Dear Immigrant: Be a taxpayer, Become a Free Man
By Abdi-Noor Haji Mohamed (Eagle Of Hope)
If you live on welfare you will not be able to open your mouth to speak of poor services because you cannot accuse the hand from which you are eating. But if you work and pay tax you will have your mouth back to you and shall be able to exercise your freedom of speech.
I wish to share with you my personal reflections about what it means to be an immigrant taxpayer in a welfare state such as Sweden. My understanding is that welfare is specifically intended to provide economic support for those who need help for a limited time -- until such time the recipient stands on his/her own feet. Based on my understanding on the philosophy of welfare, I advice my fellow immigrants in Sweden and in the entire nations of the west, not to rely entirely on social welfare for all means of survival and development but to look for jobs (though it is hard to find a job) to become as free as any other person in the country. The general human climate of Europe is one which is turning against the immigrants as they are seen more of an economic burden than a force that can contribute to the nations' development.
The recent success of the Swedish Democratic party (SD), a party widely known for its extreme anti-immigrant views, has been a shock to the general public of this nation though SD did not emerge out from nowhere. If there has not been a growing support of anti-immigrant sentiments in Sweden they would not have won 12 seats in the parliament. The problem is that these anti-immigrant groups in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe will get a stronger reason to spread their racist-like ideology if we, the immigrants, do not show any meaningful role to play in the nation’s development.
Our reaction as immigrants against the Swedish Democratic Party’s wining of parliament seats in September last year was limited only to few demonstrations in the streets of Stockholm and few other locations. A stern reaction against the SD has come from Swedish Parliament, the political parties, the press and the entire peace-loving societies and institutions across Sweden. But the question is: how long will the good Swedish parties, journalists and intellectuals can afford to keep the SD at bay? Should we not ourselves come out in the open and build solidarity with those who defend us? Why can’t we have the gut to face the challenges of our new life ? Here in Sweden it is not easy to get integrated, not easy to learn the language, not easy to find a job but still there must be some sort of determination to crash our fears, be them real or perceived, to make a change in our lives and to narrow the chances of being harmed by anti-immigrant groups in the country.
The immigrants in Sweden constitute a high percentage of the population and there is no reason for them to remain hiding behind the Swedish people when their presence and legitimacy are being threatened. We must be active participants of the nation’s development efforts rather than passive onlookers of what is happening around us. We must be visible in politics, business and employment sectors, as many of us are already doing, and take part in the social and cultural activities while being proud of our background and identity.
Action is the best tool to dismantle a constructed image of abuse and hatred and I think we should not see ourselves as victims of circumstances but as people who can come up with new ideas and modalities of change. We should be producers who pay tax and not consumers who only live with the remittances sent by the social welfare offices. After all, we should prove that a majority of the immigrants are not illiterate or backward who are bound to committing crimes or breaking the law as many people may believe. We must prove that there are tens of thousands of immigrants who are university graduates, academics, writers and poets, doctors, lawyers and experts in various areas ranging from technical professions to security issues and analysis.
In addition to that, we came from around the world and have brought a huge cultural wealth with us which could be utilized for the benefit of the host nation. We need only to be accorded the proper channels through which our potentialities could be harnessed. And once we claim our rightful place we will not need to speak too much in public places or accuse SD of anti-immigrant incitement. Our action will be enough to silence them and deny them to get more supporters for their cause of anti-immigrant campaign.
It is beyond doubt, though, that some immigrants have come from corrupt or war-ravaged nations and would need some kind of rehabilitation before they are absorbed into the state employment machinery. They indeed need orientation as to how they can be integrated in the life of their new environs. Many immigrants may not understand why a person should go to work when he or she can get same amount of payment from social welfare office. It is an argument based on the notion that you do not need to bother about buying a cow when milk is free. They do not know that work fences them with a shelter of dignity and respect and that, in the books of the state, a taxpayer enjoys better security and insurance benefits than the one who decides to live on welfare permanently and without a reason.
In the case of those immigrants, I think there is a need to explain why one is needed to pay tax. They may have fled from a country where the authorities forced people to pay tax without reciprocating enough in terms of service delivery systems to improve life of the ordinary citizen. So people in those countries believed that tax collection was merely an official way of robbing the people. Thus they have established mechanisms to systematically defy government rules of imposing tax on them. Maybe some immigrants have migrated with that kind of mentality and still believe that that tax payment is something one should evade. They do not know that they are in a new country where the nation’s beauty and the protection of its citizens are built on the basis of tax. If we do not make necessary corrections early enough we will end up in a situation where we will one day smell like a fish.
Besides that, to pay tax is to exercise our freedom at full capacity. As an immigrant who has been working for only few months I feel my life has been changed in ways I had never though of. I am glad to have joined the nation’s workforce. But my joy is not sourcing only from the fact that I get a salary but also from the fact that I pay tax. In becoming a taxpayer, I feel to have recovered a lost freedom: The freedom of speaking as loudly as I please in the event of encountering some unsatisfactory service. I have arrived Sweden three years ago as an asylum seeker and until recently I and my family lived on welfare. Anytime I attempted to comment on something negatively I felt ashamed of citing complaints against an authority that feeds me free of charge. But now I can exercise my right to speak. My mouth is back to me. It is mine now though I do not say a word unless it is absolutely necessary. With taxpaying, I can say I have recovered my lost freedom: The freedom to feel free. But I can hardly sustain this freedom unless I see you free too.
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