les Halles as if I had been there before.

The Belly of Paris is a great novel about a time and place which witnessed big changes in French society. If you are interested in history, or the Naturalist genre, this would be a good book for you.

 

To Boycott or not to boycott?

One of my favourite events every autumn is the Göteborg Book Fair in Western Sweden. It’s the biggest cultural event in Scandinavia and one I’ve been looking forward to every year since I first attended it when I was twelve.

Some controversy arose last year when it was revealed that the far-right magazine Nya Tider was going to be allowed to participate in the event. This so-called newspaper is notoriously bigoted and is on a mission to paint Sweden as a country falling to pieces because of immigrants and changing norms, such as a greater acceptance of LGBTQ people.

As a response to this many participants and visitors decided to boycott the Fair. Last year I couldn’t attend so the question of whether or not to go wasn’t one I had to make. But this year I will be able to and Nya Tider is still going to be there.

My first instinct was that I didn’t want to set my foot anywhere near where this garbage of a magazine would be exhibiting. I thought about it some more and realised that might be exactly what they want. After all, isn’t a society without trans and gay people exactly one of the things Nya Tider is fighting for? In their eyes, I am among the undesirable and the Fair will only be made better by people like me not attending.

I don’t claim that either boycotting or not boycotting is the right answer. In the end of the day, people have to follow their own conscious and do what they feel is right.

But personally, I feel more than ever that I need to go. The far-right has doubled down their propaganda in later years and made their way into places they would have never been tolerated before. That’s why I want to never back down and keep reminding them that I and all other people they have marked as enemies have as much a right to be here and as much a right to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

This year especially I feel an urgent need to stand up against these destructive forces. Apart from Nya Tider being allowed into the Fair, the city as given permission to the neo-nazi organisation Nordic Resistance Movement to parade through Gothenburg during the event. To give you an idea of how insane this is consider that beside being openly and shamelessly Nazi, this organisation is also responsible for actual terrorist attacks. Just last year they set off a bomb in the very city they will now be allowed to march through!

That’s why apart from going to the Fair and buying as many books as I can that Nya Tider wished didn’t exist (queer books, books by people of colour etc.), I will also attend on Friday the 29th a protest against Nazism.

If Nazis and other far-right extremists think they can scare their opponents into silence, they are terribly mistaken. We aren’t going to go down without a fight. Just bring it on.

A World Tour of Books: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Russia)

I haven’t written a World Tour of Books post in a while and that’s because I have been reading a very long book: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

When I first came across it while shopping at a bookstore, I thought that maybe I should find something a little shorter but after reading on the back cover that this is considered by many to be the best written novel of all times, I just knew I had to read it.

 

Karenina
At over 800 pages, Anna Karenina is quite a thick book!

 

So it was with great expectations that I began to read the story of the forbidden love between Count Vronsky and Princess Anna Arkadyevna Karenina. To my surprise I found that I felt little sympathy for these characters. To try and seduce a woman you know is married, like Vronsky does, seems not very moral to me and he comes across as kind of a douche.

As for Anna, she accepts his invitations, cheats on her husband then leaves him for her new beau and even abandons her own child in the process.

Probably, I would have not disliked Anna’s character as much if her husband and been abusive towards her. But he’s actually a good person who shows an impressive patience with his wife’s childish behaviour. He is so kind-hearted that he even feels love and eventually adopts a child he knows is not his.

So, the two main characters I felt not very strongly for even if their love story is superbly written.

The character that did touch my heart was Levin. A socially awkward but highly intelligent landowner, most of the plot following him is centered around his love for Kitty, whom he later marries. But this happy ending love story is not what I enjoyed most when reading about Levin. Rather it is his ponderings on religion, philosophy and politics that made me like him so much. He is a deep-thinking individual and a lot of times I was actually annoyed with his overly emotional obsession with Kitty, which I felt often distracted him from more important endeavours.

Interestingly, Levin is based on Tolstoy himself. I highly suspected this due to the similarity of their names (Lev is the Russian version of Leo) and the fact that Levin expresses many opinions that Tolstoy was known to have. As I’ve long been fascinated by this writer, it is no surprise I really liked Levin as a character.

One thing that I found irritating with this book is that sometimes in dialogues there are whole sentences in other languages. Luckily for me, most of them where in a one of my two mother tongues: French. Still, it’s quite annoying when you have to put down a book to consult Google Translate because you can’t understand what it says. At least, there should have been translations on the bottom of the pages.

Overall, I really like this book. I don’t know if it the best novel ever written (how do you even determined that objectively?) but it is definitely one of the great treasures from the history of literature.

​A Modern Classic: Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima 

TW: There will be mention of suicide.


A while back I started to read up on Japanese literature for my World Tour of Books post series. Eventually I picked a book by Kenzaburo Oe but there was another writer I could not get off my mind: Yukio Mishima. 

This beloved Japanese writer became infamous in 1970. Seeing that Japanese Traditionalism was being replaced by Western values with all its empty materialism, he attempted to incite a coup d’état along with his own private militia. But the attempt failed miserably and, dishonoured, he killed himself by seppuku.

Many believed his motives to have been genuine. But others saw in his actions a sign of psychosis. Yet others believed that Mishima had always planned for the coup to fail so that he could end his own life, this due to his disgust with the idea of getting old. Which reminds me of a quote that stood out to me in Forbidden Colours:

“What is the death of the body, after all, compared with the unbearable death of youth?”

But whatever his motivations were, there is so much more to Mishima than him being “that Japanese writer who killed himself like a samurai”. Three times he was nominated to the Nobel Prize in literature and during his career he would publish 25 novels and write 80 plays. He also starred in movies, became a skilled martial artist and a bodybuilder and even directed his own film. 

Seeing what a fascinating man this Yukio Mishima was, I felt I had to read something of him. I picked the novel Forbidden Colours, I must confess mainly due to its gay theme. 

In retrospect I should have started my journey into Mishima’s literature with the semi-autobriographical Confessions of a Mask but Forbidden Colours was still an amazing read.

Telling the story of Yuichi Minami (notice the resemblance with the author’s own name) it is believe to be also somewhat autobiographical. One summer he meets an elderly writer by the name of Shunsuké who in his books praises women but in reality despises them. His hatred stems from his numerous failed relationships and in his bitterness he wishes to punish women. 

In Yuichi he finds the perfect tool for this. The young man’s unusual beauty catches the opposite sex’s attention without effort and his homosexuality ensures that he will never reciprocate any woman’s feelings. Under the guidance/manipulation of Shunsuké he marries a woman, trapping her in a loveless marriage. He also charms two other women, making them fall in love with him but never loving them back.

But Yuichi will grow weary of being Shunsuké’s puppet and will realise his own power, much to the elderly writer’s dismay. 

What can I say about this book? Because it is not simply a story written down, it is a work of art. Filled with meaning boiling below the surface, it grabs your mind and demands attention. It is both beautiful and sort of ugly in its descriptions. The way the author writes about the characters’ inner life is moving but also disturbing at times. 

Shunsuké especially is a quite dislikable personality, with all his selfishness and bitterness. Yuichi is more sympathetic but he too grows cold with time. Melancholy is the word that springs to mind when I think about the spirit of the book. Hopelessness also. But somehow Mishima knew how to make the tragic beautiful. 

Forbidden Colours is considered to be one of Yukio Mishima’s lesser works and if it is then I can’t wait to read those books of his that are seen as masterpieces. Either way, I am definitely not done with his literature.