My beloved Stockholm.
My colleagues and I from A Demand For Action (ADFA) have for almost three years worked daily on exposing the reality of terrorism that has targeted the indigenous people of Iraq and Syria. ADFA is an international organization that is based in Stockholm, Sweden; many of our followers, sponsors and members live in this beautiful and peaceful city. Yet, perhaps because of our proximity to the stories terrorism has left behind in the Middle East, we have all entertained the idea that an attack could happen here in Sweden as well. For the most part, these thoughts are repressed. We have serious work to do ― we dispel negative thoughts and carry on.
I had spent my Friday morning researching the chemical attack in Idlib, Syria, and the USA’s missile attack against Homs, also in Syria. An editor had given me the idea that I should write both versions of the current Syria story: the one that claims Bashar Assad had used a plane to spread poison at children, and the other where terrorists have themselves poisoned the children to induce world leaders to scream “bomb Bashar, the devil!”
After interviewing eleven people in Syria, Lebanon and the U.S., reading articles, watching TV-reports and listening to several radio stations for hours, I sat down to first sort it out and then write my analysis, from both angles. I wanted to give a more objective picture of the situation. At that time, for me, the situation and my focus was Syria. Little did I know it was soon going to be much closer to home.
The Swedish news app Omni disrupted my work with a shocking headline: “Truck drove into crowded street in Stockholm.” I froze. I started making calls to everyone I know that works in the city, the street turned to be Drottninggatan, the most crowded shopping street we have. The phones started to ring ― siblings, parents, other relatives, friends, colleagues, we all called each other. Minutes passed, foreign media started to try to reach me. They wanted to know more about what at that point was being called a suspected terror attack.” I asked them to follow my Twitter account.
Anyone from Stockholm has a connection to Drottninggatan in some way. I myself have relatives and friends working there and others who live nearby. The truck was stolen outside a friend’s restaurant. I spoke to the police and medical people that I know. Many of my relatives and friends were stuck and couldn’t get out of central Stockholm till late in the night, friends that witnessed the heroism and selflessness of the Swedish police after the attack.
I cannot remember how I first got in contact with #OpenStockholm. Here people were using social media to help anyone in Stockholm affected by the attack, from warmly offering and opening up their homes as a place to stay, to offering hot meals. I quickly decided to help spread this information. As a journalist the thing I can do as best is to report, so I did that. Friday evening I joined the people with cars and could drove people who were stuck in the city. I contacted relatives who have restaurants and asked them to join #OpenStockholm as well. I’m so proud of everyone who stood up for one another, strangers helping strangers. Yesterday my beloved Stockholm burned brighter with humanity.
I’ve been checking social media since 5 a.m. this morning. Most people are showing their solidarity with the ones who have lost someone and the ones who have been injured. Many have changed their profile pictures, and have added the Swedish flag.
I came to Sweden as a little kid. This country raised me, it gave me opportunities that my country of birth never could, that my parents could never dream of. I feel so much gratitude, as do so many others who are immigrants to this country. An old man who shares my ethnicity, Assyrian ― also known as Syriac or Chaldean ― asked his grandchild to join #OpenStockholm to help others in anyway. It was only a couple of years ago that this man had to flee Syria.
It’s not time for “I told you so, we knew Sweden would be attacked.” It’s time for love, humanity, compassion and cooperation. It is time to defend our society, our values, and the secular culture that we all love, where everyone is free to believe in whatever they chose, love who they want, and be who they want to be. A police officer told me this morning: “we are overwhelmed with all the help we have received from the public, and how people have followed our advice and have come together to help each other.” There is a saying I’ve heard many times: ”When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We Swedes got going. I am proud of the people in Stockholm, my city.
I am a proud Swede.
*Evette Haddad and Izla Chabe contributed to this report
Saturday night news in Sweden:
Swedish police have arrested a man who is “likely” the perpetrator, killing at least four people and injuring more than a dozen. The suspect is a 39-year-old from Uzbekistan and was known to intelligence agencies. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said authorities believe it was a “terror attack”.